#2 Conversations about solar panels

The issues that are, at least to me, the most important at this time are environmental issues. We could achieve total equality and world peace, but if we don’t change our ways there will be no planet for us to inhabit, and if every human dies there will still be life on this planet that matters. With this in mind I set off thinking about green energy and its many forms. My first thought was solar energy: “Of course!” I said to myself “Solar energy is from a renewable resource and is near infinite there is sun all over the world! but they aren’t that good they lose efficiency and are unbelievably toxic, nuclear power on the other hand is efficient as energy production can be, and there are multiple methods of turning nuclear waste into usable fuel.” So I set off on a mission to bring the knowledge of the magnificence of nuclear energy to the citizens of Vermont.

The first person I talked to was my mother. Unfortunately my mother was not a fan of the nuclear power idea because in her words “You’re just being a contrarian, Vermont yankee was shut down because people don’t want a nuclear power plant in Vermont.” I personally thought it was shut down due to it not passing safety regulations, apparently I was wrong. My conversation with my mother compelled me do look into solar panels a bit more, are they really as bad as I thought they were? It turns out yes and no. Solar panels do lose efficiency each year, but only about one percent, not ten. While this is better it does require them to be replaced because if we are powering cities off of solar panels we can’t have them running at fifty percent efficiency or we will need to cover even more land with them to produce the same amount of energy. I also found that I was correct on the toxicity of solar panels. The creation of solar panels requires many caustic materials like sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid. Their production also creates toxic waste and large of amounts of greenhouse gasses. They also cannot be recycled currently because there is no place to store old solar panels until recycling procedures are created on a large scale, and there are not enough old solar panels for large scale recycling plants to be economical. So I was fairly skeptical of solar panels still as a source of green energy.

Then I talked to my mother’s co-worker who thought that solar panels could potentially help small mammals and reptiles survived my providing them with fields that were not mowed and protection from avian predators. He also thought that the water run off from solar panels could help these small creatures. Our conversation got me thinking, yes they could help small animals but could protection provided by solar panels being hurting birds of prey by hiding food sources, and small animal populations could potentially run rampant disrupting entire ecosystems. I was terrified of solar panels and thought maybe I should again do more research. The first thing I found is that solar panels have no destroyed any ecosystems yet, and in some cases helped. In some solar fields people are planning on planting specific wildflowers and shrubbery to attract insects like butterflies and bees to feed endangered bird species like the skylark and turtle dove.

Then I talked to my friend Michael about solar panels and what he thought, bringing to his attention the research I had done on solar panels. He said “There is definitely space other than fields that we can be using like the side of buildings or on houses” when we talked about potential environment impacts of solar panels. He also thought that we should not be using just one form of alternative energy “In Texas there are a lot of wind farms and most of the time the company that wants to install the turbine lease land from ranchers to have this stuff built on it and they use it as dual purpose land that has wind turbines and cattle on the same land.” (His family is from Texas so he goes out there to visit a lot). We also discussed how Vermonters could be acting in bad faith as we lease our future to some corporation to install solar panels, and if it turns out they are bad, oops we didn’t know it was all the corporation. A way for us as state citizens to not have to take responsibility for the future of our state, or planet.

I thought that was it, I couldn’t find anything else on solar panels, but I was wrong. While on a college tour my tour guide talked about the research she is doing for her senior thesis right now. She said she was researching the affect solar panels had on fields in Vermont. I almost freaked out I was so excited. I went up to her after the tour and told her about What’s the Story and my interest in solar panels in Vermont and got her contact information for further correspondence.

So that is where I am at when thinking about solar panels. Yes they are good. Yes they might be bad. What I would love to due is to continue to explore this topic, looking into how solar panels affect the environment in Vermont in particular.


  1. Connelly, Rishi. “Mom, What’s the Story.” Personal interview. 16 Sept. 2017.

2. Shaw, Eric. “Eric, What’s the Story.” Personal interview. 20 Sept. 2017.

3. Daly, Michael. “Michael Daly, What’s the Story.” Personal interview. 22 Sept. 2017.

Olympia Kulp

6 Responses to “#2 Conversations about solar panels

  • Hey Olympia!
    My name is Eva and I’ll be reading your blog this year. I’ve done WtS for the past two years, and I’m currently on a gap year. I’m also interested in sustainability issues and I can’t wait to learn more from your research. You have a narrow scope here, and I think that will serve you well in WtS. I commend you for checking your assumptions about solar energy, I had no idea they were bad at all! I urge you to follow this wildly important issue in the world right now.

  • Lou Bernieri
    5 years ago

    Hi Olympia, this is Lou Bernieri and I’ll be responding to your blog posts. I’m a teacher from Andover, MA, who is in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. I work both in private schools and in urban public schools.

    I learned a lot from your post about solar energy. I knew the subject was controversial, but I didn’t know the issues. It sounds like you’re far along in your initial inquiry into the subject. You already know a great deal about why it’s a problematic energy source. I’m eager to see what else you uncover.

    It seems probable that your research will lead you to theories about what are the best forms of alternative energy. Interesting stuff!

  • Hi Olympia!
    I like the way you start with your own thought process on this issue, it’s really illuminating as to the angle you are taking on this issue. The different opinions are great, they really flesh out the different sides of the debate over solar power. It sounds like you have a lot of investigating to do and questions to answer and I look forward to where you go with it.

  • Hi, Olympia!

    I had no idea how toxic solar could be. I really appreciate how you talk about the good and bad of them, not putting them on a pedestal or completely bashing them. I am aware how some people in Vermont get touchy about windmills “ruining landscapes,” so that could potentially be something else to look at. I also like your point about how we have one earth, and it is our duty to try and lessen our toxic waste we put into our atmosphere. I think that we should not look for the perfect solution, but one that is the greenest option that we have right now.

    Keep it up,

  • Hi Olympia! I think it was very interesting how your viewpoint changed after talking to several people. I’m glad your viewpoint was unbiased, and you looked into solar panels and nuclear optimistically. One question I have is what happens if a reactor meltdown occurs, and would the energy be more important than the potential environmental crisis? I am looking to hear more about your topic.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post. I know that you know I have changed my topic to the legalization of Marijuana, however I am still passionate about the environment. I personally believe that the green power generated by nuclear power plants is worth the risk of a reactor meltdown, if you look at Chernobyl the only life that left is humans, the plants are fine and the animals have adapted, less humans is also a plus if you think about it.

Leave a Reply Text

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