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Topic 5: Solar energy

Henry Tan's picture

Safety Engineering and Risk Management Debate 2012


Discussion Topic 5: In recent years, millions of solar panels have been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss the hidden pollution caused by solar panels.


Andrew Allan's picture

Falls from height remain the most common cause of workplace fatality. In 2008/09 there were 35 fatalities, 4654 major injuries and a further 7065 injuries that caused the injured person to be off work for over 3 days or more, due to a fall from height [Ref 1].

The relative ‘safety’ of a product or process should be assessed at every stage through design, manufacture,  installation, operation and final decommissioning.

Whilst pollution is one factor for discussion with regards the manufacture of solar panels as a ‘safe’ energy source, the installation of these panels is comparably high risk when compared with other industrial activities.  The HSE incident statistics referenced above show that falls from height are the most common cause of workplace fatality in the UK.  In an industry which is not as heavily regulated as the oil and gas and petrochemical industries it may be that insufficient attention is being given to the appropriate safety training and safety culture of installation personnel within the industry.   Also, given that the majority of solar panel installations are likely undertaken by smaller independent companies, tighter profit margins and time pressures may mean that the maintenance of equipment is not undertaken routinely and vital safety equipment such as fall arrestors are not used as standard when working at height.  These are of course suppositions as to why these hazards may not be appropriately mitigated within the industry, however with the UK government cuts in subsidies for solar panel installation this will undoubtedly put a further squeeze on manufacturing and installation companies

With decommissioning of these panels at the end of their operational life, the same hazards apply in safely removing and safely disposing of the equipment.

Ref 1 -



Discussion Topic 5:
In recent years, millions of solar panels have
been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss the
hidden pollution caused by solar panels.

There is no energy production
technology that can guarantee 100% safety however to a greater extent, solar
panels/energy does not cause adverse effects to the environment being a
renewable energysource. Once manufactured and producing electricity it does not
put into the atmosphere gasses such as Carbon dioxide unlike fossil fuel plants which
increase the risk ofglobal warming. Solar panels produces no noise while in
operation and provided they have access to sunlight, they will generate

It is important to note that when most
people are assessing the health and safety risks associated with solar energy,
they mainly look at the finished products however there is need to look at the
full energy chain (production process).Different raw materials are used in the
manufacture of solar panels such as steel,aluminium,copper,PVC and solvents
among others and these undergo various processes which in one way or another release
greenhouse gas emissions such as carbondioxide.Further research and
improvements in the full energy chain is therefore paramount.

Solar panels/collectors concentrate
light energy from the sun (consisting of photons) and convert it into
electricity for usage in people’s homes for lighting and other uses but we all
know that too much exposure to sunlight may lead to skin cancer and also damage
to the eyes and no study on such possible hidden risks has been carried out.

Solar panels also make use of
crystalline silicon as a raw material thus in my own view, poorly maintained
and old panels may release crystalline silica dust to the environment which is
a human carcinogen and may increase risks of developing lung cancer. Risks of
short circuits if not installed by experienced and qualified personnel are also
possible since solar panels also roduce electric and magnetic fields. Further
studies in safety and reliability
of solar panels need to be done.


John Bosco Aliganyira

Msc.Oil and Gas Eng.


1.Association for Applied Solar
Energy.; Solar Energy Society.; International Solar Energy Society. , 1958-

2.Solar energy conversion the solar
cell,Richard C.Neville , ScienceDirect (Online service) , 1995

3.Full-energy-chain analysis of
greenhouse gas emissions for solar thermal electric power generation systems by
Brian Norton,Phillip C Eames and Steve N G LoPROBE, centre for Performance
Research On the Built Environment,School of the Built Environment, University
of Ulster,Newtownabbey, BT37 OQB, N Ireland, UK, Volume 15, Issues 1–4,
September–December 1998,

4.Cleaning up the grid Solar thermal
electricity development in Australia David R. Mills, Anthony Monger and Bill

5.Plant Engineer's Reference Book
(Second Edition) Copyright © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved Edited
by:Eur Ing CEng, MIMechE,HonFSOE, HonFIPlantE, HonFIIPE ISBN: 978-0-7506-4452-5





10. 2004 New and Renewable
Energy Technologies For Sustainable Developmentda Graca Carvalho, Maria Hamdia
Afgan, Naim


Discussion Topic 5

Submitted by oseghale lucas ... on Sun, 2012-09-30 21:41.

In recent years, millions of solar panels have been placed on roofs
around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss the hidden pollution
caused by solar panels.

I disagree with Oseghale
Lucas Okohue
when he says that solar energy is
generated by nuclear fusion just like the way Atomic bombs and Nuclear Power
Plants operate.

Solar panels are made of a semi
conducting material forexample silicon and when light energy in form of Photons
strikes a solar panel,it breaks up electron hole pairs in the material
electrons free i,e the electrons become
excited and move to a higher energy level and it is this flow of electrons that
results in electric current/energy.

For Nuclear fusion ,two lighter nuclei
join together to form a larger nuclei and for a solar panel,there is nothing
like this however it should be noted that the photons are created by a nuclear
reaction and this takes place in the
sun and not the solar panel.


John Bosco Aliganyira

Msc.Oil and Gas Engineering


1.Association for Applied Solar
Energy.; Solar Energy Society.; International Solar Energy Society. , 1958-


3.Solar energy conversion the solar
cell,Richard C. Neville , ScienceDirect (Online service) , 1995

4.Cleaning up the grid Solar thermal
electricity development in Australia David R. Mills, Anthony Monger and Bill

5.Plant Engineer's Reference Book
(Second Edition) Copyright© 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved Edited
by:Eur Ing CEng, MIMechE,HonFSOE, HonFIPlantE, HonFIIPE ISBN: 978-0-7506-4452-5



Azeezat's picture

Solar energy is the generating of electricity from the sun. In some part of the world solar panels are put on roof to generate electricity.Some of these practice are unfortunately a health hazard to people who have electromagnetic hypersensitivity(EHS)There are studies that suggest that radiation of the type coming from solar electric systems (some of which have been dubbed “dirty power”) may have long-term health effects on healthy people as well.

  Advantages:Putting solar panels on the roof of one’s home, business or school is a good way to provide an alternative to polluting conventional power plants. However, people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity may not even be able to enter or be around such a building. Since some of the symptoms of this syndrome are common and non-specific, such as headaches and restlessness, a person using the building maynot even know his or her symptoms are caused by the solar system. 

Problem:Modern solar systems use components that radiate high levels of radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, which can cause the symptoms. The main problem is the inverter, which is a device that takes the electricity from the solar panels and turns it into alternating current (AC) and puts it out on the electrical grid. The inverter generates radio frequency radiation, which can easily be hard on an AMradio, but not picked up by a traditional gaussmeter. The wires connected to the inverter act as antennas, so the radiation may be picked up hundreds of feet away from the inverter. There have been cases where a solar-electric system became aproblem for an electrically sensitive person living next door.There may be other troublesome components in a solar system as well, especially in systems that use batteries.Today’s battery systems usually use technologies that are more efficient at charging the batteries, but which also emit radio-frequency radiation. These technologies are called Pulse-Width-Modulation (PWM) It is possible to use solar-electric systems without this radiation, but they are not suitable for most people. Almost all residential-size windmills use an inverter to produce AC electricity. If connected directly to the grid and placed far from the house (a minimum of 100yards) it may be okay for an electrically sensitive person, but this has not been the case all times. 

The Future Hopefully future generations of inverter design will be better, though it will be very difficult to fully remove this radiation.

Reference: Solar Energy Can Be a Health Hazardby Andrew Eriksen

Ernest Appiah's picture

solar panels on rooftops are obviously a high risk activity. There are a number
of hazards such as working at heights which could lead to falls from heights or
falling objects. Also slippery roof surfaces, damaged roofs, electrical
discharge from uninstalled panels, electrical fitting and equipments are all
potential hazards. All these, when not properly controlled could lead to
undesired conquences.

shown that, roofing is the 6th most dangerous job and there were
fatality rate of 37 per 100,000 workers as of 2002. In the US alone, 33% out of
1000 construction fatalities per year are from working at heights.

is seen as the saviour of mankind in terms of saving as from global warming and
CO2 emissions along with other renewables but there are a lot of
damages being caused to our health from the manufacture of these panels.
Dangerous chemicals and toxics such as cadmium
and arsenic are used in their production. Silicon tetrachloride which is a
by-product of the production makes land unsuitable for growing crops. For each
ton of polysilicon produced
by the solar industry for its solar panels, four tons of silicon tetrachloride
is generated.

report by the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition warns that there could be an e-waste problem in the nearby future.
According to them, there are plenty of toxic waste that is being released by
solar industry, which is going unnoticed under the radar because we so happy
about the clean energy solar panels generate to see the underlying danger.
After the life-span of these panels which are about 20 to 25 years, if they are
not properly disposed of they could pose a whole lot of damages.


Safety Engineering and Risk Management Concepts, 2012/2013

H. Tan

RISK) of solar panel


(Sunshine or Gloom)

(Solar Panels Exposed)

victor.adukwu's picture

In recent years, millions of solar panels
have been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss
the hidden pollution caused by solar panels.


The premise of solar energy offers a logical approach to developing a
clean, alternative form of energy. The source does not cause carbon dioxide or
any emissions. It is free. There is an endless supply. A shortage of sunlight
to fuel solar energy plants and panels would be the least of the worries should
it occur.

All of these points should propel solar energy forward as the most
promising of alternatives. However, the facts under the surface point to the
reality that it is an imperfect solution that is not without environmental

Solar panels
capture energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity. Construction of
solar energy technologies relies on rare earth metals. These elements have
unique properties that have exploited in a number of industries, including
hybrid cars, rechargeable batteries and mobile phones.

Extracting these materials involves several especially destructive tasks.
The rare metals must be mined. Then, they must be refined. These processes
carry a high environmental cost. Recovery can also increase the risk of
contamination from radioactive sources. In the effort to reduce carbon dioxide
emissions, solar energy causes it to occur, along with other environmental


victor.adukwu's picture

In recent years, millions of solar panels
have been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss
the hidden pollution caused by solar panels.


Solar energy systems
(photovoltaics, solar thermal, solar power) provide significant environmental
benefits in comparison to the conventional energy sources, thus contributing,
to the sustainable development of human activities. Sometimes however, their
wide scale deployment has to face potential negative environmental
implications. These potential problems seem to be a strong barrier for a
further dissemination of these systems in some consumers.

Also while sunlight is
everywhere, its use for solar energy is not universal. Some areas are better
suited for deployment of this alternative source of fuel. The fact is that
individuals residing in these areas may be at risk for vitamin D deficiencies
simply because of the angle of the sun. In the winter, the situation is worse.
If a person cannot get adequate sun exposure, how possibly can enough energy be
captured to produce solar power? Solar energy is not a one-size-fits-all

Contrary to popular belief, the
process of manufacturing solar panels can and does create enormous amounts of
harmful and toxic waste. Because the most of the solar panels consumed in the
west are manufactured in China, the nature and extent of this pollution is
hidden from the consumers of solar panels. We get the illusion of 'green, clean
energy' on our shores, by exporting environmental ruin to the countries where
the panels are manufactured.

