Improper Disposal of Discarded Solar Panels Poses Risk to Public Health & Environment

Solar is Green, Alright; but is it Green All the Way?

Technological advances in the solar photovoltaic energy sector have been keeping pace with increasing awareness of and demand for clean and green energy. In just 5 years between 2014 and 2019, the solar power capacity of India has grown 11 times and solar tariff has achieved grid parity.

This is of course a heartening development, but while the production of solar power is free of carbon emissions, it comes with its own set of environmental challenges. The end-of-use disposal of solar panels is an area of concern as it presents serious health and environmental risks that need to be mitigated.

Materials used in solar panels often contain heavy metals such as Cadmium, Arsenic, and Chromium. Many of these materials are toxic and some are even carcinogenic. Additionally, some of these materials, when unscientifically disposed of, can in due course result in acid burns, fires, and explosions. The specific category of risk depends not only on the chemical nature of the material used but also on the thin-film technology and deposition process employed.

Moreover, if large quantities of such toxic waste accumulate over long periods of time in landfills, the chemicals can leach into and pollute soil and ground-water. In this way, these toxic chemicals can even enter our food chain and wreak havoc on public health.

With India leading the International Solar Alliance, we have a special responsibility to demonstrate a strong regulatory mechanism for the scientific disposal of solar panels towards the protection of environmental and human health. Not only the solar energy industry but also the general public must be made aware of the hazards posed by the unregulated disposal of solar panels so as to secure their cooperation in any collection and disposal value chain that may be put in place.

Solar energy is certainly proving to be a major ally in our battle against climate change but we have to remain vigilant in recognising and mitigating the associated risks. Reliable testing facilities are critical for environmental vigilance and Mitra S K Pvt. Ltd. continues to provide state of the art testing services such as for detecting heavy metal contamination in soil and water that can help in this endeavour.