MindBullets 20 Years

Solar loses its shine

Renewables is a dirty word

Solar power has been the poster child for the renewable energy industry for the past two decades. Costs have declined by 90%, efficiencies have almost doubled, and utility scale as well as rooftop installations have surged worldwide. But it seems that solar’s day in the sun is fading fast.

The reason can be summed up in two words: renewable and sustainable. Although energy from sunlight is infinitely renewable on a daily basis, solar panels are not, and degrade over time, eventually needing to be replaced. Add to that the hundreds of thousands of panels that have effectively been destroyed by hailstorms, tornadoes and accidents, and you have a massive waste disposal problem. Recycling old panels just isn’t feasible, because, you know, money.

And as for being sustainable, almost all silicon solar panels these days are made in China, using mainly fossil fuels for production and shipping. To say nothing of the toxic chemicals involved, or the impact of mining for metals and minerals essential to high-grade photovoltaics. Solar power may be clean, but its supply chain is anything but.

To make matters worse, lithium batteries for solar storage and electric cars have an even shorter life than panels, with similar recycling problems and a much bigger eco footprint on the production side. Disposal of dead batteries is becoming a costly nightmare for ‘renewables’ companies as environmental legislation bites. Battery producers are obliged to take back expired units, significantly increasing the levelized cost of battery storage for new projects. And shipping heavy batteries uses a lot of diesel.

Don’t get me wrong; solar panels and lithium batteries have revolutionized the energy sector, powering microgrids and enabling an ‘energy internet’ of distributed power producers and consumers. Just don’t call them renewables. That’s a dirty word.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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