Episode 423 S15 -26
Solar power is electrical or thermal energy harvested from sunlight. When I hear about a “green energy” solution, that is where the work begins. Honestly, I haven’t been too impressed with the side effects from things like harvesting Lithium, so I’ve always been skeptical of solar energy.
My research found that solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells made of semiconductor materials (such as silicon) to absorb particles from the sun called photons. The photovoltaic cells are made from crystalline silicon, gallium, and/or boron. Silica is one of the earth’s crust’s most common elements besides oxygen.
When mining, a lot of silica dust is kicked up; however, the denser quantities where it is processed are usually where the threat of lung disease from the dust is greatest. There is also a concern about the accidental discharge of silica into waterways, but it is dust and dispenses into the water. Other chemicals that process the silica dust like polyacrylamide and acid, could run into groundwater systems. Polyacrylamide is a neurotoxin and a carcinogen; however, it quickly degrades into CO2, ammonia, and nitrogen oxide. They use polyacrylamide in our water treatment facilities to clump and remove impurities. Water use is another concern for mining silica. A closed system will use 18,000 gallons of water daily, but an open loop can consume two million gallons daily. Reclaimed land will yield a crop 73% as fruitful as a non-mined parcel three years after mining seizes.
Gallium is not a free element. It exists in trace amounts in various compounds, including zinc ores and bauxite. It only makes up.0019% of the earth’s crust and is a byproduct of aluminum and zinc production. It is grouped in the same elemental group as boron. These post-transitional metals are softer and poorer conductors.
There are three types of panels. Monocrystalline panels are formed with one large silicon block in a wafer format. They are labor-intensive to produce and, thus, more expensive. These panels typically have a sleek black look. Polycrystalline panels are made by melting multiple silicon crystals together. It is less efficient but easier to make. They usually are a bluish color. An amorphous solar panel is flexible and easily transported but inefficient by comparison.
There are pros and cons of installing solar panels. Solar is a renewable energy source and can provide energy independence. It can provide long-term savings and benefit the community by providing an energy source. It hedges against rising power costs and decreases your monthly bill. It can increase your home’s property value, has “low cost” maintenance, diverse uses, and the tech is improving.
However, the panels are still costly and require sunlight to produce power. They are difficult to install and require a lot of space. Storing solar energy is expensive, and a lot of energy is used to produce the materials that make the panels and the panels themselves. If you move, they are difficult to relocate, and the increasing demand will decrease the materials available to produce them. Recycling options for worn-out panels are almost non-existent, and many end up in landfills.
Solar panels last 25-30 years on average and have a .5% yearly degradation rate. That means the panel will only produce 90% of what it initially did in twenty years. Climate factors like extreme heat and cold can affect a panel’s lifespan. Proper installation and panel quality will also make a big difference. To make them last longer, ensure you have a quality installer, keep your panels clean, and have them routinely maintained.
By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will end their lifespan. At this same time, the world will be generating six million metric tons of new solar e-waste each year. There is no plan on what to do with it. The recovery of valuable materials from it has not been simplified and is inefficient. These valuable materials find themselves in landfills where harmful materials like lead leach out. Waste amounts will only increase as technology improves, making it less expensive and more efficient.
With the extreme weather the planet has been experiencing, they need to be made to survive the storm. Most panels are made to withstand hail 25mm (1 inch) thick, falling at 23 meters per second (50mph). They can withstand wind speeds of 2400 pascals or about 140 miles per hour. Fire will destroy panels. However, they can be quickly hardened against an EMP or CME. Battery banks, panels, and pieces that don’t hold circuitry are not susceptible to an EMP. Connecting wires and diode strings that facilitate power transfer to batteries can be affected and can transfer harmful energy to panels and batteries. To prevent this from happening, you can purchase an EMP–hardened solar inverter (Sol-Ark makes one) and install surge protectors. Choose a battery that is not full of circuitry, and you can keep your power on even when the lights go out.
I would like to see a better system for recycling used panels, but solar impressed me. I’m not sure the cost of the panels works out favorably by the end of their lives, so I wouldn’t deck my house out in them, but as a backup power system, I am all in.
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