When you typically think of solar energy, the thought of clean, sustainable electricity comes to mind. You can think of the sun as a massive battery that’s providing an everlasting source of power.
With that being said, solar energy, or at least our effort to harness solar energy, can have a negative environmental impact.
This is especially the case in China, where they are facing the dilemma of how to dispose of aging solar panels. It’s estimated that by 2034, China’s cumulative capacity of recycled panels could reach up to 70 gigawatts (GW). By 2050, that number could reach 20 million tons. To put that number in perspective, that’s 2,000 times heavier than the Eiffel Tower.
So, what’s the problem? What exactly happens when you have this many solar panels sitting around in one place, and what is the impact on the environment?
China’s solar panel problem
China doubled its number of solar panels by more than half in 2016 alone. While China has benefited immensely from the energy generated by this massive investment, it has outstripped its ability to create a manageable retirement plan.