As the Data Center Journal has noted on a number of occasions, alternative energy sources—despite their reputations—involve some environmental and health/safety downsides, just like traditional sources. An IEEE Spectrum article by Dustin Mulvaney looks in depth at the hazards that solar panels pose in their manufacture, as well as the energy costs in producing them. Part of the problem is that the demand for inexpensive solar panels has pushed manufacturing from west to east; and “the countries that produce the most photovoltaics today typically do the worst job of protecting the environment and their workers.”
Producing solar panels involves significant amounts of energy, so recovering the difference takes significant operational time—about two years, in many cases, according to the article (although it may take as little as six months). Furthermore, processing of these devices involves dangerous chemicals that must be stored, used and disposed of carefully to avoid harming the environment and the workers. These problems don’t mean that solar power should be rejected, but it does mean that it is not as green as their image might suggest. As always, a balance must be struck and each power source weighed (and used) according to its benefits and downsides.
Read more about solar