Solar power’s attributes are affected by numerous factors, and counterintuitively, cause many non-green results in the production process and the maintaining of solar farms. Like many other man-made appliances, solar panels have an expiration date. After 25-30 years of use, they have to be disposed of due to the effects of the weather.
To produce power in the first place, solar panels have solar cells that need to receive sunlight in order to function. According to the author of “Solar Photovoltaic Cell Basics,” When the light comes into contact with a solar cell it causes the energy from the light to transfer into electrons. The extra energy these electrons have from the sun allows them to flow through the semi-conductive material creating an electrical current. Since the current is also in contact with the conductive metal it causes the current to transfer directly into the main grid hooked up to the solar panel. Since “95% of the [solar cell] modules” have a base element of silicon the harmful process to manufacture silicon is widely used in solar panel production.
The production of Solar Panels is dangerous to those involved and releases harmful substances into the environment, which is the opposite goal of clean energy. In “Solar Energy Isn’t Always As Green As You Think” Dustin Mulvaney states that the quartz used to begin the process is extracted from the earth, the miners are put “at risk of… …the lung disease silicosis.” Upon further research, the American Lung Association claims that particles coming off the quartz crystals, when breathed in, remotely cause “permanent lung scarring, called pulmonary fibrosis” which eventually harms the inhaler’s ability to breathe. This scarring takes years to develop but can go unnoticed for just as long. The next harm comes from the casting process. Mulvaney continues to explain how the furnaces used to cast the quartz into silicon result in harmful substances being released into the atmosphere. To power, these furnaces require large amounts of energy which in most cases comes from other non-clean power sources that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Mulvaney explains how the furnaces themselves also release carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. These gasses trap heat in the atmosphere which is the cause of global warming. Turning the refined quartz from silicon to polysilicon results in 3-4 times as much silicon tetrachloride being created as a byproduct. Companies that cannot afford to recycle silicon tetrachloride throw all of it away. This is where the byproduct comes into contact with water, resulting in harmful fumes being released and acidifying the surrounding soil. Mulvaney gives a real-world example of this from 2011 where “hydrofluoric acid used by [a] company… …contaminated river water, killing hundreds of fish and dozens of pigs”.
The energy capacity of any power source is the amount of time each year in which the system runs at max efficiency. Factors such as resource consumption, human error, and throughput influence this efficiency. Since the earth is spinning the sun is never in the same place in the sky. This is an example of a throughput limitation and directly causes solar panels’ energy capacity to fluctuate all day. The only time a solar panel can work at one hundred percent efficiency is when the sun is at its highest point which according to Mike Mueller in “Nuclear Power is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It’s Not Even Close” is only 24.9% of the time. The remote cause of this percentage is that companies are required to produce and install 4 times as many solar panels to get the efficiency of 1 running at 100%. Furthermore, this low energy capacity requires solar farms to draw power from alternative power plants with higher energy capacities. Solar power uses nongreen energy to stay green. The fact that 4 times as many panels are needed leads to 4 times the production, leading to 4 times as much being released into the environment or atmosphere. This also drives the price up to 4 times as much, making it less affordable than other conventional energy producers.
Solar panels don’t last forever. As a result of thermal cycling, long-term exposure to damp heat, freezing, and UV exposure, solar panels can degrade by 0.5% or 3% a year according to too John David Baldwin in his article “What causes solar panel performance to decline”. Baldwin continues to speak about an ironic process in which the Busbars used to increase the efficiency of a solar cell actually cause the solar cell to degrade. He quotes Kelly Pickerel, the editor of Solar Power World, when she states, “The soldering points put stress on the solar cell and can lead to microcracking.” Standard use panels have a “life spawn [of] about 25 to 30 years” according to Nate Berg in “What will happen to solar panels after their useful lives are over?”. Berg quotes Garvin Heath, a scientist at the NREL, that eventually the degradation of the panels is going to cause a “waste management issue.” The lifespan ending on the first generation of solar panels, and the sheer number of panels will produce a global electronic waste issue.
Looking at solar power as a conventional energy source on a national level causes the price of Solar panels to decrease. According to Andrew Sendy “a fair price for … … a solar system in 2021 is between $2.60 per watt and $3.20 per watt,” but when buying on an industrial level the price drops from roughly $3.20 to roughly $0.70. Because of the capacity factor, it requires 3.1 million solar panels to produce a wattage equal to that of one nuclear plant. The space required to fit this many solar panels is over one thousand three hundred acres, causing the price to skyrocket after factoring in the cost of the land. When compared to the price of other conventional energy sources that don’t release harmful substances during the production process, solar always comes out on the bottom because of the countless other price changes that come with the use.
Those price per watt numbers (anybody’s price per watt numbers) are SOOOO squishy.
Almost always, what’s really being measured is a black box.