Polysilicon manufacturing yields
the byproduct silicon tetrachloride, a highly dangerous and toxic chemical. On
September 19, in 2011, a village in eastern China rioted against a local solar
panel manufacturing firm for dumping harmful and toxic chemicals into its river
and poisoning the local fishing industry [Cited 2012 Oct. 4]. Available from In 2010, the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition conducted a survey of manufacturing and found that solar
manufacturers were using lead (a powerful neurotoxin), cadmium (a known
carcinogen), and the greenhouse gas nitrogen triflouride in the creation of
their products. Further, the process of manufacturing silicon solar panels
requires enormous amounts of energy, which generally are supplied by oil and
coal power plants. Because of inefficiencies in solar power generation, it
requires more energy to make a solar panel than the panel can produce in its
operational lifetime, frequently resulting in a net energy loss per solar


Ahmed_Abdelkhalek's picture

When compared to fossil and nuclear energy sources, the generation
of electricity from solar energy is overall safe and effective.

Identified Risks

  • Fatalities or injuries resulting from working at heights during installation and decommissioning.

  •  Environmental pollution resulting from the hazardous chemicals used in manufacturing the solar cells and improper disposal of solar panels at the end of its life.

  •  Fatalities and injuries resulting from electric shock.

  • Health issues resulting from electromagnetic.


  • Falling
    from Heights

True as it is Andrew’s statement that HSE consider falling from heights
is the most common cause of workplace fatality, the high numbers in the
statistics is due to the fact that working at height is a common activity in
most industries especially construction.

Taking into consideration the risk from falling from height can be
reduced by applying appropriate work procedures and that working at height is
evident in the construction of any energy facility, I believe that this risk
cannot favor other energy sources over solar power.

  • Pollution
  •  The hidden
    pollution caused by solar panels lies in the manufacturing and improper disposal
    of solar panels.

    The main raw material used in manufacturing the solar panels is crystalline
    silica which is extracted from sand or quartz. During the extraction and
    manufacturing processes, carcinogens like silica dust and silica fume are emitted
    thus endangering health and polluting the environment.

    Solar panels are
    made-up of various materials that may cause pollution if the panels are disposed
    improperly at the end of its life.

  • Electric

         Rates of fatalities and injuries resulting from electric shock are not
expected to be higher than normal for installation and maintenance.

  • Electro
    Magnetic Field
  •  The strength of electromagnetic fields produced by solar panels do not
    reach levels that harmful to human health.


Kyeyune Joseph's picture

solar panels

A Solar panel is an assembly of photovoltaic cells used to
generate electricity through exposure to the sun’s radiation. Solar panels are
usually placed on rooftops so as to ensure maximum surface exposure to the
sun’s radiation. Safety is paramount and as such issues arise due to
installations at heights especially rooftops. This has potential to cause
fatalities and serious injuries especially due to falls from heights. Crane
hoists and ladders used in installations also pose safety threats if not well
operated/positioned. Crane booms may make contact with power lines leading to
electrocution. Exposure to very hot weather can still cause hazards like
dehydration to personnel doing installation of the panels. In summary, apart
from fatalities from falls, serious injuries like burns, strains and sprains,
fractures/broken bones, internal organ damage and others can occur as a result
of installation of panels at heights. These happen to many people worldwide
making solar panel installations quite a fatal activity. In lieu of the above,
it is important that companies develop policies and procedures detailing safe
practices for installation of solar panels.

Hidden pollution associated with solar panels is mainly in
production and disposal of waste materials during the production process of
photovoltaic cells. Production of polysilicon for solar panels leads to
production of silicon tetrachloride both as a liquid waste and gaseous
pollutant. This is highly toxic and can degrade land if dumped without
recycling and can as well pollute the air. This waste consists of both hydrochloric
acid and chlorine and these emerge from it when it breaks down. Henan province
in China near the Yellow river has experienced this form of waste and its consequences
[1]. Gaseous release of this by-product is also harmful to plants as it
causes them to wilt. Furthermore, huge amounts of power are required in the
production of polysilicon. If power source utilises fossil fuels, then carbon
dioxide release to the atmosphere is also possible. This highlights some of the
environmental trade-offs that have to be done in quest for renewable energy
provided by the sun. There is need to employ a recycle technology in the production
process of solar panels to reduce toxicity of by-products before disposal.


[1]Solar energy firm leaves waste behind in China, by Ariana
Eunjung Cha. The Washington post, March 9, 2008.

c.ejimuda's picture



According to OSHA, the leading cause of worker deaths on construction sites was falls. Rooftop solar installations increase fall and trip hazards.  During installation or maintenance, workers have less room to move around and negotiate hazards i.e. skylights, roof hatches making them more dangerous. The presence of equipment and power lines on the roof increases trip hazards present. Other hazards are those commonly associated with electrical installations and associated equipment such fires, electrocution and electromagnetic field EMF. Fall and trip hazards can be alleviated by the use of proper fall protection measures such as guard rails around roof edges, skylights and roof hatches when working on a roof top solar installation. Comparatively, there have been very few incidents of fires originating with or directly involving solar power systems. This implies that the solar power industry has a relatively good record when it comes to their equipment and components contributing to the source of ignition. Therefore, the presence of these hazards does not necessarily make rooftop solar systems unsafe as common sense measures can be used to minimise the risks associated with these systems. I will be more concerned with the hidden pollution associated with the manufacture of solar panels.



OSHA (2012). Commonly Used Statistics, available online: accessed 07 Oct. 12 

Chukwumaijem M Ejimuda

MSC Safety and Reliability Engineering.

c.ejimuda's picture

Solar cells are manufactured with rare earth metals which cause pollution during their mining and disposal. The process of manufacturing solar panels can also produce enormous amounts of harmful and toxic waste including lead (a neurotoxin), cadmium (a known carcinogen) and silicon tetrachloride a highly dangerous and toxic chemical from Polysilicon manufacturing. The nature and extent of this pollution is hidden from the consumers of solar panels in the west because they mostly manufactured in China and other Asian countries. The 'green, clean energy' reputation of solar systems in the West may after all be an illusion due to the environmental degradation in countries where the panels are manufactured. There have also been suggestions in some quarters that that energy required to manufacture silicon solar panel which is usually supplied by oil and coal fired power stations exceed the energy generated throughout its entire operational lifetime due to inefficiencies frequently resulting in a net energy loss per solar panel. Ultraviolet light, one of the wavelengths in sunlight is known to react with volatile organic compounds from automobile exhaust and nitrogen oxides to cause photochemical smog. More research is required to determine whether the proliferation of rooftop solar panels could potentially the formation of smog. 


OSHA (2012). Commonly Used Statistics, available online: accessed 07 Oct. 12

Chukwumaijem M Ejimuda

MSC Safety and Reliability Engineering.

mohamed.elkiki's picture

First i want to comment about the cons of solar energy. Solar energy compared to other sources of energy is the most clean energy whatever the material it made from cause pollution , it will still be cleaner than coal and oil and gas. Also, we will never find source of energy  cause 0% pollution. we just compare and see what is most clean to our environment. the cons of solar energy is just the efficiency its give is low compared to other sources of energy and also it work only in day which will cause problem in night and also in winter.


Second, solar system records of injures and fatalities prove that this type of energy is very promising and causes no harm to people. However, solar energy needs to more technology in order to be used in different conditions and weather. Also, the efficiency needs to increase to compete with other sources of energy.

Third, solar energy does not relate to nuclear energy and its not even close to it regarding safety and energy efficiency.



As safe as solar panels are in power
generation, a number of hidden pollutions exist in the placement of these
panels on roof tops: this include

1.      Toxic materials and effect on Eco-system: Most
solar panels are made of materials containing Cadmium, Selenium and Silicon in
different forms. On ageing of the panels, these metals react and get washed by
rain water to the surrounding vegetation, this poses a serious threat and could
be toxic to the vegetation.

2.      Water Pollution: In areas with scarcity of
water, there is a large tendency of dependency on rain water majorly channeled
from roof tops to reservoirs. Metal components on the panels on roof tops on
ageing are susceptible to rust and other chemical reaction. When rain falls,
these chemicals could be washed into water collected, hence posing a threat of
poisoning on usage or inducing hardness of the water.

3.      Radioactive Emissions: the cadmium and selenium
used in some solar panels could be explosive or strongly carcinogenic. This has
being established by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.









Beside the pollutions inherent, other
safety concerns of solar panels on roof tops include:

1.      Fire Risk: Past accident reports (with a very
recent one in September 2012) have shown the tendency of solar panels igniting
fire which could cause damage to life and very valuable amounts of damage. Fire
could be caused by arcing between the panels, electrical faults in the inverter
or other electrical faults. Reports have shown fire accidents where fire
fighters have left buildings to burn due to solar panels installed on them
being the complexity involved in the handling of panels.

2.      Risk of Electrocution: a report by the Under
Writers Lab Inc titled “Fire Fighter Safety and Photovoltaic Installations  Research Project” dated 29th
November 2011 shows that water on a damaged solar array poses electrocution
risk within a 20ft radius and as much as 1000ft radius if water is contaminated
by salt. This establishes a very high to electric shocks within the building.
Fire fighters have particularly being victims of electrocution during fire
combating effort.

3.      A major risk posed is also a tendency of solar
panels or their installation parts to get torn off by severe wind or storm.
This is of increasing concern as competition in the production of solar panels
is increasing and hence a tendency to make use of less durable component at

4.      Risk of fall during installation, service and maintenance
operations by workers on the roof top height is also inherent.



1.      Fire Research Protection Foundation (May
2010)- “Fire Fighter Safety and Emergency Response for Solar Power Systems.

2.      Gavin Atkins (May 2011)- “Green Deaths: The
Forgotten Dangers of Solar Panels”










Below are accidents recorded accidents
in the USA involving solar panels on roof tops.

1.      In September 2012 in San Diego, California, a fire
was caused by a fault in Solar panel on roof top resulted in minor property

2.      In April 2010, an employee installing a solar
panel in North California fell off a height of 45ft resulting in his death.

3.      In April 2010, Electrical faults in an
inverter of a solar panel on roof top of a building in South California
resulted in destruction of assets worth about $4,000.

4.      April 2009, arcing in solar panels on a
building caused by separation at the coupling of electrical conduits due to
contraction and expansion by sunlight led to two huge fires in California.

5.      An electrical malfunction in February 2009 in
a newly installed solar panel on a roof top resulted in a fire when exposed to
sunlight after some days of rainfall. The building was completely destroyed.

6.      In May 2008, a building in the University of
San Francisco got involved in a fire caused by a fault in a solar panel
installed on it.

7.      Statistics from a report by the Fire Research
Protection Foundation shows that between 2005 and 2006, there were 32
incidences of fire fighters exposure to injury and even death from accidents related
to combating fire in buildings with solar panel on them, with some of the fire caused
by the solar panel. Of particular mention is the danger posed to fire
extinguishing efforts by buildings with Solar panels on them.



