Skip to content

Why Everything They Said About Solar Was Wrong-Michael Shellenberger

June 23, 2021

By Paul Homewood


How often do we hear that solar power is cheap and clean?

Michael Shellenberger bursts that bubble!



Three years ago I published a long article at Forbes arguing that solar panels weren’t clean but in fact produced 300 times more toxic waste than high-level nuclear waste. But in contrast to nuclear waste, which is safely stored and never hurts anyone, solar panel waste risks exposing poor trash-pickers in sub-Saharan Africa. The reason was because it was so much cheaper to make new solar panels from raw materials than to recycle them, and would remain that way, given labor and energy costs.

My reporting was near-universally denounced. The most influential financial analyst of the solar industry called my article, “a fine example of ‘prove RE [renewable energy] is terrible by linking lots of reports which don’t actually support your point but do show that the RE industry in the West considers and documents its limited impacts extremely thoroughly.’” An energy analyst who is both pro-nuclear and pro-solar agreed with her, saying “I looked into this waste issue in the past and concur with [her].”


“The volume of solar panel waste will destroy the economics of solar .  The cost would catapult to four times the current projection.”


The Guardian said solar panel waste was a “somewhat ironic concern from [me], a proponent of nuclear power, which has a rather bigger toxic waste problem” adding that “broken panels… are relatively rare except perhaps in the wake of a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake.”

But when reporters eventually looked into the issue they came to the same conclusions I had. In 2019, The New York Times published a long article about toxic old solar panels and batteries causing “harm to people who scavenge recyclable materials by hand” in poor African communities. In 2020, Discover magazine confirmed that “it is often cheaper to discard them in landfills or send them to developing countries. As solar panels sit in dumps, the toxic metals they contain can leach out into the environment and possibly pose a public health hazard if they get into the groundwater supply.”

Still, each of those articles stressed that some solar panels were already being recycled, and that more of them one day would be, which was what many of my original critics had pointed out. “The European Union requires solar companies to collect and recycle their panels,” noted Discover magazine, “with the cost of recycling built into the selling price.” The solar analyst who accused me of making unsubstantiated claims said the reason “there are few solar panels being recycled to date [is] because most of them are still working fine.”


“Solar panels are delicate and break easily. When they do, they instantly become hazardous, and classified as such, due to their heavy metal contents.


But a major new study of the economics of solar, published in Harvard Business Review (HBR), finds that the waste produced by solar panels will make electricity from solar panels four times more expensive than the world’s leading energy analysts thought. “The economics of solar,” write Atalay Atasu and Luk N. Van Wassenhove of Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires, one of Europe’s leading business schools, and Serasu Duran of the University of Calgary, will “darken quickly as the industry sinks under the weight of its own trash."


Full story here.

  1. June 23, 2021 10:32 am

    Their obsession with wind and solar may have to do with the historical roots of this movement.

    Please see

    • JCalvertN(UK) permalink
      June 24, 2021 3:18 pm

      In the late1970s I knew a few mad train buffs who hated cars and planes, and moaned about the lack of patronage and the underinvestment in railways. Climate change gave them the perfect ‘ammo’ to push for more investment in railways – and so they were easy and eager converts climate alarmism.

      • June 24, 2021 4:01 pm

        Thank you for this interesting information. I did not know about the railways angle.

  2. Douglas Dragonfly permalink
    June 23, 2021 10:56 am

    Travelling along the Kennet & Avon Cannal last week I was dismayed to see fields of these solar pannels. Signs indicated they produce 9GW hung on high wire fences, with CCTV cameras at strategic points.
    Other signs were posted everywhere by the local council as per planning regulations. These signs were to notify people of applications for further fields of solar arrays.

    The report above is more worthy of a time slot on the national TV news and front pages of the press than most of the destraction stories that get shoved infront of our faces daily/hourly.

    Schools leaders too, are in on these developments by dumbing down pupil’s education deliberately.

    The current war we are already in and fighting, is not like the last war some fought in.
    Methods are different. The enemy is already amoungst us and doing great harm.
    Some might say …

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      June 23, 2021 11:41 am

      …and some might agree.

