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Cadmium Based Thin Film Solar Panel Safety Concerns

An Australian provider of solar power solutions has expressed concerns about the safety of thin film solar products containing cadmium.
According to Energy Matters co-founder Max Sylvester, the increasing popularity of cadmium-based solar products in Australia hasn’t gone unnoticed by the company and although repeatedly requested, Energy Matters has resisted stocking panels containing the heavy metal until their safety can be verified.
“We would like to offer these panels at some stage and are always happy to speak with manufacturers, but the cadmium concerns have not yet been addressed to our satisfaction. While some manufacturers of these panels have recycling initiatives in place for dealing with end-of-life issues, we’re also concerned about the cadmium being a problem during the panel’s serviceable life.”
Cadmium Telluride based thin film solar panels are already in wide use in Australia and several studies have pointed to their relative safety under various scenarios.
“We’ve reviewed a study carried out by a U.S. Government laboratory where thin film solar panels containing cadmium were torched and the glass fused together, preventing the escape of the material. What wasn’t addressed is the situation in a fire where a panel is hosed down, which would invariably cause the glass to crack, allowing water to penetrate.”
“Similarly, what would be the effects in a situation where a panel had cracked or was otherwise damaged through some other mishap and then water penetrated – would that water become contaminated? This could be an issue for households who collect rainwater. People need to remember, these panels will be on their rooftops for decades and the build quality of some thin film solar products containing cadmium is questionable,” says Mr. Sylvester.
“In terms of recycling and even given a situation where the panels must be recycled at the end of their warranty, systems also need to be set up to keep track of their whereabouts. It is quite easy to track solar panels when they are used in a large solar farm, but very difficult when used on rooftop applications.”
“In domestic situations there are many circumstances where panels might be moved. For example, people move house taking the panels with them, or they carry out repairs or a renovation and the panels are no longer suitable. We need to ensure adequate systems are in place to deal with tracking the movement of Cadmium Telluride solar panels in domestic situations.”
Mr. Sylvester points out that the Japanese government totally prohibits the use cadmium in building materials and the substance is one of the six most toxic materials banned by European Union’s RoHS regulation. Cadmium is very toxic even in low concentrations and accumulates in organisms and ecosystems.
Hoping to avoid a possible asbestos-type situation recurring in Australia, Energy Matters has already been engaged in initial discussions with leading scientific institutions in regard to a thorough study.
“What we really need is for an independent laboratory to carry out vigorous testing under Australian conditions. Given the increasing prevalence of these panels around Australia and the fact that State and Federal governments are helping to finance some of these panels through incentives and rebates, this should be a study at least partially funded by the Government. I’m sure that manufacturers and stockists of these panels would also welcome such a study if they have the utmost faith in their products as an independent stamp of approval would be of huge benefit to them as well,” says Mr. Sylvester.
“If there does turn out to be issues, maybe they can be addressed and we can avert what could potentially be another environmental and health crisis. If there are no issues identified, then we’ll certainly be stocking these thin film panels at some point, but at this juncture, we just can’t be sure – and cadmium is a substance we don’t want polluting Australia’s environment or our children’s bodies. This is not a scare campaign, it’s a genuine concern of ours and an issue that as a nation we don’t want coming back to haunt us.”   

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