Environment Future Building

Greener Solar Panels

Liked How to Build a Low-tech Solar Panel? (LOW←TECH MAGAZINE)

George Cove, a forgotten solar power pioneer, may have built a highly efficient photovoltaic panel 40 years before Bell Labs engineers invented silicon cells. If proven to work, his design could lead to less complex and more sustainable solar panels.

If this is true, it makes me mourn for the future that might have been. Solar powered electricity in 1910?! Think about how many emissions and how much pollution could have been avoided from coal powered energy. If we hadn’t bought into the coal and gas system, if we’d built green from the start, it wouldn’t be such the battle today trying to replace the polluting monstrosities. If we didn’t have coal and gas in our minds as normal, as the baseline to measure everything against without accounting for the externalities of climate change and air pollution causing health conditions like asthma and premature deaths. It wouldn’t have stopped transportation emissions and pollution but a sizable portion of emissions come from power generation.

End of life is an important consideration in new technology, and not just because I work in the waste world. I installed solar panels at my house, wanting to support the technology, even knowing that there isn’t a good solution yet for disposal, hoping that someone will figure it out in the next twenty years when I need to get rid of them. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me? I’m anti NFT / crypto because of the environmental impacts, not trusting that they’ll resolve the energy issues in the future — is it fair that I trust the solar industry is investing in developing better disposal options? Maybe because one is a green industry with many benefits and one key drawback, whereas the other is focused on making money and doesn’t seem to want to deal with the externality of the energy costs (and environmental/ climate implications) associated with their ability to make money?

Both have the potential to decentralize systems. But crypto is disruptive to the power structure and distribution of money, not to the system of capitalism — money, and lots of it, is still the ultimate goal. Solar has the potential to be disruptive to the current system of literal power production by decentralizing and localizing it, giving individuals more control over where their power comes from and shifting away from mega power projects that have significant local impacts like dams destroying the salmon runs (and with them native ways of life, and potentially violating their treaty rights) and wind farms wreaking havoc on migratory birds and bats.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *