Solar energy not a zero-emission magic bullet

An aerial view of the solar panels on JTC’s Jurong Town Hall rooftop.
An aerial view of the solar panels on JTC’s Jurong Town Hall rooftop.PHOTO: JTC

We unarguably need more sustainable energy as we face a rising population while needing to minimise our carbon footprint. But solar energy, while having no emissions, may not be the magic bullet (Link installation of solar plants and sale of electric vehicles, by Mr Robert Alexander Stone, Aug 24).

Solar panels and their storage batteries come with lifespans, being typically 20 years and 10 to 15 years respectively.

The glass and backsheet from solar panels offer low economic recycling incentives and usually end up in the Semakau Landfill, which is projected to be full in another 15 years.

Even comparatively land-abundant Australia has already anticipated this waste being potentially unmanageable in decades to come (Aussie solar panel boom sparks worry over waste, July 6).

As for recovering precious metals like nickel, cobalt and lithium from used solar panels and batteries, the extraction processes involve a huge consumption of energy and emissions. Wouldn't this bring us back to square one?

Being a nation with high living standards, we can still go a long way towards reducing our carbon footprints without much sacrifice. For example, parents can organise more outdoor activities for children so that they do not overuse air-conditioning and mobile devices at homes. More car-lite incentives should also be rolled out.

Lim Chee Khiam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'Solar energy not a zero-emission magic bullet'. Print Edition | Subscribe