Controversies of Solar Power: Uncovering the process of solar panel manufacturing

Solar power has never been cheaper than it is now, making it one of the most trending renewable energy sources. Production cost have even dropped to the point of being commercially competitive with the price of coal-based electricity in certain parts of the world (ABC News, 2017; Safi, 2017; Shankleman & Warren, 2017)!

However, while most people are cheering for the era of solar, there are still many harsh realities about this renewable energy that cannot be ignored – one of which is the highly toxic compound present in most solar cells. Cadmium telluride photovoltaic (also known as CdTe solar cell) is the second most common solar panel installed around the world (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, n.d.). The CdTe solar cell has been widely accepted for its inexpensive production, quick installation and high efficiency which surpassed the capabilities of a silicon – based cell. However nothing is perfect – the two main elements making up a CdTe solar cell are highly controversial. While Cadmium can pose a serious threat to public and environmental health through leaching, Tellurium is extremely rare and would require potentially unsustainable mining techniques to acquire commercial amounts (“Cadmium toxicity”, n.d.).

Furthermore, scientists from UK’s National Oceanography Centre have recently discovered a seamount abundant in Tellurium near the coast of north – west Africa (Shukman, 2017). This discovery has left environmentalist in a dilemma: in order for solar power to thrive, the Earth would have to suffer – either in the form of land mining which could cause destruction of habitats on land, or deep sea mining where the marine life would eventually deal with the consequences of such disturbances.

What do you think? Would these environmental disturbances be worth it for the future of pursuing more sustainable energy means?

 

Written by: Hong Hui [Y2 NVB]

 

References:

ABC News. (2017, February 24). Solar power cheaper than fossil fuels in most capital cities: Climate Council. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-23/solar-power-cheaper-than-coal-climate-council-finds/8296232

Cadmium Toxicity. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.arltma.com/Articles/CadmiumToxDoc.htm

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (n.d.). Cadmium TellurideRetrieved from https://www.energy.gov/eere/sunshot/cadmium-telluride

Safi, M. (2017, May 10). Indian solar power prices hit record low, undercutting fossil fuels. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/10/indian-solar-power-prices-hit-record-low-undercutting-fossil-fuels

Shankleman, J., & Warren, H. (2017, June 16). Solar power will kill coal faster than you think. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-15/solar-power-will-kill-coal-sooner-than-you-think

Shukman, D. (2017, April 11). Renewables’ deep-sea mining conundrum. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39347620

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2 thoughts on “Controversies of Solar Power: Uncovering the process of solar panel manufacturing

    1. Thank you. As environmental studies students, it’s important for us to look at both sides of many environmental issues and solutions. – Elysia (Y3 NVB)

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