The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Green Energy Is All about the Money

Oct 10, 2022

Over the last couple of decades, solar panels have been installed on the roof tops of more than 1.3 million homes and businesses in California, which is by far the largest solar panel market in the country. But since the life span of solar panels is only 25 years, many are ending up in landfills, where components that contain toxic heavy metals such as selenium and cadmium are contaminating the soil and seeping into the groundwater.

The companies that sold these solar panels advertised them as a clean and reliable source of electricity, whose cost was supposed to be lower than the power that came from utility companies. But for the capitalists who own these companies, such as Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, the main attraction for getting into the solar panel business was the massive government subsidies on the federal and state levels, including corporate tax credits and exemptions, grant programs, loan programs, and personal tax credits and exemptions. All that taxpayer money fed massive profits by big companies, as well as the fortunes of the multi-billionaires who own them.

Not surprisingly, in order to maximize their profits from selling and installing the solar panels, these same companies made no provisions for recycling the panels once they stopped working effectively. Of course, it is entirely possible to recycle these panels, since 80% of a typical photovoltaic panel is made of recyclable materials. But disassembling them and recovering the glass, silver and silicon is extremely difficult. Highly trained workers and specialized equipment are needed to separate the aluminum frame and junction box from the panel without shattering it into glass shards. Specialized furnaces are used to heat panels to recover silicon.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that it costs roughly $20 to $30 to recycle a panel versus $1 to $2 to send it to a landfill. Most experts assume that is where the majority of panels are ending up right now. But it’s anyone’s guess, since there is no uniform system for tracking where all of these decommissioned panels are going.

“The industry is supposed to be green”, said Sam Vanderhoof, a solar industry expert and chief executive of Recycle PV Solar told the Los Angeles Times. “But in reality, it’s all about the money.”