Thinking from the end

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By Kalte Sonne

Think from the endThat was one of the favorite phrases attributed to former Chancellor Merkel. Actually, it is only the continuation of what was already in the “Gesta Romanorum” of the 14th century:

Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem
Whatever you do, do it wisely and consider the end

When the US state of California began more than 20 years ago and massively promoted the use of solar panels, the end of life of solar panels was a long way off. Why worry about what will happen to them in 20 or 30 years? There was no concept for disposal after the end of the panels’ lives. 20 years later, completely new situations arise. There is a real waste problem, and this is likely to become even bigger in the future, because in the USA solar power systems have been and will be massively subsidized similar to those in Germany. This means that a lot of systems have been installed and they will eventually reach the end of their lives.

The LA Times takes up the topic and it’s sobering what the newspaper found out. Only 10% of the panels are recycled. You could also say that 90% end up in the garbage sooner or later. “The industry likes to give itself green, but in the end it’s all about the money,” the paper quotes Sam Vanderhof, a solar expert.

However, the problem is not limited to California, it affects the entire USA, indeed all countries in which solar modules are in use. It has not yet been determined whether the plants will later release hazardous substances into the environment in landfills. Depending on the design, the ingredients may differ.

Actually, however, this closes a circle, because the production of solar systems, which are mainly produced in China, is also very critical from the point of view of the environment. Cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants and low environmental standards in China are a bad start to a technology that likes to see itself as sustainable.

It is also clear that someone always pays the price for it. In this case, the environment, namely during the extraction of raw materials and production, but then also after the end of life of the plants, when they then have to be disposed of in landfills, because recycling either does not pay off or the capacities are not available at all. Ultimately, however, the destruction of nature is paid for by all people.

Why there are no convincing concepts even 20 years after the energy transition is puzzling. Although there are also companies in Germany that can recycle modules, figures on the proportion of recycled plants are scarce. Over time, the problem will get bigger and it won’t go away on its own. However, it remains a good feeling for all those who rely on solar, but want to protect the environment, but better close their eyes during production and disposal. By the way, the way of disposal is not exclusive to photovoltaics. The images of WIndkraft wings, which were simply covered with earth in a depression, went wide through the press. What will future generations say when they meet these remnants later, if you think from the end?

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Switzerland’s energy strategy is wishful thinking, says an ETH researcher. An article in the NZZ describes the opinion of the scientist Sornette.

“On the one hand, this means that electricity demand will grow by 37 percent by 2050 because people are switching to electric cars and replacing fossil fuel heating systems with heat pumps. According to the plans, on the other hand, the production of solar power is to increase by a factor of 20 and thus to a large extent replace the production from four nuclear power plants, which will be shut down until then.

In a third step, the examined months of January and July 2017 will finally be transferred to the year 2050, provided that the energy strategy is implemented. In their calculations, the researchers now come to the conclusion that Switzerland is threatened with an enormous electricity deficit in January 2050. No less than 69 percent of electricity would have to be imported from the rest of Europe that month. That would be 6 terawatt hours. By way of comparison, in recent years Switzerland has introduced an average of 4 terawatt hours over the winter half-year. So in 2050 it would be one and a half times as much in January alone.”

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