Surprise: California’s Big Solar Push Created An Environmental Mess

Seriously, we on the Skeptics side told you this was going to happen (also with no paywall at Yahoo)

California went big on rooftop solar. It created an environmental danger in the process

California has been a pioneer in pushing for rooftop solar power, building up the largest solar market in the U.S. More than 20 years and 1.3 million rooftops later, the bill is coming due.

Beginning in 2006, the state, focused on how to incentivize people to take up solar power, showered subsidies on homeowners who installed photovoltaic panels but had no comprehensive plan to dispose of them. Now, panels purchased under those programs are nearing the end of their 25-year life cycle.

Many are already winding up in landfills, where components that contain toxic heavy metals such as selenium and cadmium can contaminate groundwater.

“People just don’t realize that there are toxic materials in those electronics, that it’s fine if it’s just sitting in a box in your house,” said Natalie Click, a doctoral candidate in materials science at the University of Arizona who studies the issue. “But once it gets crushed and put into the landfill, a lot of those toxic chemicals and materials are going to leak into your groundwater.”

So, you’re just supposed to leave those dead components in your house? I take dead TVs and other stuff to the Wake County recycling center, not leave them in the attic or spare bedroom.

Sam Vanderhoof, a solar industry expert, says that only 1 in 10 panels are actually recycled, according to estimates drawn from International Renewable Energy Agency data on decommissioned panels and from industry leaders.

Citizens of the People’s Republic Of California don’t recycle? Hmm.

The looming challenge over how to handle truckloads of contaminated waste illustrates how cutting-edge environmental policy can create unforeseen hazards down the road.

“The industry is supposed to be green,” Vanderhoof said. “But in reality, it’s all about the money.”

You don’t say.

But as California barreled ahead on its renewable-energy program, focusing on rebates and — more recently — a proposed solar tax, questions about how to handle the toxic waste that would accrue years later were never fully addressed. Now, both regulators and panel manufacturers are realizing that they don’t have the capacity to handle what comes next.

“This trash is probably going to arrive sooner than we expected and it is going to be a huge amount of waste,” said Serasu Duran, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business in Canada. “But while all the focus has been on building this renewable capacity, not much consideration has been put on the end of life of these technologies.”

How’s that saying go? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Or, are they false environmental intentions?

It’s actually a shame. I’d like solar and others to succeed from a true environmental viewpoint.

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16 Responses to “Surprise: California’s Big Solar Push Created An Environmental Mess”

  1. alanstorm says:

    Citizens of the People’s Republic Of California don’t recycle? Hmm.

    Nope. Every time I go to ultra-green CA (less and less as time goes by, thank God) I can rely on seeing hordes of cars driving around…with one person in them.

  2. Elwood P. Dowd says:

    What? An energy source not held responsible for the negative externalities associated with its use?? Where have we heard this song before? Perhaps we will learn.

    OK. We can ban solar panels or maybe mandate their recycling. It would be incorporated into the price.

    • alanstorm says:

      Missing the point as usual.

      If you criticize the “fossil fuel” companies for not taking externalities into account, you lose the standing to object to getting hammered when your idols turn out to be tarnished.

      OK. We can ban solar panels or maybe mandate their recycling.

      Get to work. Let us know how your campaign goes.

  3. Dana says:

    It’s obvious: the environmentalist whackos, to use the late Mr Limbaugh’s term for them, are really, really poor at thinking things through.

    If solar panels are failing due to natural aging, and being removed, one of two things is happening: either they are being replaced with newer panels, or the house is simply going back on to the grid. If it’s the former, then they are most probably being removed by a solar heating contractor as he replaces them with new. If solar heating contractors had a way to recycle them, rather than paying landfill fees to just dump them, they would. This ought to create a market for the used up solar panels, but, if so, it’s apparent that not many people are moving in to that market.

    If the panels are just being dumped, then some are being removed by individual homeowners, but I find it improbable that 90% of the panels are being taken down by homeowners; working on roofs is hot, nasty work, and, quite frankly, fear of heights seems to me to extend to more than 10% of the population.

  4. Of course, there’s another issue. Solar systems are not cheap, and the average time to recoup the expenses is between 9 and 12 years. If your system wears out in 25 years, you’ll have to replace it, meaning another several years to pay it off, again. If there are salvageable components which can be used in the second system, the costs might come down, but 25 years is a long time for electronic components not to become outdated.

  5. There’s more: the batteries for a solar system last between 5 and 15 years. You will have to replace the battery pack for your solar system at least once before you replace the panels, and that can cost between $5,000 and $7,000.

