The Pollution of Photovoltaics

I have previously explained that there is “clean” renewable energy and “dirty” renewable energy. Clean renewable energy produces little pollution and almost no emissions and includes wind turbines, solar thermal panels (that produce heat) and dirty renewable energy includes energy produced from wood burning. The distinction is important because the point of renewable energy is to produce fewer emissions and less pollution. Originally I had classified photovoltaic panels as “clean” but the latest news suggests that photovoltaic panels, which produce electricity, are really a very dirty form of energy.

I explained yesterday that PV made in China is particularly emission producing intensive, when compared with solar thermal panels that create heat. Now it seems that PV creates many noxious by products in its manufacture, in many cases which are not properly disposed of. I hasten to add that these issues do not affect solar thermal panels at all, the manufacture of which is clean and safe.

In the rush to make PV panels as cheaply as possible, prices being affected by demand created by ridiculously high subsidies, many businesses have set up factories in China where it seems that pollution control is low and in some cases non existent.

In the province of Zhejiang last Sunday a solar panel manufacturing plant owned by JinkoSolar felt the wrath of public protest about its polluting activities and with good reason. More than five hundred protestors have been at the factory gates for more than four days and these protestors are local residents who accuse Jinko of allowing its waste to pollute the local river.

It seems that fluoride waste had been improperly and negligently stored so when heavy rains came at the end of August the fluoride was swept into the river and on land. Thousands of fish were killed and many pigs died from drinking the contaminated water, which was found to have more than ten times the maximum permissible fluoride level. Some allege that cancer rates near the plant are exceptionally high, although the authorities have arrested one blogger who claimed that 31 people from a village close to the plant had developed cancer, whereas apparently only six people had.

What seems undeniable is that the Chinese authorities had previously required the PV plant to clean up its act and make fluoride storage safer, and the order came last April which gives JinkoSolar a question to answer, at the very least.

Jinko is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is a highly profitable business turning over $360 million last quarter and employing ten thousand people. It is highly automated which suggests to my mind that it is not located inChinabecause of cheap labour, but possibly the rather weak environmental regulations may play a part. One thing it clear: the cost to the company of any litigation brought for environmental and health damage inZhejiangis a tiny fraction of what the cost would have been had this happened in theUnited Statesor in the European Union.

When we export our industries we export the emissions and the environmental consequences of those industries.

Jinko Solar’s website includes the statement “solar energy is not just a business. It is also a means of contributing to a greener tomorrow through persistent efforts and passion.”

Its press release about these events states:

“This unfortunate incident has greatly impacted the management team of JinkoSolar. The Company takes pride in its environmental compliances, and has met or exceeded all requirements for ISO 14001 certification. Additionally, JinkoSolar ensures that all its factories are equipped with state of the art machines designed for minimal environmental impact”

So we know that the management team at JinkoSolar are greatly “impacted” but no doubt not as greatly impacted as the environment or the people or the fish or the pigs. We also know that ISO14001 is not a standard that guarantees environmental protection but a system essentially to show that management systems comply with local environmental laws. It is about form, not substance. The state of the art machinery is more likely designed for maximum profitable production of PV rather than environmental impact.

Out of sight, environmental damage is usually out of mind. The huge taxpayers’ subsidies for PV not only make no sense in terms of emissions but also seem to be subsidising environmental damage in China.


2 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, there remains no such thing as a free lunch. In Australia there is growing anecdotal evidence and concern about the health effects of low-frequency sound emissions from wind farms. This has resulted in growing opposition to planning approvals and increasingly arduous regulatory frameworks for new installations within varying proximities to human habitations.
    In 2004 it was my understanding that we collectively wasted 60% of the energy we produce. This figure supposedly coincided with the percentage reduction of greenhouse gas emissions required to significantly mitigate climate change. These figures have presumably changed significantly for the worst.
    Perhaps frugality is the cheapest lunch in town.

  2. I would like to touch on a few finer points if I may.

    There was a mention here within of wood being a dirty fuel, in fact wood is actually Renewable, “carbon dioxide neutral” abundant and inexpensive to harvest or buy compared to other fuels it will also keep the house warm when the power goes out, it will heat your water, cook your food and the ash or charcoal is highly beneficial for the soil according to renowned climate scientist James Lovelock who openly promotes the burning of wood and the buring of charcoal to actually reduce Co2 levels created by consumerism.

    Fluoride was also mentioned and recent reports say this chemical is now being added to our public waterworks/supply in many area’s throughout the UK, according to a freind and seasoned Doctor/Practitioner who owns our allotment land, he said when asked about the chemical flouride in the water supply, and quote” It has no beneficial purpous whatsoever to the human body” apart from a mild seddative nature in a certain quantities, and highly dangerous in higher levels of intake, which has been fully documented as being used in prisons throughout history for that very purpous.

    Also touching on pollutions the world over, not only by far the worst culprit is our own consumerism taking place from China and her complete dissregard for the planet striving to supply or demand the goodies we all crave.

    Mr Dickson also mentioned wind turbine pollution, this is a well known phenomenon called the 8 cycle wave or commonly know as the Death wave, which can actually damage buildings and natural life forms if placed too close to buildings etc.
    Turbines are also notoriously poor givers of alternative energy for the poor return vesus the energy and pollution created whilst making/manufacturing them in the first place.
    When the energy is needed for heating in the winter and cooling in the hight of summer the natural energy IE wind is simply not blowing, on frosty nights it is still and in the heat of mid summer there is calm, creating a rather stationary and expensive ornament indeed.

    It seems it is us human’s that need to recycle our thoughts of how we do business with our planet, who works tirelessly every day for free aided by our solar freind who bath’s us in earth time and heat to perpetually supply everything we and nature needs.

    And last but not least, the sun is where we need look for our alternative energy and an apparatus that collects and most importantly converts and STORES the true energy into another form without creating further pollution is the way forward, both being totally renewable via the sun always shining somewhere upon earth and by planting trees which again are CARBON NEUTRAL.

    And that would be,

    Solar water heating, wood burning combination being the very best.

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