Dubbed as a clean source of energy, new research findings show that home and property owners producing “clean, CO2-neutral” solar electricity with solar modules may in fact soon find themselves sitting on a pile of hazardous waste once the module lifetime expires.
In many countries, it is illegal to simply discard hazardous materials into the household garbage, and so many solar energy module operators may find themselves eventually paying high fees for hazardous waste disposal when it comes time to discard the modules at the end of their lifetimes. Meanwhile in third world countries the hazardous modules will likely end up being discarded onto the landscape.
“Serious environmental consequences”
According to the online Welt here, a new study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economics dubbed: “Release of Hazardous Material from Photovoltaic Modules,” found “serious environmental consequences” from solar modules. Formerly it was claimed that solar modules posed no real danger to the environment.
Today that appears to have been wishful thinking.
Toxic components get washed out by rain
Welt reports that researchers in Stuttgart checked if toxic substances could be transported from the modules to the environment by water. Welt writes:
Contrary to earlier assumptions, the result shows that hazardous material such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium from broken pieces of solar modules could be completely washed out by rain water of a period of several months.”
The latest findings are another major blow to an industry that has been reeling from high costs, inefficiency, cheap imports and declining overall popularity. Now the industry is turning out to be a real polluter.
Welt writes that it will be necessary to recycle 100% of all modules but that it will be impossible to ensure that no modules wind up in regular household refuse.
Poor countries victims again
Though 100% recycling may be almost achievable in rich, industrial countries, Welt cites the experts, who say there is the high likelihood the modules will simply end up littering the landscape in poor countries.
Poor countries, often located in sunny equatorial regions where solar energy is more effective, face the potential of being blanketed by vast swaths of hazardous material as used, worn-out modules get thrown out.
11,000 tons of lead, 800 tons of cadmium
The researchers say that currently there are about 3700 square kilometers of solar modules installed globally and estimate that, as of 2016, the modules contained 11,000 tons of lead and 800 tons of cadmium, reports Welt, citing the study.
Welt adds that the EU banned the use of toxic heavy metals and solder by the electrical industry, but the solar industry was exempted on the behest of the solar lobby. The solar industry needs to be included in the ban as well, the experts say, so that the global spread of heavy toxic metals can be curbed.