1.      Fire Research Protection Foundation (May
2010)- “Fire Fighter Safety and Emergency Response for Solar Power Systems.









An arguably notable quote on the
risk posed by having solar panels on roof tops is an excerpt from an article
written by Gavin Atkins on “
deaths: The forgotten dangers of solar panels”


“The fifty
actual deaths from roof installation accidents for 1.5 million roof
installations is equal to the actual deaths experienced so far from Chernobyl.
If all 80 million residential roofs in the USA had solar power installed then
one would expect 9 times the annual roofing deaths of 300 people or 2700 people
(roofers to die). This would generate about 240 TWh of power each year. (30% of
the power generated from nuclear power in the USA). 90 people per year over an
optimistic life of 30 years for the panels not including maintenance or any
electrical shock incidents”.

This goes further to strengthen the
numerous overlooked dangers of having solar panels on roof tops.



1.      Gavin Atkins (May 2011) – “Green Deaths: The
Forgotten Dangers of Solar Panels”





WilliamBradford's picture

As many people have pointed out, a main factor in the risks
of solar panels is that of them coming loose and falling from the rooftops
where they are frequently placed. Due to the height at which they can be
placed, this can be a significant risk, particularly in towns with high amounts
of wind. This can be avoided, or reduced, by using a shape of solar array
different to the classic flat panel and/or potential death wing design. V3
solar[1] have designed a novel (and, apparently, 20x more efficient)
style of solar array in a much more aerodynamic form, which could even be used
on the ground, doubling as a decorative item. Using solar arrays such as these
would highly reduce the risk of arrays being blown from roofs, due to the facts
that less would be upon roofs and also that there is no flat surface to be
caught by the wind.



William Bradford

MSc Renewable Energy

Marinos Ioannou's picture

According to Barbara Brooks, a small fire was caused
in a house at San Diego California two weeks ago [1]. The fire was caused by
solar panels and also she suggests that this might be the start of a duel
between the electrical engineers who support either to apply or not a power cut
off at the roofs. Anyway, placing an emergency switch at the rooftop is not
necessary in many cities across California. So that gives no option to fire-fighters
to cut the electricity supply during sunny days. Moreover, electrical engineers
worldwide have not decided yet if it is necessary to have or not a cut-off
switch on the roof. Also some experts claim that it should be more dangerous
when having a switch because the switch will cut the electricity supply from panels
to the inverter box, so this cause a potential from getting a shock and fall
from the roof. Also the first roof fire caused by solar panels in the UK
reported in Kent on March 2012 [2]. Fire-fighters in UK also worry about the
fact that the roofs are not predesigned to take heavy loads like solar panels
and that make it really dangerous for them when they are trying to extinguish the
fire on a roof as the roof may easily collapse!




Marinos Ioannou

Marinos Ioannou's picture

As solar panels do not use fossil fuels, they do not
produce toxic air or greenhouse gas emissions [1]. Additionally solar panels
generate at least 89% less emissions per kWh than fossil fuel based energy
converters. On the other hand, the full product life cycle of PV hides numerous
health and safety hazards. Most of them are associated with the chemical that
used for manufacturing the solar panels and with the improper disposal of the
panels at the end of their life cycle.

Moreover, monocrystalline silicon solar panels can be
recycled at the end of their useful lifetime and used as feedstock material for
generating new semiconductor wafers. In some occasions old panels are put with
other waste causing environmental pollution instead of being recycled [2].

So my opinion is that all solar panel manufacturers
have to inform properly and motivate their customers and also the public in
order to reduce to zero the waste from solar panels.  




Marinos Ioannou

Marinos Ioannou's picture

A new issue came at surface about NF3 (Nitrogen
Trifluoride), which is used for many high-tech applications like computer
circuits, LCD televisions and solar cells [1]. What is the problem with NF3? It
is 17000 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide [2]. Hence
it is more hazardous to the environment as it can affect the greenhouse effect
more than CO2. Moreover, it is important to mention that Kyoto Protocol that
limits 6 greenhouse gases does not even mention the NF3 [3]. My opinion is that
from the moment that some products contain such dangerous and harmful ingredients,
then organisations associated with the health and safety sector have to act immediately
in order to limit their use. It is better to take more years to find other
materials for energy converters instead of destroying the whole green-energy concept
with using hazardous components.




Marinos Ioannou

RossWinter's picture

The common misconception is that on a cloudy day then photovoltaic solar panels do not produce power, however this is not the case. Most of the light needed to create the energy which is converted into electricity, is invisible to the naked eye. This means that even on a cloudy day you can produce up to 30% of what you would normally expect on a sunny day. So despite the dangers of installing the devices (fall risk as stated by many people above) the PV cells will still be producing electricity nearly every single day of the year.

Also a good way to reduce the injuries, is by installing the PV cells on flat roofed buildings, as most of these are tall buildings they are out of the normal eyeline of the public and therefore means they don't offend anyone who doesn't approve of them.

Ross Winter Msc Renewable Energy

Sineenat Kruennumjai's picture

Discussion Topic 5: In recent years,
millions of solar panels have been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss
how safe are they? Discuss the hidden pollution caused by solar panels.

If only the processes of energy
generation are considered, the solar energy is safe for human and
environmental. On the other hand, if the processes of manufacturing solar panel
are considered, it is also having some risks. The most importance issue is air
pollution. Lots of toxic gases have been generated from the manufacturing
processes, such as nitrogen triflouride (one of the greenhouse gas). Moreover,
some toxic chemicals are also created from these processes, for example silicon
tetrachloride, and cadmium. If such toxic chemicals were exposed to the
environment, they will pollute in the natural water resource then create the
water pollution. Another issue is the large amounts energy is required for the
processes of the manufacturing solar panel. And such energy is coming from
fossil and coal resources.   


Emmanuel Mbata's picture

The generation of electricity from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels is safe and effective.  Because PV systems do not burn fossil fuels they do not produce the toxic air or greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional fossil fuel fired generation technologies. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, few power-generating technologies have as little environmental impact as photovoltaic solar panels. However, as with all energy sources, there are potential environmental, health and safety hazards associated with the full product life cycle of photovoltaics.  Recent news accounts have raised public interest and concerns about those potential hazards. A substantial body of research has investigated the life cycle impacts of photovoltaics including raw material production, manufacture, use and disposal. While some potentially hazardous materials are utilized in the life cycle of photovoltaic systems, none present a risk different or greater than the risks found routinely in modern society. The most significant environmental, health and safety hazards are associated with the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing phase of the solar cell.  Improper disposal of solar panels at the end of their useful life also presents an environmental, health and safety concern. The extraction of raw material inputs, especially the mining of crystalline silica, can also pose an environmental, health and safety risk. The environmental, health and safety concerns for the life-cycle phase are minimal and limited to rare and infrequent events.  With effective regulation, enforcement, and vigilance by manufacturers and operators, any danger to workers, the public and the environment can be minimized. Further, the benefits of photovoltaics tend to far outweigh risks especially when compared to conventional fossil fuel technologies. According to researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, regardless of the specific technology, photovoltaics generate significantly fewer harmful air emissions (at least 89%) per kilowatthour (KWh) than conventional fossil fuel fired technologies. With these few points, i believe solar energy is relatively safe.




Andreas Kokkinos's picture

Solar panels are currently widely
used for domestic use and regularly can be seen on top of a house roof or a
building. There is an argue regarding to the safety of solar panels and about
the hidden pollution accompanying with them. Solar panels are relatively safer
than wind turbines because up to date not severe incidents were uncovered
unlikely to the wind turbines.

The risk of fire is likely
possible in solar panel installations but however the risk is considered low
due to some significant precautions taken during, before and after the
installation takes place. [1][2] A greater risk of fire is generated from shock
or electrocution when a firefighter contacts a high voltage contactor. [2]

The manufacturing process of
solar panels, material production and disposal present other potential hazards.
Firstly, for material production hazardous substances are used which may result
in chemical burn when they contact the human skin and also due to their high
flammability the event of fire is considered possible. Beyond that, in the
event of fire poisonous fumes are to be released and the inhalation of these
fumes poses a significant danger for human health. During the manufacturing and
assemble process hazardous chemicals are used which again like in the materials
production process may cause serious burns to the human skin. [2]

[1] Fire Fighter
Safety and
Emergency Response for Solar
Power Systems

(Can be found here:


[2] Health and
Safety Concerns of Photovoltaic Solar Panels

(Can be found here:

Andreas Kokkinos

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering 

Hanifah N. Lubega's picture

agree with my colleagues above about the fact that there are hidden concerns of
solar panels especially when it comes to the associated risks and system
reliability. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on the diversion from fossil
fuels to ‘clean’ technologies like solar worldwide and encouragement of
household use of solar panels in particular (rooftop installations), which
seems to be accompanied with negligence of safety concerns. Taking a case of
Australia where household use of solar energy (rooftop installations) is rapidly
increasing, for example around 10,000 new installations were carried out in
Western Australia between July and December 2011 (A published report by Energy
safety, department of commerce, Government of Western Australia), implies that
there is a high risk of exposure of workers to various work-related hazards
that could include among others falling from heights, slips from roofs,
electrocution, falling objects, injuries while accessing the roof, manual
handling and weather conditions etc.

has previously shown that falling from heights alone has contributed to a
significant number of fatalities over the years. Safe-Work Australia in March
2012 released a document on the statistics of work-related traumatic injury fatalities
for Australia between 2009-2010, where 24 deaths were recorded and that for
over a period of seven years, falls from height contributed 11% of the
fatalities, hence being among the first three mechanisms of incidents that
registered high fatality rates in that period (see figure below)

The figure above
portrays the Proportion by mechanism of incident, Australia, 2003–04 to 2009–10
combined. Source:

Regardless of
the scenarios of the data used to come up with these statistics, the idea of
climbing up a roof for installation of solar panels presents the same risk as
other activities undertaken at heights since it may have the similar
probability of occurence and consequences. In addition, just like in the Oil
and Gas industry where safety regulations originated from fatality events that
have been occurring over the years, safety regulations at some level have
emerged in the Solar industry as well, probably after realising that substantial
deaths had been occurring over the years, most of which may be unrecorded
especially when it comes to household installations. In my opinion I generally
feel like a lot of emphasis has been put on environmental protection and
climate change, rather than health and safety of the people who are also part
of the environment.


Safety of solar systems; Department of
commerce, Energy safety 2011-

Safe work Australia Mar 2012, Work related
traumatic injury fatalities Australia 2009-10-

Installation of solar panels (PV), NSW  Government Work cover-

Hanifah Lubega 

Henry Tan's picture

where is the figure?

YAKUBU ABUBAKAR 51126107's picture

The safety issue with roof solar panel installation over the
years is the potential hazard of fire caused by the solar converter. Because of
a very small amount of current generated by the panel it can’t trigger the fault
devices like fuses there was a reported cases of fire cause by that especially
in the US.

Another problem of the roof installation is that it can cause
roof t leaking due to the drilling of bolt on the roof to allow the panel

One of the hidden pollution causes by solar panels is that
because it’s been installed all around the places especially in far rural and
remote places it must be transported via cars, boat, trains, motorcycles etc. Which
are causes some CO2 emission in the process.

