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By Samuel R. Avro on Feb 4, 2009 with no responses

Report: Solar Energy Is Not Squeaky Clean After All

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The fast-growing solar energy sector needs to make sure the industry is more environmentally sound as it enters an era of astronomical growth, says one watchdog group.

With the volatility of oil prices driving the price of crude to a record high above $147 a barrel, and gas prices going through the roof, the renewable energy sector began to see a massive rise in demand.

Solar power was always looked at as one of the cleanest methods to generate electricity.

But according to a report from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, tremendous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce the solar panels, and solar cells contain toxic materials which are very difficult to recycle.

“You can’t just call your product green and close your eyes to what’s happening in the supply chain,” said Sheila Davis, executive director of the San Jose, Calif., nonprofit that pushes for green practices in the technology sector.

Although solar energy is responsible for less than 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, demand for the technology is growing rapidly.

As part of the economic stimulus package making the rounds in Congress, the solar sector is poised to receive $100 billion in  funds due to the fact that it’s expected to grow at a faster clip than the rest of the economy.

“In the next two years we are expecting to see the largest expansion of clean energy resources in American history,” said Eddie Austin, Chairman and CEO of Sunrise Solar Corp. “There could not be a better time to be a part of the solar industry as both technology and stimulus spending are set to reach new levels.”

The United Sates has set a goal to double energy production from natural sources within three years, and solar energy is expected to play a large role.

California, widely known for its focus on alternative energy due to their energy problems, announced that they had installed twice as many megawatts of solar-powered electricity in 2008, compared to the year before.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is worried that hazardous waste will be headed to the country’s landfills once the panels wear out. They are seeking for a recycling program to be instituted in order to avert environmental damage.

The group does not, however, imply that solar energy is evil. They are trying to bring about awareness of how to streamline the manufacturing and disposal of the solar panels in order to maximize the environmental efficiency.

“The fact is that solar is a very valuable technology that we hope will expand,” Davis said. “There’s a variety of different technologies that are emerging right now. And as companies drive down their costs and try to increase the efficiency of their panels, they should be trying to improve their environmental performance as well.”