Clean Solar’s Dirty Secret

Mr. Rhone Resch in his letter (WSJ August 5, 2010) as President of the Solar Energy Industries Association ( SEIA) is working hard to put a smiley, sunny face on solar power. However, his enthusiastic claims for “clean, safe energy sources like solar” do not hold sway when exposed to a bit of truth-revealing sunlight.
He refers to “today’s toxic energy sources” without defining what that toxin might be, and infers that solar is non-toxic by comparison. Sunshine maybe non-toxic, but the manufacturing processes to produce photovoltaic cells and panels also produce or employ highly toxic chemicals such as lead, silicon tetrachloride, and cadmium telluride. Large amounts of water and coal-fired energy are used in the manufacturing process. This may or may not be of concern to SEIA, as the toxic and polluting aspects of solar panel manufacture take place in China, now the world’s low cost leader in solar panel manufacture. The disposal of these panels at the end of their useful life is another concern because of their toxic components.
Once deployed, solar mirrors and solar photovoltaic panels need regular, perhaps daily, washings to remove dust from their surfaces in order to maintain their already low efficient operation. Sunny, desert locations are the prime locations for such panels, and water shortages are inherent to these dusty environments.
Mr. Resch makes reference to “massive subsides for coal, nuclear power, and oil” versus the “modest” policies for renewable energy, again without documentation. The 2008 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) listed the subsidized dollar cost per megawatthour produced for various energy sources: solar $24.34, nuclear $1.59, and coal $0.44. Solar gives the least bang for the subsidized buck.
Another study by EIA in their Annual Energy Outlook of 2010 calculated the average cost in levelized dollars/megawatthour produced by various power plant types, beginning in 2016. Coal fired plants are the cheapest at a baseline of 100; solar thermal costs 256; solar photovoltaic costs 396.
The misstating of the energy debate would seem to be by Mr. Resch, and not by the WSJ authors he quotes.

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