Are Solar PV Farms Polluting?

Yes, but solar “pollution” is politically correct.

Power Engineering reports:

… Manufacturing. Solar panel manufacturing generates a number of effluent gases contaminated with silane, trichlorosilane, dichlorosilane and hydrochloric acid (HCl), apart from chemicals like silicon, cadmium comPound s, germane and polyvinyl fluoride-all of which are hazardous to the environment and people who are exposed to them. This manufacturing process also requires raw materials that have to be mined-quartz sand for silicon cells and metal ore for thin-film cells.

These materials are treated at different stages (in the case of silicon cells, these include purification, crystallisation and wafering). Finally, these upgraded materials are manufactured into solar cells and assembled into modules.

All these processes lead to air pollution caused by emission of heavy metals and are highly energy consuming, which brings about more air pollution with emission of heavy metals and release of greenhouse gases. Given the scale at which solar manufacturing is anticipated in India, there is going to be an enormous release of hazardous chemicals and gaseous substances into the environment…

Read the entire report.

11 thoughts on “Are Solar PV Farms Polluting?”

  1. Emission of pollution due to manufacture of solar panels? really surprised. But still solar power is required to cut down regular pollution due to burning of coal.. The only idea seems to minimize the extent of manufacture of these panels by rising their individual capacity to generate more power for a given area of the plate….

  2. George, you could look at a production plant’s CO2 emissions on the EPA’s web site for 2010. Divide by advertised output, and there you go.

  3. I had a guy try to talk me into buying a house with solar panels. His model had been up for a year and he actually showed me the data from the system on a neat month-by-month graph. I calculated a 40 year return on investment assuming a 0% discount rate (sorry, all I could do in my head and with a cell phone calculator). Less than 1100 kWh per month in Texas August (a record-setting cloudless August, mind you) using a 1 kW system. I politely extricated myself before I called him an idiot.

    Never put numbers in front of an engineer if the numbers don’t actually support your cause.

  4. Sand is not used in the production of polycrystalline silicon solar cells. The violence of the carbothermic reaction generates CO2 at such a rapid rate that sand grains would blow out of the reaction zone of the arc. Silicon smelters instead use lump quartz, which in the purity required is not all that common. They also use a very large amount of fossil carbon in a couple of forms. If we could learn (I have tried and the information is not public) how much CO2 is generated per pound of silicon produced, or per polycrystalline solar panel, the devices would look a lot less attractive. Electricity produced by these panels is not free of CO2 emissions, not by a very large margin. In fact, it is possible a polycrystalline silicon panel may not be able to pay back the carbon debt incurred in its manufacture during its service life. Which is not, despite the above, 20 years. Try 10 years on average.

  5. I looked hard for that in relation to consideration of purchase for my house. It seems to be a very closely held secret. There was a 20-year guarantee (pro-rated replacement), but no visible basis for how they come up with such numbers.

    BTW, the figures didn’t add up to a purchase even at estimated capacities for 20 years and tax credits. Seemed like I was being sold something that overestimated real capacity and understimated installation. I realized that the panels were only going to degrade year by year, that I couldn’t count on enough cloudless long days, that savings were exaggerated and costs likely to be understimated. It looks like the generation companies are experiencing the same things on an industrial scale.

  6. I still can not get a definitive answer to the lifetime of solar PV panels. I have read they degrade with time and it may be one or two percent per year. The lifetime of panels maybe 20 years and probably is no more than 25 years. So solar farms have short life equipement and this shoudl be factored into pollution from these facilities. Nuclear plants and coal plants can last 60 years. If someone has a good answer for the PV cell lifetime; please post it.

  7. We don’t need no more stinkin subsidies.I will take that back if you come up with the ‘subsidy’ cash, as the US government is broke, and hopelessly in debt.

  8. This is just like the mercury rules, no matter how great a hazzard, it is OK as long as it’s “green”.

  9. Kinda makes you wonder what Solyndra left behind, and where. I’m not talking about the few drums we know about.

  10. We need a ‘cleantech’ subsidy for ‘sustainably producing’ PV cells. Half a billion dollar$ would be a good start.

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