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  • Melissa Deaver

Do Broken Panels Create a Risk?

A recent hailstorm in Texas has caused a stir in the solar world. A big solar panel farm was hit with hail which damaged thousands of their panels. Many residents who live near the farm are concerned that the broken panels could be leaking toxic chemicals into the ground water. So, what does happen when solar panels are cracked, and does it pose a health or environmental risk?

Solar Panels are Safe

Most solar panels are designed to withstand hail up to an inch in diameter. Even with the panels that did get broken, there is no risk that these could leak a toxic chemical for two main reasons.

Firstly, while there are some larger solar farms that use panels with cadmium telluride, this one in Texas has panels created only with crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells. Silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust. It's a natural material and no cause for concern over environmental or health questions. Cadmium telluride is a substance used in cheaper panels, and while cadmium itself is hazardous, cadmium telluride is less so. It's not water soluble, so in the unlikely event it did "leak" from a panel, it would not be able to dissolve in the ground water.

Secondly, solar panels are designed to be self-contained. Most are laminated between two sheets of plastic that is sealed. This serves at the first barrier. In addition, they are covered with tempered glass and then fitted with another layer of plastic or glass on the back and framed in aluminum. Even if the glass were to break and be untouched by humans, it would take decades to extract any substance from the panels. And again, if these particular panels did have the cadmium telluride, it's almost impossible that this would leak out given the structure of a panel.

Solutions for Avoiding Broken Panels

Solar panels aren't immune to natural disasters. While these and all panels can be recycled, it would be great to avoid the catastrophe in the first place! Going forward, the solar industry is working on creating new technologies to address these issues. A new, thicker panel is in the works to withstand greater risks. There is also a software in the works that would automatically rotate panels to reduce the angle of impact during natural disasters.

If you live near a solar farm and there is a natural disaster, there is no reason to worry about the risk to the environment or your health--panels are totally safe for you and the planet!

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