Another hidden pollution has to do with the solar panel waste,
when the panels are scrap (reaching end of productive life) they contain some toxic
chemicals especially mercury and other harmful substances in the photovoltaic cell.
With the number of solar panels increasing this kind of indirect pollution is
of serious concern.

Yakubu Abubakar.

Ikechukwu Onyegiri's picture

Solar energy has meet several obstacles in its line to becoming a major player in the world energy market. Although as stated in comments above it proves to be a relative safe way when compared to other forms of energy genereation methods though it doesn't strike out economically though [2]. Every energy generation and transmission method affects the environment. As it is obvious conventional generating options can damage air,climate,water, land and wildlife,landscape, as well as raise the levels of harmful radiation. Renewable technologies are substantially safer offering a solution to many environmental and social problems associated with fossil and nuclear fuels [1].
The hidden adverse effects that could be related to solar panels arises from the related emissions that can be tied to its manufacture. Its been noted that the production of solar panels also accrues with it nitrogen triflouride (NF3) emissions which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) [2]. Knowing this, although solar panels cut down pollutant emissions during operation when compared to fossil fuels, the air pollution that comes about by its production when put on widescale still contributes to global warming.
Also, waste management (storage battery disposals) especially for standalone installments if not properly handled could lead to land and water pollution. These batteries contain toxic heavy metals which if not properly disposed could lead to pollution. As Yakubu stated earlier, towards the end of service lifetime of these photovoltaic cells toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium [3] which are used to manufacture this panels could lead to hazards such as water contamination, damnify viable agricultural lands and also air pollution.


[1] Environmental impacts from the solar energy technologies Theocharis Tsoutsos, Niki Frantzeskaki, Vassilis Gekas
[2] Solar Energy: Where Policymakers and Conservationists Disagree; Avraham Shama and Kenjacobs, Solar Energy Research Institute
[3] Easing Concerns About Pollution From Manufacture Of Solar Cells ( ACCESSED 23/10/2012

Ikechukwu Onyegiri

Msc Oil and Gas Engineering 51126081

Menelaos Michelakis's picture

(Batteries, a source of pollution, recycling, an example) (answer to Onyegiri, a solution)

I did not expect to make a post in this discussion topic, but having read many of the posts, i believe that noone has provided enough information about the pollution caused by batteries. Solar panels and photovoltaic elements have batteries where the energy is stored. These batteries like everything else, do not last forever. They must be replaced after a certain usage period, and if they are not recycled (i do not know where and how), they are a significant source of pollution because of the liquids they contain (lead, mercury, cadmium). 

I shall mention an example. During the army period i was sent to guard uninhabited islands at the borders Greece has with Turkey for several months. Due to isolation, hot water and electricity are provided by solar panels. One day i was tasked with other soldiers to stock old batteries in a certain place because they were exposed to sun and rain. The batteries were long and heavy, and at least 2 men were needed to carry one. Before we carry them, we removed the caps and emptied the battery liquids they were containing, to the ground, elsewhere they were too heavy for us. This is translated to contamination, and considering the global number of panels, a serious one. After that still 2 men were needed for the transportation of 1 battery !

So, batteries sould somehow be recycled... I am not a speciallist but i am sure there is pollution in solar panel batteries beyond mercury and cadmium that are reffered in previous posts, (which is very serious in we think how many panels are installed) - and not only emissions due to manufacturing.

Samira Bamdad's picture

As industrial scale solar power plants have not managed to
become more economically attractive to governments and corporates, rooftop
solar panels are the most common way of producing electricity from
solar power. They are generally funded by the members of public in the
developed countries and often subsidised by their governments in an effort to
produce more ‘green’ energy. And hence the discussion here has somehow steered
towards the safety and general repercussions of installing solar panels on the
roofs of residential properties.

Apart from the contamination/pollution effects mentioned by
others here, the efficiency of investing in solar panels in the northern cold
countries (often more developed) cannot be compared with industrial scale solar
power plants in sun rich areas such as mid-west of the USA, Australia, India
and Northern Africa.

Unfortunately a recent plan to produce substantial amounts
of electricity in North Africa (to be exported to Europe) has faced major


Omololu Oyebola's picture

Recently solar energy conversion has been used to generate electricity. The generation of electricity using photo voltaic (PV) modules or panels is the most common method, because  PV modules do not emit toxic gases and greenhouse gases as compared to energy generation using fossil fuel, they are considered relatively safe [1]

Under normal use, solar energy panel is safe for electricity generation, and does not endanger the life of people living with/around them. Statistics of the Oregon Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding [2], shows that  although, the panels posses some electromagnetic materials, emission from them do not reach near the threshold at which human lives are endangered.

Solar power is generated from the sun, it does not generate any solid mass as waste and this makes it environmentally safe, also the noise level is low as there are no moving parts associated with the setup as compared to mechanical generators, windmills and turbines.

It is affluent free as no fossil fuel is required in any of its energy generation process, thus no carbon monoxide emission.

However, as with all other energy sources, there are health and safety hazards associated with the use of solar modules all through their life.  

Some of the safety issues associated with the use of solar panel are;

  • Release of harmful metals: Most of the individual solar cells are joined together using Lead, Zinc and copper wire coated with tin, with exposure time and these metal decomposes and affect the environment
  • Fire Event: In the event of fire, the semiconductors also release harmful fumes which pose great risk to human lifes
  • Disposal issues: if not well disposed after use, some of the crystalline modules can be eroded to nearby sea water.
  • Reflection: The panels if littered around a location, can cause reflection to a zone far away from it, this can cause blinding effect to home users in the vicinity.


[1] "Health and safety concerns of photo-voltaic Solar panels" Accessed October 22, 2010

[2] U.S. Dept. of Energy (2010). "Photovoltaic Basics." Accessed October 22, 2010 at

Menelaos Michelakis's picture

I found something different today, so i wish to share with you - have you ever heard about solar chimneys ? I did not know where to postit, but in the end i thought that the sun is behind wind, so i post here.

Solar chimneys are consisted of a huge chimney and of a transparent roof made of glass or plastic. The chimney is placed in the centre of the area - the transparent roof is placed symmetrically around the chimney. The air is heated inside this prototype greenhouse, and trying to escape, passes through the chimney. Turbines placed  at the base of the chimney generate energy, so the concept is rather simple. They are easy to build and cheap, but do not produce as much energy as other systems.

Manzanares : A pilot plant in Spain (Manzanares) operated for seven years, so i provide some numbers : energy production 0.1 W/m2 , which is translated to ~ 44MWh per year. Technical characteristics, chimney's height : 195m, diameter : 10m, collector's diameter : 240m, Roof : 6000m2 of glass and 40000m2 of plastic.

Safety considerations : Glass production generates less emissions than metal manufacturing, which is required for other systems. Batteries are not obligatory, like in solar panels. No bird deaths - turbines are internal. No emissions, no land pollution. Their construction is simple, (like a big greenhouse) and no accidents or deaths are recorded.

So sorry i found the information in a book and i cannot upload and image Cry

Ref : JC MacKay (2008) : Sustainable energy - without hot air


Leziga Bakor's picture

The use of photovoltaic solar panels to produce electricity is generally safe and effective. The reason for this is that this system does not burn fossil fuel and produce toxic air or greenhouse gas emissions during its operation.  However, there are still some safety concerns with solar panels. There are potential environmental, health and safety hazards associated with the full product life cycle of solar panels. These include the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing phase of the solar cell and improper disposal of solar panels at the end of their useful life.
The manufactured solar panel does not pollute the environment but during the manufacturing process, transporting and the disposal are known to pollute the environment. This pollution some say is the hidden pollution of solar panel. In china where most of the solar panels are produced (90% of the solar panels in the US are produced in China and 50% of solar panels in the world is produced in China) [1], there are several reported environmental pollution issues. In September 2011, a production plant was shut down in china after a violent protest against the plant for polluting the environment. The manufacture of panels frequently involves toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury as well as producing CO2. These pollute the environment when not properly disposed. One of the primary environmental, health and safety concerns in the manufacture of the panel is the exposure to and inhalation of kerf dust a by-product of sawing the silicon ingots into wafers. Others include the exposure to solvent such as nitric acid, sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid [3]. During the transportation of the panels, some of them leak and the toxic materials in them pollute the environment.  At the end of their useful life, the panels must be safely disposed due to the fact that they contain toxic materials if not they also will pollute the environment.
In conclusion, though the usage of the panels themselves does not pollute the environment, their manufacture, transportation and disposal can pollute the environment due to the hazardous chemicals used in the process and these pollutions are termed the hidden pollution of solar panels.


Duo Wu's picture

When telling about the pollution of solar panel, the first thing came out from my brain is production pollution. Solar panel production cannot proceed without polysilicon. To product solar panel is a process of purification. The metal silicon should be transferred to trichlorosilane first and get a reduction reaction by using hydrogen. About one out of four trichlorosilane would be transferred to polysilicon and let the rest part of them off to the air. During the discharging, proceed of purification will product lots of discarded material like silicon tetrachloride, TCS and DCS. For that silicon tetrachloride, it is a colorless volatile liquid that fumes in air. Decomposes in water to release hydrochloric acid, ontact can cause severe burns to skin and eyes, Inhalation can cause pulmonary edema.

 Duo Wu  51230750 

Keqin Chen's picture

It is quite clear that the power generated by solar panels is safe and environment friendly for absence of toxic and greenhouses gas emissions.

However, as for the life cycle of solar panels, there are potential environmental pollution hazards in the stage of raw material extraction & refining, module manufacturing & assembly, Installation, use, and end-of-life management & recycling. 


1. In Raw material extraction and refining stage, Silica dust may cause silicosis to human.

2. In the stage which uses Silica Sand to get Metallurgical Grade Silicon, CO2 and SO2 will be produced.

3. In the stage which makes Metallurgical Grade Silicon to Polysilicon, Chlorosilanes and hydrogen chloride will pose harm to human and environment.

4. In the stage which makes Wafer to Cell, inhalation of kerf dust is fetal to human.

5. In the stage of decommissioning, the biggest trouble is the danger of lead containing solders. 




Duo Wu's picture

Another kind of pollution comes from the waste of photovoltaic generation. Photovoltaic power cannot be used forever; they will be very destructive to environment after we throw them. Most storage batteries of photovoltaic generation are lead-acid ones; they are made by materials of lead (Pb), antimony (Sb) and cadmium (Cd) which could pollute soil and ground water.

One more thing cannot be ignored is light pollution. After solar energy has been widely used, city will be fully charged with solar panel. The light pollution comes from the sunlight reflection between them. A research from experts finds that, the one's retina and iris would be harmed deeply after he or she worked of lived in environment with light pollution for a long time.

 Duo Wu  51230750 

chukwuemeka uzukwu's picture

Solar power is an increasingly
important source of renewable energy. Electricity generated by interconnected
solar PV cells – more commonly known as solar panels – is supplied to household
appliances and excess power can be fed back into the electricity grid.

