North America's Green Energy and Green Economy Relies on China

Updated: May 22

World leaders are saying there will be a wealth of new jobs created though renewable energy jobs. But it appears if the trend continues that those new jobs will be created in China, which could involve forced labor. As the world pushes for a green energy economy it seems like everyday we hear our politicians promise that they want to create good paying union jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers.

Our Green Energy Economy relies on China

The president of the Think Tank Heartland institute, James Taylor says a move to a green economy would shift jobs from North America conventional energy to farm wind and solar power. The rare earth minerals and other important minerals and metals that are necessary for wind turbines and solar panels are produced primary in China.

Rare earth and polysilicon are two raw earth materials needed for green energy technology and China dominates the market. Half of the world's polysilicon, which is critical for producing solar cells comes from Xinjiang are area of China that is known for its forced labor camps and crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim groups. Not just the materials but the wind turbines and solar panels are produced in China. Since 2008, photovoltaics manufacturing has moved from Europe, Japan, and the United States to China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan; today nearly half the world’s photovoltaics are manufactured in China.

Accounting for the amount of CO2 produced during solar panel manufacturing, solar panels generate, in effect, around 50g of CO2 per kilowatt hour during their initial years of operation. Your panels will require about three years of operation to pay off their carbon debt and become carbon neutral.

There is a pollution level that comes from producing these materials. There are some chemicals used in the manufacturing process to prepare silicon and make wafers for monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. One of the most toxic chemicals created as a byproduct in manufacturing is silicon tetrachloride. If not handled and disposed of correctly this chemical can lead to burns on your skin, create harmful air pollutants that increase lung disease, and when exposed to water can release hydrochloric acid, which is a corrosive material that is bad for not just humans, but for the environment too.

Cadmium can be washed out of solar modules by rainwater and is increasingly concern for local environmentalists. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated there was about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world at the end of in 2016. IRENA projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric tonnes by 2050.