North Georgia has suddenly become the center of America’s Solar System. Also, we’ve got to do something about plastic.

QCells goes all-in in Georgia

With 1.7 gigawatts in annual capacity, the QCells solar panel factory in Dalton, Georgia is currently the largest solar panel factory in the western hemisphere. If that seems like a big commitment from the Hanwa subsidiary, their January 11th statement announcement can be summarized in five words: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

With an additional $2.5 billion investment, QCells has made the largest solar power commitment in American history. (1)

QCells expects to supply 8.4 gigawatts of panels annually at an expanded facility in Dalton. That is expected to be as much as 30% of the U.S.’s solar panel needs when the plant is fully operational in 2027. (2)

And it won’t only be solar panels. In nearby Cartersville, QCells will open a factory to supply 3.3 gigawatts of silicon wafers and ingots to the panel factory in Dalton.

The overall project, hailed as a huge success by both Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Democratic President Joe Biden, was credited by the company as a response to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into law in August of 2022. The IRA is designed to drive U.S. demand for solar energy by subsidizing both residential and utility-scale solar installations. In addition, the law offers subsidies for manufacturers in the U.S. Many of the IRA’s incentives only apply to goods manufactured in the U.S. or close trading partners such as the U.S.

Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff has been a leading advocate for solar energy since his election in 2020 and QCells Twitter account made a point of singling out his efforts. The factories are expected to add 2,500 manufacturing jobs to Georgia payrolls.

The announcement is one more in a string of clean energy wins for the Southeast, a region that’s rapidly becoming known as “The Battery Belt.” (3)

“We’re going to see a lot more companies like Qcells breaking ground,” Senior White House Advisor John Podesta said in a briefing after the announcement.

  1. – Statement from President Joe Biden on Hanwha Q CELLS Announcement, White House
  2. – Georgia becomes test bed for climate law, Politico
  3. – Here’s where the new US EV ‘Battery Belt’ is forming – and why, Electrek
  4. – Biden Push to Spur Solar Production Gets $2.5 Billion Boost, Bloomberg
plastic bottles

The real problem with that plastic bottle

The fight to slow climate change involves massive, centralized projects like rejuvenating our aged electrical grid. But it also involves tiny, incremental changes, such as making sure that the bottle from that soda you just finished gets recycled.

According to a lengthy examination of the industry by Bloomberg(1), plastic manufacturing and disposal is one of the major sources of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the effect is expected to increase in the coming years. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects any reduction in oil consumption in the U.S. due to auto electrification to be more than offset by an increase in the amount of plastic we use in the coming years.

In the 21st century, plastic has become key to everything from children’s toys to surgical tools. But our grocery bags and cling wrap starts out as natural gas and cause a lot of damage before they end up in our recycling bins. Mining natural gas releases methane, a chemical 80 times worse for the climate than CO2(1). And converting that natural gas into plastic involves superheating it, which is also a big source of emissions.

Then, after you finish that soda pop and put the bottle in the trash? Plastic’s damage is far from over. Although plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it does break down and release methane when it is exposed to sunlight. Even worse, as those bottles and bags break down, they become microplastics, which have become so invasive that they are found in the rain (2), wild animal feces (3), and even across the human blood/brain barrier .(4). The effects of microplastics in the environment and in the human body are still being researched (5).

Incineration is a common way of disposing of plastic, but in 2015, 5.9 million metric tons of CO2e were emitted from plastic incineration—the equivalent of 1.3 million cars on the road for a year. Recycling plastic requires a lot of heat which gobbles up energy as well. Overall, it is a only a positive when the environmental cost of creating new plastic from virgin materials is considered.

Altogether, plastic accounted for 1.8 billion metric tons of emissions in 2019, or around 3.5% of total global emissions.

And it’ is all projected to get worse. As the fleet of autos on highways becomes more electric, fossil fuel companies are focused on finding new markets for their product., That means more plastic. Bloomberg reports that Exxon Mobil, Dow, Total SA, and other oil producers have announced more than $40 billion worth of new facilities on the Gulf Coast devoted to plastic manufacturing. If plastic production continues to grow at current rates, it’ is expected to rise from the current level of 400 million metric tons to 1.1 billion in 2050 (1), rendering much of the global electrification effort moot.

  1.” – The Climate Impact of Our Insatiable Plastic Addiction – Bloomberg
  2. – Raining Microplastics in New Zealand – Bloomberg
  3. – Deep in Taiwan’s Forests, Microplastics Are Found in Bear Feces – Bloomberg
  4. – Breakthrough’ Study Finds Microplastics in Human Blood – Ecowatch
  5. – Microplastics are everywhere — but are they harmful?

The Weekly Sunsong

Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck passed away on January 10th, leaving many in the Rock & Roll community devastated. His fans might list “Bolero” or “Since We Ended As Lovers” as the high point in his recording career, but we have our own favorite: