Is there a risk inherent to all these panels? | R.L.


Several months ago, work started in the main car park in Puerto Alcudia. What was going on there, one wondered. Depriving drivers of badly needed parking spaces and planting some greenery? As things turned out, the work was green, but not of a vegetation type. Rows of solar panels went up over the parking spaces.

The panels in the port are a timely reminder of the huge bet being made on solar and of the elimination of fossil-fuel technology. A few kilometres from the car park is Es Murterar, the coal-fired power station that abuts the Albufera wetland in Muro and Sa Pobla, an industrial incongruity right by an area of ecological sensitivity.

Recently, the International Institute for Law and the Environment filed a complaint with the Balearic High Court regarding authorisation of polluting emissions. The complaint, strangely enough, was directed at the Balearic Environment Commission, a body rarely to be diverted along its road of sustainable righteousness and commanded by a member of eco-nationalists Més.

Still, whatever authorisations there may have been, Es Murterar shouldn’t be posing the institute or anyone else too many issues in the future. Annual production has been cut to the bare bones. Complete phase-out is due when the second undersea connection from the mainland is functioning - 2026 is the target. However, and for now, the power station is being kept ticking over as a sort of standby.

This in mind and with energy such an issue at present, would consideration be given to restarting the coal imports in Alcudia? Pretty unlikely I know, but sort of a standby seems pertinent in the context of the Balearic government’s desire to convert Majorca into a giant photovoltaic park. All manner of territory is being eyed up to accommodate panels. Car parks are part of this territory, and not only ones in population centres such as that of Puerto Alcudia. The government’s allies at the Council of Mallorca, via their territorial plan, will be facilitating the creation of out-of-centre car parks, and these will have solar installations.

The latest announcement regarding the solar future of the Balearics by the minister on a mission for energy transition, Juan Pedro Yllanes, is that there will be 30% renewable energy production within the next four years. A leap from the current six per cent is to be made courtesy of 233 million euros worth of EU Next Generation funds. A fivefold rise will be welcome, but how long might it be until there is 100%? And for renewable, read solar, as there is barely any other renewable source fluttering in the wind or crashing on the shores in waves.

Eggs of the energy future are to eventually be placed in a solar basket. In Majorca at any rate. I appreciate that this doesn’t mean that the island is solely reliant on island-generated sun power, as there will of course be the cables from the mainland. Even so, is there a risk inherent to all these panels?

Solar energy, you don’t need me to tell you, requires the sun to shine. Inexhaustible supply is guaranteed, but the sun - as you also don’t need me to tell you - doesn’t shine all the time; like 24 hours a day or in grim November last year when it rained virtually every day.
Technology advances will doubtless one day come to the aid of renewable energy and develop the means of cheap mass storage of solar energy and so overcome issues with the intermittency of sun power. And it’s going to need to advance in order to satisfy the demands of government policies that are most certainly not confined to Majorca or Spain.

Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019 suggested that the cost of storage would have to come down by 90% in order to facilitate 100% renewable energy. While this is a possible target, it’s highly doubtful that it will be achieved by 2030 - the year in Europe for which everything sustainable is the target.

Once minister Yllanes and successors have managed to create so many solar installations that 100% is about feasible, the time will have arrived - if it won’t have before then - to worry about the solar sell-by date. The EU has its waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive to apparently ensure that some 90% of panels can be fully recycled. By 2040, it is forecast that 40% of panels will have reached the end of their useful lives and require recycling. And that sounds like a huge logistical task in order to ensure that large-scale inefficiencies don’t creep in.

The minister is a great advocate of energy sovereignty, as his counterpart in the Spanish government, Teresa Ribera, who referred during her visit to Mallorca earlier this week to the need to reduce dependence on the likes of Russia for energy supply. Quite so. But what about materials for solar? The world’s biggest producer of silicon is China. The second biggest is Russia.