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Solar Energy's Dark Side

Solar Panel

Solar energy is most used among all the renewable energy sources. Indeed solar energy has bright future, but behind all the brightness solar energy has dark side too. Solar energy is called "clean energy", because it does not produce any fossil fuels. But in the process of making solar panels, major amounts of fossil fuels are used. The big problem with solar panels is that some components of solar cells can not be easily recycled. The solar cells contain toxic materials.

Some environmentalists are worried about the hazardous waste that will fill the nation's landfills, when the panels wear out. The waste will be more hazardous to our health then the landfill of plastic waste. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has issued a report about this issue. In the report the toxic coalition warns the industry and lawmakers about the hazardous waste. They also think that the government and solar industry need to set policies to ensure that a clean technology does not leave waste. According to the report the high-tech industry generated more than 2.6 million tons of e-waste in the U.S. in 2005, about 87% of which ends up in landfills or incinerators.

"You can't just call your product green and close your eyes to what's happening in the supply chain," said Sheila Davis, executive director of the San Jose nonprofit group that pushes for green practices in the technology sector.

"The solar energy industry is running into some of the same problems . . . we've seen in the electronics industry," whose waste is polluting U.S. landfills and contaminating groundwater with harmful substances such as mercury and chromium, Davis said. She also said that local, state and national governments need to consider legislation to keep cleanup costs from falling to taxpayers.

Some solar energy firms are taking action on their own. In the U.S. some manufacturers of thin-film photovoltaic modules, has developed what many in the industry are calling a model for so-called extended producer responsibility. That's the notion that companies must take responsibility for the cradle-to-grave environmental effects of their products.

First Solar guarantees that it will take back all its solar panels from commercial customers at the end of the product's life, said Lisa Krueger, the company's vice president of sustainable development.

First Solar had made recycling those panels an integral part of its manufacturing process so very little material needs to go to a landfill. To back up its promise to customers, the company has funded an independent trust to handle the cost of the collection effort, ensuring that the panels would get recycled even if the company folds, Krueger said.

Making the panels is just the beginning. Planning needs to begin now on what to do with millions of these heavy modules as they wear out in 20 to 25 years or are replaced with better technology, environmentalists say.

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