      Some years ago I wrote to the then Energy Sec, the useless Claire Perry suggesting that, like petrol stations were forced by law to display the cost of their products for the motorist to see easily, solar farms should be made to erect similar displays so that the passing public can be informed about how much energy is being generated at that time and how much compared to max and compared to date in year.
      She wrote and said it wasn’t her job to do such a thing. But then, she was so useless she probably thought that the panels generated at night as well.

    • June 23, 2021 11:57 am

      9GW??? Look again next time you drive past. It will be 9MW and that will be PEAK theoretical output nothing to do with reality.

    • saveenergy permalink
      June 23, 2021 12:39 pm

      I used to have a 1956 Douglas Dragonfly & a 1953 MK5.
      A mate used to have a MK5 with a tilting sidecar.
      those were the days !

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 23, 2021 12:54 pm

      Is Bath Council banning diesel powered boats, or at least subjecting them to pollution charges? Sounds like another pleasant holiday is now ruined.

  3. June 23, 2021 11:31 am

    Not to mention the use of forced Uyghur labour in China to source the polysilicon to manufacture solar panels. So I won’t mention it. The report from Sheffield Hallam University ‘In Broad Daylight – Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Supply Chains’ has examined the use in China of forced labour in the solar energy industry.

  4. Gamecock permalink
    June 23, 2021 11:43 am

    I’m not buying Shellenberger’s story.

    ‘solar panel waste risks exposing poor trash-pickers in sub-Saharan Africa’

    U.S. doesn’t send solid waste to Africa. If it’s a REAL problem for UK, don’t send them to Africa.

    ‘As solar panels sit in dumps, the toxic metals they contain can leach out into the environment and possibly pose a public health hazard if they get into the groundwater supply.’

    They were sitting outside in the weather for 20 years. How do they know not to leach until later?

    ‘The New York Times published a long article about toxic old solar panels and batteries’

    Ahhh . . . throw in batteries. Then say ‘they’ are a problem.

    There are good reasons not to use solar. Shellenberger gives us an appeal to emotion.

    • June 23, 2021 11:59 am

      “An appeal to emotion”. Please show me one piece of alarmist output which is not an appeal to emotion? They have set the standard.

      • Gamecock permalink
        June 24, 2021 10:46 am

        “If we become the Left, we can beat the Left.”

    • June 24, 2021 9:24 am


      when they are intact they do not leach once they are broken they do leach which is why they were probably sent for landfill in the first place

      • Gamecock permalink
        June 24, 2021 10:48 am

        Thanks. So they need to be kept dry. We have Nevada; it’s not doing anything.

  5. Douglas Dragonfly permalink
    June 23, 2021 2:14 pm

    Now I’m wondering how my city council disposes of these pannels. Although there are diffent types. This I learnt when two types were installed on a local Health Centre by Tony Blair’s administration.
    One type was manufactured in America and looks like the common design people are familar with. The other design was manufactured in Germany and looks like a terracotta tile in appearance. Don’t know if one is better than the other but the 15 storey tower block between them and the sun, when out, will not help!
    9MW- thank you. One reason to read this blog is to teach myself about these subjects. Surely there is false advertising here. What is the actual annual output of this array I wonder ? Plus a guarantee that it is not a ploy to enable a housing development would be good.
    As for the Douglas Dragonfly motorbike-is one I would like to own, hence borrowing the name. I had a 850 Norton Commando. Good but not a Dragofly alas.
    Sorry for spelling Canal incorrectly earlier too.

  6. Crowcatcher permalink
    June 23, 2021 3:07 pm

    My local school was a shining example of waste in that it had a 1970s prefabricated annexe with solar panels on its roof.
    This annexe was falling apart and was demolished along with the panels and replaced with a shiny new better built one, BUT surprise, surprise no new panels on the roof – seems they learnt their lesson!!!!

    • June 24, 2021 9:30 am

      Or they found the juicy subsidies had vanished.

  7. Douglas Dagonfly permalink
    June 23, 2021 4:34 pm

    Photovoltaic cells must be energy intensive to manufacture. Is the electricity used derived from solar pannels ?

  8. June 24, 2021 9:44 am

    If you want to heat up the planet; then plaster it with solar panels. It’s all total nonsense.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: