In many community hearings, solar energy opponents portray solar panels as being saturated with harmful substances that pose health risks to humans. They also portray solar panels as the source of a huge spike in waste production.
However, these concerns are largely detached from reality.
For instance, one commonly raised issue regarding solar development is the presence of cadmium in solar panels. Yet extensive research has demonstrated that cadmium is only found in a small percentage of panels. According to Inside Climate News, cadmium typically comprises 0.1 percent or less of the overall panel mass.
Moreover, the form of cadmium that’s used in panels differs from the harmful form that raises health concerns.
The cadmium myth was debunked in an opinion essay published in the journal Nature Physics earlier this month. The essay also debunked myths surrounding solar panel waste.
The essay was authored by a group of individuals from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines.
Outlined below are some key points from the essay.
– Solar panels do not contain harmful levels of the toxic materials that often get discussed at public hearings about development. The authors found no examples of solar panels for utility-scale development that contain arsenic, gallium, germanium or hexavalent chromium.
– The concerns surrounding the recent increase in solar panel waste should be placed in a broader context.
– The projected amount of solar panel waste is negligible when compared to other waste categories, such as plastics, coal ash, and municipal solid waste. For instance, in 2050, the total amount of waste generated by solar panels will only be 0.1% to 0.4% of the total generated by coal ash. (Check out the diagram below for a visual.)
– The solar industry is working to reduce waste by extending the lifespan of panels, finding alternatives for certain materials, and working on efficient ways to recycle panel components.
Image Source: Nature Physics
The significance of the essay
Heather Mirletz, the lead author and a Ph.D. candidate at the Colorado School of Mines, stated that she aimed to address the public’s concerns through scientific data.
Although the paper was published earlier this month, it’s actually not recent research. The paper is a compilation of earlier studies from various researchers. All of the researchers agreed that solar panels are safe for human health and the environment.
It’s true that some opposition to solar panels at public hearings is deliberately misleading. However, it’s incorrect to assume that all opposition is ill-intentioned. Many people seek credible answers to their questions regarding health and safety.
The fact that solar panel safety myths persist in spite of long-standing scientific evidence proves that solar researchers have not been communicating their findings well. Tactful public communication must be a major priority for the solar industry as it seeks to keep growing.
Featured Image Source: Democratic Alliance, https://shorturl.at/bEV19