According to a new environmental book that just hit the stands, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism (University of Nebraska Press, June 2012), solar cells do not offset greenhouse gases or curb fossil fuel use in the U.S. Instead, author Ozzie Zehner, visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, says that the solar industry has grown to become one of the leading emitters of hexafluorethalene (C2F6), nitrogen triflouride (NF3), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Zehner states that the three greenhouse gases used by solar cell fabricators make carbon dioxide (CO2) seem harmless.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rates the global warming potential of hexafluorethalene 12,000 times higher than CO2. It is 100% the result of human creation and survives 10,000 years when released into the atmosphere. The others fare even worse. NF3 is 17,000 more virulent and SF6, over 23,000 times worse.
Amazing. It’s bad enough if these figures are true, but the author’s position is that shifting to energy taxes and other conservation measures will yield better results when compared with solar cells.
My question becomes, given that Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film is one of the offenders in photovoltaics, isn’t it used in several other products? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s extremely toxic and commonly found in industrial workplaces. Used in electroplating, the labor department reports several deaths from acute overexposure among welders that welded on cadmium-laden alloys or worked with silver solders. It’s also in paints and in some batteries.
My point is that while these substances and materials are effective for solving one problem, what challenges do they add to the bigger picture? If you’re involved in either use or manufacture, maybe you can set me straight if I’m getting this wrong?