The generation of electricity
from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels is safe and effective. Because PV
systems do not burn fossil fuels
they do not produce the toxic air or greenhouse gas emissions

associated with conventional
fossil fuel fired generation technologies. According to the U.S.
Department of Energy, few
power-generating technologies have as little environmental impact as
photovoltaic solar panels.

However, as with all energy sources, there are
potential environmental, health and safety hazards associated with the
full product life cycle of photovoltaics..
The most significant environmental, health and
safety hazards are associated with the use of hazardous chemicals in the
manufacturing phase of the solar cell. Improper disposal of solar panels at the
end of their useful life also presents an environmental, health and safety
concern. The extraction of raw material inputs, especially the mining of
crystalline silica, can also pose an environmental, health and safety

The environmental, health and
safety concerns for the life-cycle phase are minimal and limited to rare and infrequent
events. With effective regulation, enforcement, and vigilance by manufacturers
and operators, any danger to workers, the public and the environment can be
minimized. Further, the benefits of photovoltaics tend to far outweigh risks
especially when compared to conventional fossil fuel technologies.

Oluwatadegbe Adesunloye Oyolola's picture

Some key facts on solar energy highlight its significant prospective in resolving the climate change crisis. The Sun has sufficient helium mass to provide the Earth for another five billion years. Every 15 minutes, the sun emits more energy than the earth's population uses in an entire year. Globally, there are about two billion people without electricity. It is more economically viable to install solar panels than to extend established electricity grids.

However, utility-scale solar energy environmental concerns include land disturbance/land use impacts; impacts to soil, water and air resources; visual, cultural, paleontological, socioeconomic, and environmental justice impacts, and potential impacts from hazardous materials.

Potential adverse impacts to various resources associated with the construction, operation, and decommissioning of solar power plants are briefly outlined below.

Land Disturbance/Land Use Impacts.

All utility-scale solar energy facilities require relatively large areas for solar radiation collection when used to generate electricity. Solar facilities may interfere with existing land uses, such as grazing, wild horse and burro management, military uses, and minerals production. Solar facilities could impact the use of nearby specially designated areas such as wilderness areas, areas of
critical environmental concern, or special recreation management areas. Proper citing decisions can help to avoid land disturbance and land use impacts.

Impacts to Soil, Water, and Air Resources

Construction of solar facilities on large areas of land requires clearing and grading, and results in soil compaction, potential alteration of drainage channels, and increased runoff and erosion. Engineering methods can be used to mitigate these impacts. Use of or spills of chemicals at solar facilities (for example, dust suppressants, dielectric fluids, herbicides) could result in contamination of surface or groundwater.

Ecological Impacts

The clearing and use of large areas of land for solar power facilities can adversely affect native vegetation and wildlife in many ways, including loss of habitat; interference with rainfall and drainage; or direct contact causing injury or death. The impacts are exacerbated when the species affected are classified as sensitive, rare, or threatened and endangered.

Other Impacts

Photovoltaic panels may contain hazardous materials, and although they are sealed under normal operating conditions, there is the potential for environmental contamination if they were damaged or improperly disposed upon decommissioning. Proper planning and good maintenance practices can be used to minimize impacts from hazardous materials.

(NOTE: A utility-scale solar power plant is one with a generation capacity of 20 MW or greater)



Adesunloye-Oyolola O.

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

eddy itamah's picture

The use of solar panels is another option in renewable energy industry as a means of generating energy that is clean, cheap and safe. The generation of electrical power from photovoltaic sola panels do not contribute to the greenhouse gas (GHG) signature, like other conventional fossil fuel used for the generation of energy. This makes solar panels more effective and safer.

Despite its non - contribution to the rising effects of greenhouse gas emission, there are other potential environmental, health and safety hazards that is associated with the life cycle of photovoltaics. Hazardous chemicals used in the production of solar cells are the most significant environmental, health and safety hazard associated with solar panels. Other environmental, health and safety concern with photovoltaic solar panels are their improper disposal at the end of their useful life. The extraction of raw material especially the mining of crystalline silica is also a potential source of environmental hazard. Also, workers in the solar industry production and the disposal of the panels are exposed to health threatening chemicals like cadmium and arsenic which causes cancer.

With adequate and effective regulation, enforcement, and vigilance by manufacturers and operators, any threat to workers health, the public and the environment can be reduced. However, the benefits associated with photovoltaics solar panels tend to outweigh the risks, mostly when compared with the conventional fossil fuel technologies. Research shows that regardless of the specific technology, photovoltaic generate significantly fewer harmful air emission of at least 87% per kilowatt when compared with conventional fossil fuel fired technologies.





Kwadwo Boateng Aniagyei's picture

I agree to most of the issues raised by my colleagues on this
topic. Though solar energy is a clean source of energy, the manufacture of its
components has adverse effects on the environment. The major component of the
solar system, the solar cell, is mostly made of crystalline silica. Crystalline
silica is mined from the earth crust and is primarily present as sand or quartz. Afterwards,
the mined raw material is processed to produce an end product simply referred
to as silica or quartz.  There is a
potentially harmful by-product associated with the mining and processing known
as crystalline silica dust. Silica dust has been associated with silicosis, a
lung disease where scar tissue forms in the lungs and reduces the ability to
breath1. Crystalline silica dust is classified as a known human
carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer2. Studies
show increased risk of developing lung cancer through regular exposure to
crystalline silica dust3. Other health problems associated with
regular, high exposure include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, Sjogern’s syndrome, lupus, and renal disease3.

However another major environmental issue that has not been
well discussed on this blog is the improper disposal of solar panels at the end
of their useful life since they can also pose environmental, health and
safety concerns. Where possible some components of the solar panels should be
recycled and properly decommissioned to prevent the release of harmful
substances into the environment. If the solar cells are not properly decommissioned,
lead containing solders may have their lead leaching into landfill soils and
water bodies, which may severely pollute the environment.







Yaw Akyampon Boakye-Ansah's picture


every energy source, there is an inherent hazard in its generational process.
It begs the question why generate energy in the first place. Energy is needed
to accomplish many of modern day activities. In the light of installing such
means of capturing or generating these energies, there are a lot of dangers
that one may face.

In the job of processing and
manufacturing the parts for a solar panel, there are inherent occupational
risks. Another risk one is exposed to is that of working at heights. The risk
of electrical shocks one is exposed to when installing solar panels should not
be overlooked. Electricity is as much a hazard as any other energy.
Additionally, if it is to be installed as a heating device, the risk of burns
remains. Lastly, the risk presented in decommissioning these solar panels is
great. They may have generated poisonous gases and elements over the period of
their usage.

When one wants to install solar
panels, it becomes necessary to put them in areas where they are very likely to
receive sunlight when the sun is at its highest and hottest. Usually, such
installations cannot be done in plane areas.

That is not to say solar energy
is not good but these are some of the inherent dangers involved in their usage
and generation and at their last useful periods. 


The hidden pollution regarding solar panels arises from their from their manufacture. According to Anthony watts in his 2008 article on solar panel manufacture, manufacturing solar panels produces a gas Nitrogen Triflouride (NF3) which is revealed to be a greenhouse gas 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. furthermore, his research conlcludes that the resulting rise in production of these solar panels over the past two decades has raised the artificial amounts of NF3 in the atmosphere by a stagerring 20%.

in addition to these statistics, scripps institue points out that the NF3 concentration in the atmosphere at present is 5,400 tonnes and this value is increasing by 11% annually. furthermore, the current 5,400 tons of NF3 will be present in the atmosphere for about 700 years and and would produce global warming emissions equivalent to all of finlands carbon dioxide emissions.

With this revelation, i maintain that solar panels are not a safe way so solve the global warming pollution crisis. 

t01sik12's picture

Solar Energy is a renewable energy by which sunlight converts into electricity. Solar panel is a collection of solar cells.

Generation of electricity with the help of photovoltaic solar panels is safe and efficient. Solar power is better for the environment, compared to burning fossil fuels and other electrical power. Solar energy is environmental friendly and has no pollution associated with it.

Because of the height at which it is to be installed there is a risk of falling. The most significant environment, health and safety hazards are associated with the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing phase of the solar cell. Improper disposal of solar panels at the end of their useful life also presents an environmental, health and safety concern. The extraction of raw material inputs , especially the mining of crystalline silica can also be harmful.

With effective regulation, enforcement and vigilance by manufacturers and operators, any danger to workers, the public and the environment can be minimized. (Vasilis etal, 2008)



2. Vasilis Fthenakis, Hyung Chul Kim and Erik Alsema (2008). "Emissions from Photovoltaic Life-Cycles."

Environmental Science and Technology 2008 42 (6):2168-2174. Available at:

Hanifah N. Lubega's picture

Majority of us have agreed that there is indeed hidden pollution in the solar Energy Industry looking at the manufacturing processes of mainly silicon and Occupational dangers of working at heights. But has it been considered noticeable? Well, Research has shown that the Life cycle analysis of solar PV modules yield relatively small amounts of  Green House Gases (the harmonised values are about  45 g CO2eq/kWh for crystalline silicon and 18-52 g CO2e/kWh [NREL] for Thin film technologies(Where thinner layers of material are used) but is that all there is to worry about?

Looking at the ‘second generation’ technologies [Thin films], they tend to utilise elements like Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Copper-Indium-Gallium Selenide (CIGS), which require rare elements like  Cadmium[Cd] which is considered toxic and others like carbon tetrachloride, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen sulfide, lead and selenium compounds that pose dangers to the environment. Research seems to be focussing more about increasing the efficiency and reducing costs of PVs inorder to make the competitive with the other available energy technologies, with little care about the effects of chosen materials/compounds on the environment. I think we are more worried about the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and forgotten about the hazards some of these technologies may pose on the population and the ecosystem. 

We cannot consider some of these impacts negligible so pro-active measures have to be taken in improving safety procedures in material handling, manufacturing and installation of these PV cells/modules even as they show hope in the future energy mix.


National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Crystalline Silicon and Thin Film Photovoltaic Results – Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization [

C. Andrew Miller† and Cynthia L. Gage 2011, Potential Adverse Environmental Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies

leighmoreton's picture

The benefit of thin
film solar technologies is that they are more efficient and lighter
then the conventional solar panels. They are ideal for incorporation
of buildings being roof mounted or even integrated in pillars.

Although it is true
that cadmium is a major component of these types of panels and it is
toxic to the environment, there is a difference between the two
panels that Hanifah has mentioned above. The CIGS (Copper Indium
Gallium Diselenide) panel contains a hundredth of the cadmium that is
in the CdTe (Cadmium Telluride), this is why the CIGS panel is now
the most common form of panel being installed onto buildings today.

There are also new
processes which are undertaken by the manufacturers to improve the
safety in production.


Leigh Moreton
MSc Renewable Energy

Kyle McFarlane's picture

Overlooking the hidden pollution and toxic chemicals that have been discussed at length above and focusing on the question of "how safe are solar panels" It is quite clear that over all they are safe. 

