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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Solar power link to lead poisoning risk

13th September 2011

Solar power growth in China and India could increase the number of lead poisoning cases already seen in those countries, according to a recent US study.


Over the next 10 years, India hopes to distribute 20 million solar lanterns.

Although the country hopes to eventually switch to grid-based solar power, the move would require the use and production of vast numbers of lead-acid batteries.

In both India and China, large amounts of lead tend to leak back into the land.

During the production of lead-based items such as lead-acid batteries, 33% of all the lead mined in China, and 22% of all the lead mined in India, makes its way into the environment.

Based on such figures, the production of 20 million solar lanterns for off-grid electricity could theoretically release more than 2.4 million tonnes of lead pollution into the environment in India and China.

In such a scenario, the lead emissions of India and China would account for one third of global lead production.

Although India has plans to construct a massive solar-powered electrical grid, the researchers wrote that it would be impossible to connect around 20,000 villages to any grid at all, meaning that at least 20,000 villages will require mass-produced lead-acid batteries.

Chris Cherry, one of the study authors, said that lead pollution control was relatively new in India and China, and that no norms were in place.

There are not any norms for battery recycling schemes in India and China, either.

Subhes Bhattacharyya, a student of renewable energy systems at the University of Dundee, who did not take part in the recent study, said that the problem mainly arose from the disposal of batteries.

He said that, in Europe, the supplier of any battery was responsible for its final disposal, even if it had been used by others.

He said that, on the other hand, there were no norms in place for implementing such regulations in India and China, and that the penalty for non-compliance was weak.

In response to the study, representatives from the Indian government insisted that the plans were mainly for grid-based solar power.

Bharat Bhargava, director of solar photovoltaics at India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said he did not think that the study authors had considered India's focus on grid-based solar power.

He said that solar power did not deserve to be blamed for lead pollution.

However, Bhattacharya admitted that a grid-connected system did not seem to be feasible at the moment, without which lead-acid batteries would play a considerable role.

He said that, without a grid-connected system, the number of lead-acid battery systems could number millions of units.


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