How 'Green' are solar panels?

I wonder if we'll eventually see the same problem with a growing number of expired electric car batteries too?

Growing number of Solar panels going to landfill due to cost of 'recycling'.

Millions of solar panels in California risk being dumped on landfill sites as they reach the end of their life cycles.

Over the past two decades, more than 1.3 million homeowners and builders took advantage of state incentives to install the panels on their rooftops.

However, they have a lifespan of 25-30 years and defunct ones are starting to pile up in dumps, raising fears they will contaminate groundwater with toxic metals such as lead, selenium and cadmium.

Sam Vanderhoof, a solar industry expert and chief executive of Recycle PV Solar, told the Los Angeles Times it estimated only one in ten panels were recycled because the process is expensive and time-consuming.

It costs about $20 to $30 to recycle a panel compared with $1 to $2 to send it to a landfill, according to figures from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “The industry is supposed to be green,” Vanderhoof said. “But in reality, it’s all about the money.”

California, with abundant all-year sunshine, was a pioneer in the adoption of solar power. In 2006 it introduced the California Solar Initiative which granted $3.3 billion in subsidies for installing panels on rooftops.

While the scheme was considered a success, officials are now grappling with how to safely dispose of the panels.

Serasu Duran, assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business in Canada, warned in an academic paper last year that the industry was “woefully unprepared for the deluge of waste that is likely to come”.

The issue is not limited to California — a solar panel was installed every 60 seconds last year in the US, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Duran told the LA Times: “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.”

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  • Solar panels in the UK are a complete and utter non sense. Northern hemisphere does not give a good enough projection of the sun and in winter is a waste of time. If not for the fact that we pay the green levy these things would.be shelved.

    Green Madness

  • My solar panels are doing fine at the moment, and have generated 35.3MWh since they were installed.

    Thanks to a battery in the loft, I am running on solar power when writing this post at 10:30pm.  My electricity usage from the grid during the spring and summer averages less than 1kWh per day.

    You can pay your exhorbitant electricity bills (which will be going up again in October).  I will stick with my "nonsense" solar panels, which should last at least another 10 years.


    The economics of solar are now changing as the price of electricity keeps rising.  The break-even point of buying new solar, with no subsidies whatsoever from the government, can be less than 10 years.  That's despite the pitifully low price that electricity companies pay for exported electricity.

  • Sounds like you had to wait for a crisis for your so called green energy to be viable. Crisis being 20 years of poor government planning.

    Fortunately for me I fixed at 17p per kwhr till july 2023 which means I'm not paying so much for your panels.

  • Except... there is no government subsidy for large scale PV any more.

    And yet 12-18 months ago - yes, before the current energy crisis kicked off - the UK solar industry was gearing up to start building big stuff again. This time, projects are competing with conventional generation either directly to the market or by signing energy procurement contracts with large consumers (industry, retail etc) who find solar energy somewhat cheaper than other sources, even if they have to buy any shortfall from the grid.

    For sure the government is honouring its historic commitments to the first movers who helped generate the market and lower the price for the rest of us.

  • The subsidies are all going to the fossil fuel industry- that’s the problem.  If people had to pay true cost of fossil fuels (including environmental damage) they would soon stop using them.

  • Not all the subsidies go to the fossil fuel industry.  Some go to people with solar panels on their roofs.

    If the price of energy keeps going up, then my total net energy bills for a year might actually go positive. Over the last few years, the subsidies have more than paid for all my electricity and gas use.

  • Great discussion, and timely.

    We use gas for heating (typical for Germany), reckoned on an annual basis, with a monthly payment and an annual adjustment in July. My heating bill has just gone up 33% for the next year. Gas prices are forecast to treble, and maybe even to sextuple, and I can't pay that kind of price if it is passed along. (Politically, I have never supported the increasing German dependence on Russian gas supply. Chickens-home-roost-IToldYouSo .... but that doesn't reduce my prospective bills.)

    I just got a formal proposal from my heating engineer for an upgrade to install an air heat pump as support (I can't heat my building on air heat pump output alone, because it is not insulated to the required extent, and we have many days of temperatures below those at which the heat pump can operate). €43K. The price of air heat pumps seems to have gone up 50% since I talking to him a month ago, and the price of the warm-water accumulator 400%. 

    I have known for many years what it would cost for "standard" insulation to allow a heat-pump-only solution. 5 years ago, it was €140K. That is 50% of what I paid for the house in the first place. I would get back some of that in subsidy, but there is no way that cost would amortise over my expected lifetime.

