Most people seem to believe that wind and solar panels produce no waste and have no negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, these people are wrong.
In reality, everything that humans do has an environmental impact, whether it be mining, using a coal-fired power plant, or even tourism. When it comes to energy and environmental policy, the real question to ask is not “will there be an impact?” but rather, “can the impacts be minimized?” and “do the benefits outweigh the costs?”
Because everything has an effect on the environment, it is important that everyone understands the impacts of all energy sources so we can make the best possible energy decisions. We are constantly making trade-offs in our lives whether we recognize it or not.
A recent article in Grist warns of a looming onslaught of solar waste as solar panels in the United States begin to reach the end of their 25 year lifetimes. The article begins:
“Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives — and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.”
Unlike other forms of electricity generation, like nuclear plants or coal plants, there doesn’t seem to be any foresight on how to deal with the waste that will be generated when solar panels and wind turbines reach the end of their short lifetimes. Remember, nuclear plants can run for 80 years, as can coal plants with proper maintenance and upkeep, but even the best wind turbines and solar panels will last for just 25 years, creating staggering amounts of waste products.