Despite its reputation, solar power isn’t completely clean.
Most solar cells are made of silicon, and the process of refining it produces waste that can damage the environment. Some newer solar cells use other materials that are themselves toxic and require proper handling.
Now an environmental watchdog group wants to make the industry cleaner.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition will release a report today detailing the potential environmental problems facing the solar business, which has grown quickly as the world looks for alternatives to fossil fuels.
The report does not argue that sticking a solar panel on your home poses a health risk. Instead, it focuses on the environmental effects of manufacturing solar cells. And it calls for creating a recycling program for used solar panels so they don’t end up in landfills.
The point is not to stifle the industry, said coalition Executive Director Sheila Davis. She wants the solar industry to make sure its entire supply chain is as clean as possible before the industry gets bigger.
“The fact is that solar is a very valuable technology that we hope will expand,” Davis said. “There’s a variety of different technologies that are emerging right now. And as companies drive down their costs and try to increase the efficiency of their panels, they should be trying to improve their environmental performance as well.”
Solar industry representatives say they’re well aware of many of the issues raised in the report and are taking steps to address them, such as requiring silicon producers to recycle their waste.
“The solar industry views its environmental stewardship very seriously,” said Sue Kately, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “That’s a big part of who we are.”
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