  6. Hairy says:

    Teach is this a realenvironmental apocalypse ? Lol
    If there are 25 panels on a roof and they last 25 years………. that is like 1 panel every 25 years
    Is that a significant increase in the volume of household waste generated I’m a year ?
    Yku must learn Teach to be MOST skeptical of any data you WANT to believe

    Am I the only one who bothers to analyze things here??????
    1 panel per house per year ??? OMG
    We are doomed
    By stupidity

    • The Hirsute commenter who once told us that just 100 square miles of solar panels would power this entire country wrote:

      Am I the only one who bothers to analyze things here??????

      I miss the older gif which had the guy rolling around on the floor laughing.

    • L.G.Brandon!, L.G.Brandon! says:

      “If there are 25 panels on a roof and they last 25 years………. that is like 1 panel every 25 years”

      No, it’s not. It is more like 25 panels every 25 years, maybe. More likely 25 panels every 20 years as the weaker begin to fail. All at once requiring great expense, probably. You are saying my tiled roof with 300 tiles is like one tile each year? Bullshit. When the roof needs replacing one does not replace 12 panels out of 25. Unless you desire to have an annual tile replacement party every July 4th.

  7. Hairy says:

    Dana care to guess what the typical service life span of a conventional roof .ivht be? Since most damage is typically caused by Sun would solar roof panels probably increase or decrease the service life of a roof?
    Recycling panels will probably increase in the future. Right now probably not viable but with economy of scale will increase

    • Dana says:

      Given that solar panels normally cover only part of a roof, the parts not covered would still be subject to ultraviolet rays. When substantial sections of the roof have reached the end of their service lives, the whole roof is going to be replaced. If only the exposed sections are replaced or patched, eventually the other areas will have to be replaced, including the added costs of removing abnd reinstalling the solar system.

      The entire roof will still get wet and dry, as rain flows underneath the solar panels. More, as the solar panels retain heat, the roof underneath the panels will get cooked some during times the rest of the roof is cooled at night.

      Of course, solar panels on the roof have to be mounted on something, and that means screws are drilled through the roof. Installers use special rubber washers to try to prevent those holes from leaking, but rubber washers on a roof eventually deteriorate.

      In 1980, I had to tear off and replace the roof on my mother’s house. It had a 12/12 pitch, and was a four-sided pyramid, three stories in the air, with a chimney in the very center. I had never done a roof before, but, with one of my sisters out on the roof with me, and my wife and other sister hauling up the material and handing it to us out of the one dormer window in what used to be my bedroom as a kid, we got it done, and it didn’t leak.

      Of course, I was 27 years old at the time! When Mrs Pico and I were discussing what we wanted as we were planning to retire back to the Bluegrass State, one thing I specified was that I wanted a house with a metal roof, because I did not want to have to be out, replacing the roof, when I was 75 or 80 years old! And yes, our current house has a 50-year metal roof on it.

      • Elwood P. Dowd says:

        Metal roofs have significant advantages. They are safer, more reflective (cooler), 2-3 times longer lasting than shingles, recyclable, but 2-3 times more expensive installed, require expert installation and are noisy (having spent weeks in modern log cabins with metal roofs in WV oak-hickory forests! – nuts falling all dang night long). That said, the advantages outweigh any disadvantages, if you can afford it. Metal roofs are a great base for solar panels!

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  9. Hairy says:

    Dana not sure what type of roof yku have I am more familiar with asphalt shingle roofs
    With those the major damage is from the Sun and since solar panels are normally put on the sunny part of the roof there has got to be at least some protection from that as well as protection from wind.
    Would solar panels make a roof last indefinitely? No and if you thought that after reading my post I apologize.
    Of course they would only provide some additional protection from the part of the roof that receives the most Sun which of course is what damages asphalt shingles the most
    And of course not all roofing repairs require the complete removal of all shingles, only the most damaged ones are often replaced
    Of course replacing all of the solar panels after 25 years would be an insignificant fraction of the total domestic refuse generated by thst house. The equivalent of 1 panel per year. Europe already has recycling in Ace the aluminum frame easily recycled and the glass ground up for sand

  10. L'Roy White says:

    Sorry son but as a guy who has done roofing all his life the statement ” I am more familiar with asphalt shingle roofs. With those the major damage is from the Sun and since solar panels are normally put on the sunny part of the roof there has got to be at least some protection from that as well as protection from wind.”

    You almost stumbled across the truth. I would just point out that I never did a roof where the insurance company paid for “sun damage”. Roofs are destroyed by heavy rain, hail, sleet, snow and wind damage. All of which will do to solar panels what they do to roofs. You are just going to multiply your replacement costs or your insurance fees. Also, if you add the costs of damage to solar panels by wind, rain, snow, sleet and hail to the costs of the roof ya get a two-fer.

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