Over the weekend Hilary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for the 2016 US presidency, released a YouTube video in which she stated that, if elected, she would have more than 500 million solar panels installed in her first term.

While she obviously means well, there are a number of issues with the current technologies that are used to produce solar panels. The manufacturing chain is long, expensive and polluting, as is briefly outlined below.

The following metals and minerals are used in constructing solar panels:





Coal & Iron ore (used to make the steel support structure)









Titanium Dioxide

All of these metals and minerals have to be mined, processed and refined. Each stage produces substantial quantities of toxic waste and polluted water. And this is before the manufacture of solar panels has even begun.

The manufacture of the panels also results in large quantities of waste. And it uses two of the most aggressive chemicals available. Hydrofluoric acid and sodium hydroxide.

All the above processes use a lot of energy and a lot of water.

Large-scale manufacture of solar panels is a relatively recent development. As a consequence, most panels have not reached end of life. When this happens on a large scale, and it will, we will have even more waste to deal with. While recycling would seem the answer at first blush, just look at the list above. It will be very expensive to even partially recycle.

One further point; solar is of limited value when the panels are dirty or it is cloudy, and of no value at night. The answer, many say, is storage, by battery or other means. But it would be prohibitively expensive to store any meaningful amount of electricity using current technology.

It is possible that future technology may change the expensive and polluting nature of solar cell production. This is another reason not to rush into the installation of massive amounts of current technology.


Solar energy may one day be cost competitive with, and cleaner than, fossil fuels. While it is difficult to make a case for King Coal (although it is, by far, our most abundant energy source), oil and gas are less polluting and less expensive than solar.

Finally, be suspicious of anything that needs government subsidies, or coercion. A couple of cases.

Consider US company Solyndra, LLC. The company claimed it had advanced solar technology and received a loan guarantee of USD536 million from President Obama. It went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

In France people were subsidized to buy solar panels and then paid way over the market rate for the electricity that was fed back into the grid. So it got to the stage that farmers were selling their herds and covering fields in solar panels. It was more profitable than farming.

Oh, the folly.