They feature no moving parts and if installed correctly they require very low maintenance. (occasional cleaning and leakage repair)

The "risk" that these installations and as, Andrew Allan, mentioned decommisioing and removal of these systems is simply working at height. There are many rules and legislative actions in place for working at height and although they clearly cannot eliminate the risk that working at height poses, if followed they can make such activity much safer. However the reason for the high number of incidents related to Solar panels is due to the way in which they are being marketed and sold. As they are readily avaliabe to be purchased and somewhat simple to install many individuals attempt to carry out the activity themselves regardless of the fact they have none of the training or equipment required to make such an activity safe.

In order to carry out the installment of these systems safely the workers installing them should have scaffolding erected, appropriate PPE ( hard hats, gloves, boots, harnesses, possibly inertia reels). They should have sat and understood SG4 10 courses.   




As many other renewable energies, although sollar energy is clean enough,it can pose risks to human life. Some fatalities have been reported to fall down from height during roofing, maintenance and installation. Roofing is more dangerous than coal mining( this case, safety measures should be taken to reduce the risk until it is ALARP. One of the other major concerns regarding solar panels safety is potential risk of explosion and fire. Some solar panels contain cadmium and selenium which are explosive and potential greenhouse gases. Solar panel's most significant risk is pollution. During producing solar panels, alot of dangerous wastes are released to environment. This resulted in a protest in china (Hongxiau) where some fish had been died because of dangerous waste materials of a solar company. In addition, after reaching the end of a solar panel life time, alot of dangerous and risky materials may be released during recycling. These risks should not be overlooked. They should be taken into consideration and some policies should be set to manage the risks associated with solar energy and other renewable energies.

Angelos Hadjiantoni's picture

I agree with the opinion that no energy source is 100% safe.
This is the case with solar power as well.
Bad installations of PV panels like a faulty DC switch might cause a fire with unknown results.
Fire caused by faulty PV panels might also hide electric shocks for the firemen called to control it.
Conseul safety certification agency found that 51% of PV installations in France did not comply with the rules and legislations.
How can these PV installations be licensed since they are not qualified according to safety measures?
Is the race to comply with EU renewable target a reason to just install panels without any inspection?
PV panels need regular testing. That is because inverters are an important part of the system and as a result many electronic parts are more sensitive to malfunctions.

As a result the IEC 62446 standard includes the following rules:

    "The PV panels and electrical supply connections have been wired up correctly
    That the electrical insulation is good
    The protective earth connection is as it should be
    There has been no damage to cables during installation"

I believe that if the proper safety measures are taken into account solar energy is a safe renewable energy source.

Best Regards,

Angelos Hadjiantonis
MSc Renewable Energy


Soseleye F. Ideriah's picture

Potential hazards in solar energy may be from:


1) Manufacture

Workers may be harmed in the manufacturing process used to
build photovoltaic cells due to the use of the hazardous substances – arsenic and
cadmium. Also, workers can be exposed to the carcinogenic crystalline silica
dust from the silicon used in the manufacture of solar panels.


2) Waste disposal

The manufacturing process also leaves behind a number of
undesirable waste products. Silicon tetrachloride, sulphur hexafluoride (a
greenhouse gas) and other dust may cause contamination to water and soil. With
a 25-year average life-span, silicon-based panels have to be carefully disposed
of or recycled to avoid contamination of the environment.


One of the objectives of harnessing solar energy is to
reduce the harm caused to the environment. It is important to analyse the
entire value chain (from research, to production, to transportation, to
consumption and finally disposal) before deciding on the overall viability or
advantages of an energy source.

Fungisai N Nota's picture

 When looking at the mounting of solar panels on roof tops
the risks that are involved are the same as any other roof mounted plant or machinery.  The HSE account most of the height related
accident to ill prepared or unqualified staff. When looking at the solar panel
itself there are safety risks associated at it is mounted on top of the roof if
a fire is to break out there are chance of the toxic matter escaping into the
atmosphere these having an environmental safety problem also in the production of
the cell there are by-products like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide are
produced during the combustion process also silica fume with are harmful to the
humans can be released into the atmosphere. There are also safety risks in the
wrongful disposal as there is potential of leaking chemical like lead into the ground
and this can contaminate the water people drink.  So there are some safety risks associated with
the solar panels but relatively low when compare to other energy sources.    

Fungisai Nota BEng(Hons) MIET

Igwe Veronica Ifenyinwa's picture

Contrary to popular belief, the process of manufacturing solar panels can and does create enormous amounts of harmful and toxic waste. Because the most of the solar panels consumed in the west are manufactured in China, the nature and extent of this pollution is hidden from the consumers of solar panels. We get the illusion of 'green, clean energy' on our shores, by exporting environmental ruin to the countries where the panels are manufactured. Polysilicon manufacturing yields the byproduct silicon tetrachloride, a highly dangerous and toxic chemical. On September 19, in 2011, a village in eastern China rioted against a local solar panel manufacturing firm for dumping harmful and toxic chemicals into its river and poisoning the local fishing industry (

In 2010, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition conducted a survey of manufacturing and found that solar manufacturers were using lead (a powerful neurotoxin), cadmium (a known carcinogen), and the greenhouse gas nitrogen triflouride in the creation of their products. Further, the process of manufacturing silicon solar panels requires enormous amounts of energy, which generally are supplied by oil and coal power plants. Because of inefficiencies in solar power generation, it requires more energy to make a solar panel than the panel can produce in its operational lifetime, frequently resulting in a net energy loss per solar panel

Thomas James Smith's picture

Igwe Veronica Ifenyinwa i total agree, I nearly fell into the trap of installing solar panels onto my roof for their ‘green potential’.  The manufacture of Solar panels follows a similar process to that of computer chips and high tech electrical components.  Most of the raw materials used for their manufacture is mined, quartz sand, metal ore etc.  These raw materials have to be treated using various chemicals and process that generate air pollution, heavy metal emissions and also green house gases.  The manufacture of the chemicals themselves creates harmful emissions.  The whole fabrication and manufacturing process exposes the workforce involved in the manufacture of solar cells to around fifty different cancer causing chemicals such as cadmium and arsenic. Ref here

I believe A high percentage of the Solar cells that are used in solar panels installed across the UK and Europe are manufactured by factories across Japan, Germany, China, Taiwan and the USA. 

Thomas James Smith's picture

Installation of solar panels can present the installation technicians and the occupiers of the property with a number of risks.  The installation engineer, along with the risks associated with dealing with electricity are also exposed to the risks of working at heights, handling of heavy parts and equipment and can potentially have an effect on the structural integrity of the roof or structure that they are being mounted on.:

Structural integrity                         the average weight of a solar panel is around 15Kg with an around 8 to 10 being installed in a single installation.  Review of the existing structure is essential to ensure that the additional weight of the solar panels and associated equipment do not exceeded the roofs design capacity.  A failure could cause injury to the occupants and / or to the installation technician. Ref [1]

Manual Handling and lifting        Panels are installed on rooftops, and as such will require the panels to be lifted onto the roof.  Provision of appropriate lifting equipment will reduce the risk of injury to the installation technician. Ref [3],[4], [5] & [6]

Working at Heights                         According to the statistics provided on the HSE web site the most common cause of workplace fatalities are from falls from heights.[7] in 2010/11 there were 3 Fatal injuries, 1300 major injuries and 3300 over 3 day injuries in the construction industry related to slips trips and falls form height[8].

Working with Electricity                risk of electrocution and fire, in  2010/11 there was 1 fatality, 3 major injuries and 40 over 3 day injuries [8]

There are many risk associated with the installation of solar panels.  Risk assessing the site and the work area to understand all the hazards associated with the task is a necessary part of the process to ensure that the risk associated with the task are controlled and reduce to a level to prevent injury to all those involved with there installation.

[1] Refer to The Building Regulations 2010

[2] Refer to the IET wiring regulations

[3] Refer to The working at Height Regulation 2005

[4] Refer to Safe use of ladders and stepladders

[5] Refer to Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)

[6] Refer to Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

[7] Refer to Health and Safety Wep page Statistics

[8] Refer to Reported injuries to employees by kind of accident


Solar energy is a clean renewable source of energy. This involves the use of photovoltaic solar panels to produce electricity. As with all sources of energy, solar panels also has its associated health, safety and environmental issues most of which occurs during production and disposal.

Toxic metals such as silicon, mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium used in the production of the photovoltaic cells can pollute the environment if not properly disposed. These solar cells, primarily made up of silicon and can release carcinogen crystalline silica dust during production which poses dire health consequences when exposed to it. Improper disposal can result in the inherent toxin contaminating soil and water and rendering farmlands infertile [1].

When these solar panels are installed on roof tops, there is still some level of risk to the occupants. Some of these risks are;

1. Solar panels produce a high level of electromagnetic radiation and some people can get sick when exposed to even a small amount of this radiation [2].

2. Gases and dust can degrade solar panels quickly. Silicosis disease can develop if the silicon dust is inhaled over time. 

3. An event of fire outbreak due to faulty wiring or mechanical damage to the system can cause the panel to come loose from its anchor points and in the worst case scenario, explode and transfer the fire to the roof top [3].










Liu Yishan's picture

I think solar energy is really very risky for domestic usage. Firstly, we should know the process that solar energy form is nuclear fusion which is very similar with the process occurred in nuclear power station. They have the same basic nuclear physics laws that apply to atomic bombs. What's more, the main energy source of solar energy is actually hydrogen which is an extremely destructive gas used in hydrogen bombs. They have huge dangerous of exposing. I believe nobody want to live with an H-bomb every day. Then, solar panels which are installed on roofs are also unsafe. Fifty different cancer-causing chemicals are used to manufacture solar panels. Not only the workers in the solar industry making and disposing solar panels are at highest risk for health issues, but also the other people are affected by the toxic chemicals when the solar panels reach the end of their lifecycles. Although people think solar energy is a great source for power and electricity and it can save the bills, the harms of solar energy must be considered. It may be not a good choice for a family.


ZHANGYANAN's picture

Discussion Topic 5: In recent years, millions of solar panels have been placed on roofs around the world. Discuss how safe are they? Discuss the hidden pollution caused by solar panels.

Things always have two sides, just like a corn, solar energy is considered to be the safety and most cost-effective renewable energy; however, some industry sectors will generate pollution. But the emission level is the lowest in all energy.As the manufacturing industry, the pollution generated in the production process of the solar panels such as the gas silane, trichlorosilane, hydrogen chloride and hydrochloric acid (HCl). In addition to some compounds such as silicon and cadmium, these chemicals like germanium and PVC will be also harmful to the environment. Some raw materials such as silicon materials, metal ores and quartz sand are needed in the process of the battery product. All of these processes lead to heavy metal emission that due to the pollution in the air and the greenhouse gas emission.Nevertheless, experts and researchers pointed out that the pollution caused by production of solar panels is much less than the traditional fuels like fossil fuels. Also, the air pollution will reduce to 90% compared with the fossil fuels.As a result, although solar photovoltaic power generation is not a zero-emissions technology, it does not mean that we do not promoted. Environmental protection is a global concern problem, so order to curb the environmental pollution, the harmful gases need to be treated to minimize the pollution before released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, we need to choose the green manufacturing processes, develop the recycling processes and improve production methods.




Zhang Yanan             ID: 51233945


Tianchi You's picture

I want to talk about the pollution caused by producing these solar panel. As we all know, the solar panel is using Si as its main material to absorb the sunshine and then convert into electricity. However, despite of other kinds of pollution, the production of solar panel has caused air pollution in some countries ,especially developing countries like China and India. 

Because of the reason for that solar power does have an effect on decreasing the emissions of greenhouse gases, a lot of developed countries such as US,UK,Germany buy raw material (Si) from China every year. China has become the NO.1 country in the world to export  the raw material. According to the data, 3 years ago China produced 4,000 tons of polysilicon,which is 40times that 2004. Furtheremore, this number has become 15,000 in 2011. Polysilicon's production is depended on the coal, 10kilograms polysilicon can consume 2 tons of coal. In that case, it does pollute the environment.

However, the renewable energy is becoming the mainstream in the world, even though it has its pollution to the environment, but it is relatively lower than the traditional forms of energy.


Tianchi You


Oil&Gas engineering

Reference:'s picture

Advantages: 1.      Common:  the sun shine on the earth and whether it is the land, sea, mountain or island, there is no geographical constraints. Moreover, it can be directly developed and utilized without exploitation and transportation. 2.      Sound:  development and utilization of solar energy does not pollute the environment. It is one of the cleanest energy. It is extremely valuable when there are more and more serious environmental pollution today.  3.      Huge:  solar radiation reaches the Earth's surface approximately equivalent to 1.3 trillion tons of coal annually, and its total is the maximum energy that can be developed in the world today.  4.       Long time:  based on estimation the current rate of nuclear energy produced by the sun, the hydrogen storage is sufficient to maintain ten billion years. However, earth's life expectancy is about 1 billion year, from this prospective, it can be said that the sun's energy is inexhaustible.
Shortcoming:1.      Dispersion:  the total amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth's surface can be very low current density. Therefore, when people use solar energy and want to get a certain degree of power conversion, it is often required a fairly large set of collection and conversion apparatus which may lead to higher cost.  2.      Instability:  due to the natural conditions of the day, night, season, geographic latitude and altitude restrictions, as well as sunny, overcast, clouds, rain, and other random factors, so the solar irradiance is both intermittent and unstable.  This issue increases the degree of difficulty to the large-scale application of solar energy. In order to make solar energy as a continuous, steady energy that ultimately becomes the alternative energy to be able to compete with conventional energy, there must be a good solution to the accumulator problem. 

3.      Low efficiency and high cost:  the level of developing solar energy utilization is feasible in the theory and the technology is mature. However, because of the low efficiency and high cost in using the solar energy devices, the economy cannot compete with conventional energy sources. In other words, the further development of solar energy utilization is mainly constrained by economic.


Xingyuan Fu


MSc in oil and gas engineering

Safety risk of
solar energy:

Solar energy
is another source at which electricity is generated by natural resources from
the sun. ‘’The sunlight emits luminous efficacy of about
 per watt of radiant
. Bright sunlight
 of approximately 100,000 luxor lumens per square meter at the
Earth's surface. Sunlight's composition at ground level, per square meter, with
the sun at the zenith, is about 527 watts of infrared radiation, 445 watts of 
, and 32 watts of ultraviolet radiation’’ [1].

With the strength emitted from the
sunlight that is trapped by solar panels placed on the roof of buildings, there
are tendencies of safety at risk here.

solar panels are grid of wafer-thin disks called photovoltaic cells made of
crystalline silicon. The panel’s, containing PV cells, helps to keep the unit from
overheating with an additional safety feature.  Failure of reduction in overheating of the
solar panel may lead to fire hazard. 
Also, wiring error can also cause fire hazard during installation of
solar panels [2].

The potential risk and danger from solar
energy are eminent; therefore, safety precautions are already in place. Similar
fire hazard from solar panels raised an eye-brow in Australia; this lead to
development of DC circuit breaker that isolates the PV panels from the inverter
and also isolates the solar cables from the PV panel. Human error can also lead
to fire accident through the panel if by any means the DC breaker is turned off

Pollution from the materials used in
manufacturing PV cells are chemical pollutant dangerous to human health. Such materials
include phosphoryl chloride (toxic and corrosive), hydrofluoric acid used for
silicon engraving (toxic). They posses risk in the chemical plant and storage
areas. Limited risk at life use has been effective [4].






amaka.ikeaka's picture

Solar panel electricity system is a
renewable energy technology that captures the sun's energy using photovoltaic
cells. This technology has as little impact on the environment as possible,
generating no noise or chemical pollutants during use. Concerns however have
been raised about air pollutants from solar panels during the manufacturing
process, installation, and the end of their life cycle. The manufacturing
process involves the use of toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium and
produces carbon dioxide, which is a green house gas.  Research has however
shown that these pollutants produced are lower in comparison to the pollutants
emitted in conventional fossil fuel technologies.  A simple remedy to
ensure solar panel manufacture with minimal pollution is for companies to only
accept sources of materials where there are stringent standards in place, thus
placing economic pressure on factories to develop effective waste management
[1].  Another issue is the disposal of panels at the end of their useful
lives, as they contain toxic materials, hence there's need for appropriate disposal.
 The average lifecycle of a solar panel is 20 years; adequate recycling
facilities can be developed alongside solar technology so that sustainability
can be guaranteed from the onset.


[1]How toxic are solar PV panels:

amir masoud bayat's picture

The electricity generation from Photovoltaic(PV) solar panels is effective and safe since solar energy do not burn fossil fuels and do not produce greenhouse gas or the toxic air which are associated with conventional fossil fuel technologies.

On the other hand, the most considerable health, safety and environment hazards that should be tacken into consideration is the use of dangerous chemicals in the generating phase of the solar cell. Additionally, inappropriate disposal of solar panels after the end of their handy life demonstrates a health, environmental and safety concern. Also, the extraction of raw materials which are in the solar panels may pose an environment and safety concern.


Savitha Haneef's picture

In terms of power generation solar panels are safe as it produces clean energy.There are no harmful byproducts and doesnt pose any threat to the environment.While manufacturing and installing, as previous posts suggested, there are a number of safety concerns.In order to improve the efficiency of the solar cells ,which is only 20% ,the second generation has been developed, not considering the environment, by using various toxic chemicals. The exposure to this chemicals can bring various health issues. The transportation too is challenging.The installation is risky as it involves 'working at heights' . This can be reduced by competent persons using appropriate safety equipments.The question is 'Is it  really worth taking the risks?'.Solar panels are very expensive and ineffcient as it produces a very dilute form of energy.The panels doesnt work at nights.I believe in UK one of the main reason for seeing solar panels is the attractive feed-in-tariff scheme. 

Savitha Haneef
MSC Safety & Reliability Engineering

Solar Energy is said to be a cleaner and safer form of energy. But later it is found that, it is no longer a safe and clean energy. Solar cell (photovoltaic) is used to produce solar energy. Toxic chemicals such as cadmium telluride, copper indium diselenide, copper indium gallium selenide and mercury are used in the manufacturing of PV. These toxic chemicals create pollution during the manufacturing of solar panel and during their waste disposal and recycling. In 2011, a village in eastern china protested against a solar panel manufacturing company for polluting their river. Company dumped the toxic waste of the solar panel to the river. The process of manufacturing of silicon solar panel needs a large amount of energy, which is obtained by burning the fossil fuel. And this will lead to more pollution. The countries which manufacture solar panel have to suffer these pollutions.

Andy Reid's picture

Solar panels have been coming under criticism for the chemical process by which they are manufactured - particularly the crystalline silicon semiconductor used in the solar cell. Looking at the process in steps will help shine a light on exactly where the hazards are and put them in perspective.


The first step is to extract crystialline silica - the primary raw ingredient in photovailic solar cells. Silica is found in the form of sand or quartz which is mined, crushed, milled, washed and screened to separate out the silica from impurities.

A by-product of this process is silica dust which is a known carcinogen and is associated with several severe health concerns including lupus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and renal disease[1]. While this may well sound like a nasty process and it is an inherently dangerous one - there are now stringent health and safety regulations in place accordingly to reduce risk of exposure of personnel. More importantly, in the context of this debate, only ~2%[2] of produced silica is further treated to become suitable for use in solar cells, and around 80% goes to the manufacture of glass, ceramics or other equally benign household items. Ergo, the dangers associated with this process cannot logically be applied to the use of solar panels unless it is also applied to any process which uses glass or certain metal casings or abbrasives.

Metallurgical Grade Silicon

To upgrade industrial grade silica to metallurgical grade silica, it must be combined with carbon in an electric arc furnace. Again, an unsafe process giving off fume silica which, if inhaled, can pose the same health concerns as silica dust[3].

However, only 6%[4] of all metallurgical grade silicon is used in the manufacture of semiconductors (including both household electronics and solar cells) so once again, this safety concern cannot logically be exclusively applied to solar energy any more than it can be applied to watching television or using a computer.


In order to become suitable for use in semiconductors, metallurgical grade silicon must be further purified, but dangers involved here are, once again, moot. Polysilicon is used in almost all commercial electronics and historically, the only polysilicon which was used in solar cell production was considered to be "waste" product which didn't meet purity requirements for the electronics industry[5]. Solar cell production may include several potentially hazardous (yet meticulously managed and controlled) processes but those same technologies are needed for almost all aspects of "modern life" to computer manufacture all the way through to any other form of energy production that exists today.

Solar Cell Manufacture

The manufacture of solar cells involves several hazardous substances and by-products, the most likely cause of hard to employees being inhalation of the by-product kerf dust. The hazardous substances involved are governed by several standards and regulatory bodies, enforcing the inclusion of safeguards including extensive ventilation systems, accident prevention and planning programs and emergency confinement and absorption units.[6] As a result of these safeguards, there have been zero catastrophic releases as a result of photovailic manufacturing in the US.[7]

Solar Energy cannot be differentiated from other energy sources based on its chemical processes. Provided the proper regulations are adhered to, solar energy is safer than fossil fuel technology.


Andy Reid


[2] report.pdf.

[3] report.pdf.

[4] report.pdf.

[5] Y.S. Tsuo, T.H. Wang, and T.F. Ciszek (1999). Crystalline-Silicon Solar Cells for the 21st Century. Washington,

D.C.: National Renewable Energy Lab.


[7]'s picture

Integrated solar energy buildings are not the simple sum of solar energy and buildings. In other words, from the design of buildings, it is better to put the solar energy system into building design elements indispensable. This thought is called blending design and it is to make the solar energy system become an integral part of the building. Solar energy companies should provide designers some standard and reliable products to meet various needs in order to achieve a synchronized solar energy and buildings. Solar energy systems in residential applications should ensure that the selection of products has a long life and the systems should be designed with durability characteristics. Solar products and systems should have features like a low failure rate, easy to maintenance and easy to management.

The solar energy system has to determine 5 problems in high-rise buildings. First, integration design; Second, the reasonable system selection, that should be based on the investment, operating and maintenance cost as well as the late management and reasonable select models of the solar energy system;Third, optimize system parameters;Fourth, reduce the loss of the pipe network such as shortening the length of the pipe;  Fifth, establish appropriate fee system.