    There are German government subsidies for energy-efficient building mods. But only some. Insulation installed on the outside of the building - yes. Internal insulation - no. Heat exchange devices to existing radiators - yes. PV panels to a circuit supplying on-demand Dyson-type warm-air-stream heaters in each room - no. This last is what I think would be part of a cost-effective solution. But I am the only person I know who thinks along such lines.

    I agree with the comments that PV panels just shouldn't end up in landfill. But, having lived in California, I am not surprised at the throw-away behaviour pattern. Half the state picks up needle and thread when there's a hole in a shirt; the other half throws the shirt out of the car window in some city other than where they live. 

    There appears to be some serious research at most of the car manufacturers being put into how to recycle batteries, and, equally importantly, how to design them for effective recycling.

  • You are aware solar panels work in varying conditions? 

    According to the national grid "The current peak solar electricity generation record seen by our Electricity National Control Centre in the UK is 9680MW on 20 April 2020 – enough to boil five million kettles!"

    I did find this though which seemed interesting:

    "National Grid ESO is preparing Britain’s electricity system to be able to run on purely zero-carbon electricity by 2025 – ready to accommodate whatever quantity of renewable electricity, including solar power, is being generated.

    In order to bring ever increasing amounts of renewable energy onto the grid, and keep costs down for customers, they’re working to overcome two intertwined challenges: ensuring that demand for power is balanced by electricity generated and updating the foundations of the electricity system. Electricity has historically relied on fossil fuels, so they’re designing new approaches and incorporating new technologies.

    In a recent successful test, as part of the Power Potential project, the inverters at a solar plant were upgraded so that, on top of providing power during the sunshine of the day, the plant could also provide a use at night time, smoothing fluctuations in voltage and keep the grid stable.

    Solar power also plays a role in providing frequency response, one of the balancing tools that the ESO uses to keep the electricity system in balance.

    A recent trial saw a contract made up entirely of domestic users, allowing them to get paid to export their excess energy to the grid and help to balance supply and demand with cleaner, decentralised power at the same time."

    Link to that is here: Power Potential | National Grid ESO

  • The thing that is problematic with the lack of spinning reserve, means that the traditional canary in the coal mine of an overload, which is the frequency falling, may not occur as the timing of inverters are derived from the electronics.
    It is possible to emulate this better with some effort, and is being, also the inverters can be switched out of phase with the mains to not invert as such but to load the mains at one part of the 50Hz cycle to fill the internal resevoir capacitor and then to push that charge out at another point in the cycle- in effect  providing a first order phase change power-factor correction that is programmable from cycle to cycle, and on 3 phase systems with further tweaking to load one phase to prop up another.

    As far as I know this can be done quite reliably, and is being rolled out with newer kit at large sites but is not yet common.


    The other more traditional thing that achieves a similar end and can be done of course is to have a large spinning motor/flywheel that motors or generates to smooth things over. Slightly counter intuitively, this is sometimes called a a "synchronous condenser" at least not intuitive to me, for whom the word condenser implies capacitance.
    Mike

  • Slightly counter intuitively, this is sometimes called a a "synchronous condenser" at least not intuitive to me, for whom the word condenser implies capacitance.

    I can see the reasoning, it is storing energy in a similar manner to a capacitor in a dc circuit. I've always thought an "ac capacitor" would be useful, e.g. (to take trivial case) put across a lamp so that it dims gently on power off, in the same way that a dc lamp with a capacitor across it would. Which from your description (I hadn't come across these before) is what this does.

    Apologies, a bit off a quite important topic!

  • I think the vocabulary is an age thing - condensors and valves are terms from an era of electronics that is passing or maybe past- To be fair it was passing when I was a kid (1970s), but I started quite young and learnt a lot from my father and also his text books, which in some cases were pre-war, and in other cases when he was training in the 1950s. I suspect no-one measures the  electrical capacity of condensors in jars any more, (they are about 1nF) but the 1930s Admiralty handbook of Wireless Telegraphy certainly did.

    Agree its a side track - but the threads support branching. I do not like it, but as it is there, to use it.

    Mike.

Reply
  • I think the vocabulary is an age thing - condensors and valves are terms from an era of electronics that is passing or maybe past- To be fair it was passing when I was a kid (1970s), but I started quite young and learnt a lot from my father and also his text books, which in some cases were pre-war, and in other cases when he was training in the 1950s. I suspect no-one measures the  electrical capacity of condensors in jars any more, (they are about 1nF) but the 1930s Admiralty handbook of Wireless Telegraphy certainly did.

    Agree its a side track - but the threads support branching. I do not like it, but as it is there, to use it.

    Mike.

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