But should giant solar parks continue to be built, one oft-ignored complication will have to be dealt with in future decades: solar panel waste. The panels last just 30 years or so, after which they must be broken up. It is hard to recycle them because they contain harmful chemicals like sulphuric acid. China is expected to experience a sudden boom in solar panel waste from around 2040 onwards and there is currently no clear plan for what to do with all that material.
Not quite as problematic as nuclear waste, perhaps, but it is one more hurdle to overcome when ensuring that large-scale solar energy really is a ‘green’ technology.
We’re going to have to deal with that problem at some stage.
The linked to article The Dark Side of China’s Solar Boom has a lot more details and mentions:
Last month, Europe’s first PV panel recycling plant began operating in France, repurposing all of the materials from the panels to make new solar panels. In the past, the panels were recycled in glass recycling plants, and only the glass and aluminum components could be recovered.
The urgency of solar panel recycling hasn’t yet dawned on most manufacturers. In China, expenses related to the handling of solar panel waste disposal or recycling aren’t factored into production costs. That’s different from Europe, where a directive requiring producers to take responsibility for recycling the panels they sell has been in place since 2012.
(And the Panda Green Energy Group has been creating large Panda shaped solar panel farms in Datong and soon elsewhere. Pics included here, here, here and here; which is what led me to this story! Note there are many artist renderings of these, but the ones in the linked articles seem to be real pics.)