- Feb 1, 2021 10:34 pm GMT
"Wind farms and massive arrays of solar panels are cropping up across public and private landscapes both in the United States and abroad as users increasingly turn to 'green energy' as their preferred flavor of electricity.
President Joe Biden, in fact, has directed the Interior Department to identify suitable places to host 20 gigawatts of new energy from sun, wind or geothermal resources by 2024 as part of a sweeping effort to move away from a carbon-based economy and electrical grid.
But how green is green?
Although countries are feverishly looking to install wind and solar farms to wean themselves off carbon-based, or so-called “dirty” energy, few countries, operators and the industry itself have yet to fully tackle the long-term consequences of how to dispose of these systems, which have their own environmental hazards like toxic metals, oil, fiberglass and other material.
Green waste growth
In 2019, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the United States surpassed 2 million solar installations, just three years after it hit the milestone of 1 million installations.
The paper points out that the growth of solar waste is already straining recycling and disposal capabilities, with some panels improperly ending up in municipal landfills or stacking up in warehouses while the wait continues for more inexpensive routes to recycling.
Research underscores there are few incentives to recycle solar panels, as the cost of recovering the materials outweighs the costs of extracting what can be recycled — even without adding in transportation expenses.
The issue foreshadows the potential for the creation of a new class of hazardous waste sites under EPA Superfund designations as clean energy operators walk away from a large volume of materials that contaminate the soil and groundwater.
'It is foreseeable that the same kind of practices could occur with respect to (solar) panels in the absence of very effective programs for the collecting and recycling of PV panels available where PV panels are used,' the paper said."
It's not that the materials in solar panels, wind turbines, or batteries are that dangerous. Used wind turbine blades, about which there's been a lot of fuss lately, are remarkably inert - they can be cut up and buried indefinitely, with very little environmental impact.
It's not that the waste is poisonous, there's just too damn much of it. We don't have enough land to cover with wind and solar farms already, much less bury them when they wear out.
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