Is solar energy really as clean and green as some say?

Falling costs leading to demand rise and increasing mining concerns

Did you know that 14 of the 19 metals and minerals needed to produce solar panels are mined in Canada?

And that British Columbia leads the country in mining operations?

With solar voltaic systems quickly becoming the cheapest new energy source, demand for copper is expected to rise as the critical component for almost all new electrification infrastructures.

Canada, with the tenth largest proven copper reserves around the globe – and the eighth largest producer in 2016 – could see a boom in copper mining as the country seeks to take advantage of a predicted 43 percent rise in demand between now and 2035.

But all that mining activity necessitated by the increased demand for metals and minerals has some asking questions about the ecological impacts associated with solar panel production.

A recent study conducted by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada, titled Enabling Clean Energy Applications with Canadian Minerals and Metals caught the attention of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue.

The government’s report concluded that all forms of electricity generation have environmental impacts, and solar photovoltaic has “fewer negative impacts” than traditional fossil fuel generation. But the think tank says that if Canada is to capitalize on our opportunity, more responsible mining approaches are required.

Dan Woynillowicz, the policy director at Clean Energy Canada and co-author of the report appeared recently on CBC Radio to discuss their position. He says that as our mining industry grows it needs to limit its emissions, chemical use and impacts to nearby water sources.

"The question for Canadians is: can we actually put in place regulations, and the practices by mining companies, to capitalize on this as an opportunity to create growth?" said Woynillowicz. "I think that's the challenge for our policymakers and our mining companies."

The mining industry in Canada may already be well on its way to achieving balance between providing metals and minerals, and protecting the environment. As outlined on the Mining Association of Canada’s website, their Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative:

“…allows mining companies to turn high-level environmental and social commitments into action on the ground. At the same time, it provides communities with valuable information on how operations are faring in important areas, such as community outreach, tailings management and biodiversity. Participation in the TSM initiative is mandatory for all MAC members for their Canadian operations.”

A magnetic marvel to keep the turbines moving

Despite their name, rare earth elements are not especially rare. But is demand outpacing supply?

Why solar?

Energy from the sun is abundant and can be harnessed in many ways.

Energy Matters

In the world's conversation about energy, one point is beyond debate: Energy makes a vital contribution to people's quality of life, to society and to human progress. This is true today, and it will remain true in the future. That's why Energy Matters was created. We believe it's important to equip people with unbiased information so they may form opinions, join the conversation and feel confidence in the work and accomplishments of the energy sector. Energy Matters is an initiative that provides transparent information and perspective on energy. Here, we'll cover a range of topics: the scale of global energy; the ways energy is sourced and produced; current energy technology; forthcoming innovations; the world's future energy needs; and the sustainable sources of energy that will fill them. Because energy matters to everyone, we hope you'll rely on Energy Matters as an ongoing source of balanced information.