Angelos Hadjiantoni's picture


According to G, Boyle (2012) the most significant danger associated with solar panels,
is the event of an accident at a manufacturing plant.  
This is the case in factories where cadmium is used for constructing the modules.
New processes are available to minimize this risk and also new schemes are being developed by the manufacturers for recycling the modules at the end of their life.
In my opinion this is not a reason to stall the development or the growth of installation of solar panels.
Solar energy alone has a potential of providing 2850 times the current global energy need.
It is a huge potential and even if a small portion can be exploited it is still important.  

Best regards,

Angelos Hadjiantoni
MSc Renewable Energy

Source: Boyle, G., ed. 2012 Renewable Energy: Power for a Sustainable Future, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press. Chapter 3.

Thomas James Smith's picture

Although through this debate we have established that Solar panels are not as environmentally friendly as they may appear, due to in part to there manufacturing and transportation. And that there are also many hazards around there installation i.e. working at heights and working with electricity.  Our continued thirst for energy to power our ever-increasing array of power hungry goods requires that we find a sustainable replacement for the ever depleting hydrocarbon that we have been relying on to provide us with the power that we require for our modern lifestyles.  Solar panels along with wind, wave and nuclear power may be the only answer to our future power requirements.

Maxwell Otobo's picture

Solar panels on rooftops - Safety issue

  • Fire hazard - solar panels installed on rooftops that are incorrectly wired can lead to serious fire risk. Fires cannot be extinguished on houses with rooftop solar panel units and will lead to a complete destruction of the property. REASON: A rooftop solar array generates D.C electricity at a potential of about 600-800 volts (more than enough to kill) cannot be turned off thereby putting the fire fighters at risk if they attempt breaking through the solar panels. In Australia, USA and Germany, fire fighters are already warning the society of the deadly threat they face when trying to fight blazes associate with solar panels on buildings.

Hidden pollution caused by solar panels

  • Human hazard- manufacturing solar panels pose risk to workers. Workers in the solar industry are at highest risk for health issues because nearly 50 different cancer-causing chemicals are used in manufacturing solar panels.
  • Toxic hazard- The approximate lifespan of solar panels is between 15-25 years after which they will be discarded along with the toxins leaking from them. This is detrimental as exposure to toxins make humans and animals fall sick.




leighmoreton's picture

As the technology has
advanced to make the panels more efficient so has the method in which
the panels are produced.

Nanosolar in the USA
have developed a unique concept for producing their thin film CIGS
(Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide) solar photovoltaic panels. They
have created a method which allows them to 'print' a solar panel.
The base of the cell is essentially a thin aluminium foil, which is
rolled prior to printing. The layers of the cell are applied by a
high yield, pre-defined ratio nanoparticle ink being printed onto the

This new form of solar
cell production is a lot safer then the conventional means as the
nanoparticle ink contains only small amounts of the chemical
components of the cell, the process can be fully automated which
reduces the risk to workers significantly.


Leigh Moreton
MSc Renewable Energy

Bassey Kufre Peter's picture

Placing solar panels on
roof poses the following safety threats :

1.         The heavy glass panels poses danger to
the roof load bearing as shown above

2.         They pose a significant problem in
fighting the fire on roofs and inside the roof spaces.

3.         The high temperature during fire
incidence might cause the metal to warp and the panel modules to loose from
their anchor points and in some cases may lead to explosion whereby sending
flying objects into the air as shown in the figure above.

4.         The proximity of any fire involving the
Photovoltaic cells system also increases the risk of inhaling toxic vapours  that
will clog the respiratory system.

5          The height of the roof also poses
threat on the workers during installations and maintenance.

The above listed points can be
mitigated by:

1.         Placing an Emblem on building where
solar panels are attached to so as to warn the fire fighters against

2.         By using special Protecting clothing to
avoid flying of the particle during explosion.

3          By the use of an autonomous respirator
to avoid clogging of the respiratory system.

hidden pollution caused by solar panels is its toxic constituents use in
manufacturing it such as lead, cadmium and 
the greenhouse gas nitrogen triflouride



[1], Kufre Peter
M.Sc-Subsea Engineering-2012/2013
University of Aberdeen.

leighmoreton's picture

Hi Bassey, Whilst you
make a very valid point about the risk of electrocution to
fire-fighters should an fault and fire occur in the system I have to
disagree with your argument about the roof load bearing.

Whilst the first
generation of solar panelling was considered bulky and heavy newer
and improved forms of the technology are being sold currently. As I
mentioned earlier in this blog thin film solar technology is now a
very firm replacement for the conventional roof mounted solar panel.
Unlike the first generation of silicon panels many of the thin film
cells have a transparent plastic coating to provide them with more
flexibility, this severely reduces the risk of weight being added to
the roof.

Thin film technology
has enabled solar cells to have a thickness of 60 micrometers
compared to a silicon cell of 200 micrometers. An example of this
technology can be found on, where their new CIGS
panel only weighs 12kg and is 0.73m^2 in size.

Leigh Moreton
MSc Renewable Energy

Justice J. Owusu's picture

In search of knowledge

Justice J. Owusu's picture

Installation of Solar Panel on
the roof of buildings is associated with different set of risks. One of the
risks is associated with working at height – solar PV panels are usually
install on the roof of buildings, and it is required that heavy and large
equipment be handled at height, increasing the risk of the installer falling
from that height. Also, the strength and integrity of the roof is at stake – if
the roof was not initially designed to carry excess load, it may collapse at
the least wind pressure on the panels. Another risk associated solar panel is
dealing with live electricity as they cannot be turned off.

Mehran Vakil's picture

Taking into account of the recent reports, there is no considerable risk associated with utilizing solar panel. However, focusing attention on some data might be helpful as a safety precaution (Old, 2012).
Solar panels are divided in two types. Solar photovoltaic panel and Solar thermal panel (Anderson and media, 2012).The dominant matter used in solar panel is Crystalline Silicon extracted from Quartz and Sand. During installation as well as operation of solar panels, some toxic fuels due to combination of silicon and solar heats will be emitted. This is going to be more hazardous within fire occurrence. Hence these, fuels pose risks to environmental and human life (Oregon Gov, 2007).
Nonetheless, electric shocks and burning due to pouring hot fluid are the other undesired consequences as well (Oregon Gov, 2007). But as far as I stated before, there are not enormous risk statistics about using solar energy.
And indeed, in my perspective it would be better for birds and insects to take precaution of all types of energy. Owing to the fact that in all cases we have some statistics related to mortalities of birds and insects(RSPB, 2011). Obviously it may be out off human hands to help eco system. And again, such a selfish humankind!!!!

1)ANDERSON, D. & MEDIA, D. Positive & Negative Effects of Solar Energy [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25/11 2012].
2)GOV, O. 2007. Health and Safety Concerns of Photovoltaic Solar Panels [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25/11 2012].
3)OLD, P. 2012. PV system safety is a burning issue [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25/11 2012].
4)RSPB. 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25/11 2012].

Alabi Ochu Abdulraheem's picture

Over reliance on non-renewable energies as major source of energy is causing drawbacks to some nation’s development. The sun, which is the main source of energy for solar panels (renewable energies) has other benefits such as keeping the earth warm, providing food for green plant etc, would make the earth a lifeless planet in its absence.
This form of power generation is more environmental-friendly and a safe source of fuel compared to fossil fuels. One of the risk with this is the photovoltaic cell which do contains hazardous materials, that wouldn’t be released to the atmosphere unless there is a damage to the panel.
The cost of operating the solar panel is very expensive and the technology is not that efficient due to the percentage of the day we get exposed to the sun. the risk associated with a damaged solar panel is very high due to the high consequences of a damaged respiratory system by inhaling silicon dust. A very high risk is also associated with natural habitat, that is land use space.
Reg no: 51231595

Andy Reid's picture

Solar energy also receives heavy criticism due to the number of accidents involving contractors falling from heights whilst installing solar panels. It is estimated that there are 34.7 deaths per 100,000 full time roofing workers per year[1], whereas oil and gas has a fatality rate of 30 per 100,000[2]. Estimated of the number of deaths due to solar panel installation may even reach 150 per year[3]. Does this make solar energy any more dangerous? No, it simply does not. Even if 100% of roofing related deaths and injuries mentioned are a direct result of solar panels being installed on rooftops, all this highlights is the glaring lack of precautionary measures being taken by contractors. Data on how many of the killed or injured workers had filed correct risk assessments is unavailable, but if they were wearing even simple harnesses then a large number of the fatalities would have simply been near-misses. 

The nature of conservative versus liberal politics, particularly in the US, has meant that for various reasons there are political campaigns are attempting to smear renewable energy and undermine public confidence in these technologies[4][5][6][7]. The only real danger behind solar energy is that the government are proposing to reduce the value of green electricity[8] preventing solar power from being a cost-effective solution to private energy supplies and reducing property value[9][10].

Andy Reid 











JIEFU's picture




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Solar Photovoltaic System installation has a
unique combination of challenges. One of such risks is associated with dealing
with live electricity because solar PV panels cannot be turned off. Also the person
installing will work at height and will be faced with the dangers of handling, possibly,
large and heavy equipment at height as well as making sure that the panel
installed does not have a negative impact on the strength and integrity of the
roof structure, where it is to be mounted. Building regulations should factor
in standard roof requirements for solar PV installations. Meanwhile, regular
check concerning both roof quality and PV panels should be carried out based on
local weather conditions, because the long time exposure may cause gradual
damage to some vulnerable parts.

SanjayVyas's picture

Solar Power Generation one of the cleanest power-generating technologies available today with no air pollution, no toxic effluent discharges and generation hazardous waste generation, or noise. The more electricity and heat that we convert from the sun’s rays decreases our reliance on fossil fuels and lower green house gas emission.

An innovative solar power project in Gujarat, India has 1.6 million units of electricity generation per year, enough to meet the domestic power requirement of 16,000 families. Solar panels are placed on a 0.75 km stretch of a canal of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam near Ahmedabad, thus saving land costs as well as preventing water evaporation. (For details Refer- think the health, environmental, and construction hazards from solar photovoltaic panels are in significant compared to hazards from Refinery operation or Nuclear Power Plants and the risks from these hazards can significantly be reduced by application of basic principles of Safety Risk Management. Sanjay Vyas- (51234203)

I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people. Looking forward to read more of your post and updates in the future. selfie stick iphone 6


I agree with your point here in terms of regular technical checking about the engines, electrical system and so on. But also according to some statistics, some helicopter and aeroplane accidents were caused by the ignorance or overlook of corrosion and erosion of the parts of the plane and helicopters.

It means apart from the routine technical check to the planes and helicopters, corrosion and erosion check to the metal parts are also necessar , see 

But the future direction is, with the fast developing of technology, new material which would be more rigid and anti-corrosion/erosion will be more preferable for manufacturing planes and helicopters. It is not necessarily able to reduce the high cost of manufacturing and operating, but it sure will reduce the possible accident resulting from corrosion/erosion.


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