Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are Photovoltaics Part of the Answer or Part of the Problem?


I have always been a huge proponent of PVs. What's not to love really? You have an inert panel, you put it in the sun, and just like magic you get electricity. Well, there is an article in the Washington Post this morning showing some of the down sides of photovoltaic manufacturing, Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China.

This article raise a lot of questions in my mind. I am working on a project where we were going to install PVs even though it doesn't provide the minimum 2.5% of our buildings energy to get the coveted LEED On Site Renewable Energy credit. Is it worth putting the PVs on the roof if the manufacturing of them is going to wipe out or poison a Chinese village?

I realize that there are two things we [the people on this planet] are trying to achieve with PVs. The first is to fill the growing energy gap, both because of the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and the increased demand for energy. But more importantly, in my opinion, isn't it to reduce carbon output and environmental impacts? Why do manufacturers loose this perspective? Why is this there huge disconnect between the profit motive and our ecosystem? Why do manufactures continuously trick us into thinking we are doing something good, while we are poisoning a village on the other side of the world?

I am sure this is not true of all PV manufacturers so if anyone has additional information on who recycles their silicon tetrachloride please let us know. It is clear to me that PVs and other forms of solar energy are a major component to our growing energy needs. This is just one more reason why we as consumers need to be diligent about the cradle to cradle cycle of our consumerism.

4 comments:

Rob said...

Good point. Do you know that photovoltaics are supposed to be 8-25% more efficient if rooftops are 25 degrees celcius. I guess this wont help your 2.5% much, this seems very low , may need to redesign the useage pattern. I am looking for some scientific jounals on research of green roofs (landscaped) and their effect on keeping the temperature down and evidence of the 8-25% increase in electricity production. Anyone know where to get this info?

rob

Solar said...

The 550 member companies of SEIA were outraged and disappointed by the reports of toxic chemical dumping by a factory in China ... this practice violates both our association's professional code of conduct and the very spirit of what we're trying to do as an industry. We are out to solve environmental problems, not create them... Solar energy is the most environmentally friendly energy technology that exists today… But manufacturing solar feedstocks, like any heavy industry, requires strong environmental safeguards. Polysilicon, the primary feedstock in most solar cells, has been produced in the U.S. and Europe for fifty years using the Siemens process in a clean, safe manner, in strict compliance with environmental law… Rhone Resch, president, Solar Energy Industries Association, Washington, D.C. See Rhone’s full statement: http://www.seia.org/solarnews.php?id=168.



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Solar said...

The 550 member companies of SEIA were outraged and disappointed by the reports of toxic chemical dumping by a factory in China ... this practice violates both our association's professional code of conduct and the very spirit of what we're trying to do as an industry. We are out to solve environmental problems, not create them... Solar energy is the most environmentally friendly energy technology that exists today… But manufacturing solar feedstocks, like any heavy industry, requires strong environmental safeguards. Polysilicon, the primary feedstock in most solar cells, has been produced in the U.S. and Europe for fifty years using the Siemens process in a clean, safe manner, in strict compliance with environmental law… Rhone Resch, president, Solar Energy Industries Association, Washington, D.C. See Rhone’s full statement: http://www.seia.org/solarnews.php?id=168.



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Solar said...

At least 89% of air pollution associated with electricity generation could be prevented if power from solar photovoltaics (PV) displaces convention sources of energy on the the grid. In addition, the PV industry follows a pro-active, long-term environmental strategy involving sa recycling and waste management to prevent environmental damage. For more information on the environmental sustainability of solar energy, please see the following link to a study by Brookhaven National Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL):

http://www.pv.bnl.gov/keystone.htm

and a recent Science News article about it:

http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20080301/fob5.asp

http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/2008/42/i06/abs/es071763q.html

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