Assessment of the Risks Associated with Thin Film Solar Panel Technology
Reynolds, William T. Jr.
Karmis, Michael E.
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This report reviews the environmental risk profile of utility-scale cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic installations with relevant information from the scientific literature and an audit of the manufacturing and recycling facilities of a domestic manufacturer. Current photovoltaic technologies are described, and the environmental and health issues associated with CdTe are identified. Solubility measurements, bioavailability, acute aquatic toxicity, oral and inhalation toxicity, and mutagenicity studies all confirm CdTe has different physical, chemical, and toxicological properties than Cd. The CdTe compound is less leachable and less toxic than elemental Cd. The risks to the environment arising from broken solar panels during adverse events are considered by reviewing experimental results, theoretical worstcase modeling, and observational data from historical events. In each case considered, the potential negative health and safety impacts of utility-scale photovoltaic installations are low. The need for end-of-life management of solar panels is highlighted in the context of recycling to recover valuable and environmentally sensitive materials. Based upon the potential environmental health and safety impacts of CdTe photovoltaic installations across their life cycle, it is concluded they pose little to no risk under normal operating conditions and foreseeable accidents such as fire, breakage, and extreme weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes.