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Commentary: EarthTalk by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss

Has there been a backlash against the installation of solar panels on rooftops or the development of large solar farms across the United States?

Incentives such as the solar investment tax credit and the increased affordability of the cost of installing solar panels over the past decade have given renewable solar power the potential to become an energy source. more common. The growing advantage of solar power has amplified its share of total US electricity production from just 0.1% in 2010 to 2.3% in 2020.

The expansion of solar beyond rooftop panels, however, is generating debate. Farmers and other landowners who agree to large-scale solar leasing on their property frequently face resistance from surrounding landlords who question whether the development of a solar power plant or a “farm” will decrease the value of the property. their homes, ruin the scenic views or be detrimental. to wildlife or the environment. Organized groups like Citizens for Responsible Solar, based in Virginia, are also mobilizing against the development of solar panels on rural or agricultural lands. They argue that thousands of acres of land must be cleared for solar panels to produce the equivalent amount of energy of a coal, nuclear or natural gas power plant, and the resulting deforestation will contribute to global warming. Instead, the group encourages the installation of solar panels only on roofs, contaminated land, parking lots and zoned industrial sites.

Environmentalists have also raised concerns over the large number of birds being killed in large-scale solar PV installations. In an attempt to combat the deaths, researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois last year secured a $ 1.3 million contract from the Department of Energy to collect data on what is going on. when birds fly, perch or collide with solar panels.

“There is speculation about how solar energy infrastructure affects bird populations, but we need more data to scientifically understand what is going on,” says Yuki Hamada, senior scientist at Argonne in the project.

One theory is the “lake effect,” which proposes that birds mistake the reflective blue expanse of solar panels for bodies of water and crash into them. According to the Audubon Society, waterfowl in particular are in danger of this fatal effect because some species cannot take off from the ground; they require a running start at the surface of the water. Concentrated “tower” solar power plants, including Tonopah, Nevada Crescent Dunes and California’s Ivanpah in the Mojave Desert, have also come under scrutiny due to bird deaths. These factories use heliostats, or mirrors, to focus sunlight on a receiver filled with molten salt located at the top of a collector tower that converts heat into steam. The steam then powers a turbine to produce clean electricity. Unfortunately, the extremely hot beams of light passing through the mirrors to the tower incinerated passing birds, as well as bats and insects.

There is also the issue of disposal after a lifespan of about 20 to 30 years of a solar panel. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that solar panel waste could total nearly 80 million metric tonnes by 2050, and effective regulations on recycling or reuse are imperative.

Encouraging approaches include Washington State’s PV Module Stewardship and Takeback Program, which requires solar panel manufacturers to provide the public with a convenient and environmentally friendly way to recycle all panels purchased after July 2017.

EarthTalk is written by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss. Send your questions to

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