Our green-looking goods

If you take, like a solar panel, most people assume that’s primarily green. Well, what you need to make quartzite into silicone metal, you need cooking coal. You take the quartzite and put it into a big furnace and burn it at 1500°C, and you get silicone metal. Then you need to turn that silicone metal into polysilicon. That involves another cooking process where you warm it to 1800°C, and then you need to turn this into silicone wafer, which into a new process which takes it to about 1300°C and turn it into a perfect crystal and then you send it to the semiconductor manufacturer or the solar panel manufacturer. That process has been dominated by China and the energy needed has come from coal, and our solar panels are cheaper now partly because of cheaper coal. Coal is at the basis of all of it, from smart phones to solar panels to electric vehicles. And all of those processes that leads to the production of the most advanced technologies right now, most of those production methods date back about a century and they have never been updated. It’s like steel production. We still make semi-conductors and solar panels with the same kind of processes that we used to make steel, in electric arc furnaces and too few people understand the nuttiness of this. We’re unaware of the extent to which our new, brilliant green-looking goods we’re buying, are actually a part of Chinese emissions.

Ed Conway, governor of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research