Solar energy is frequently the first source of renewable energy that comes to mind. The sun is a powerful source of energy that can produce clean, sustainable electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases.
In the modern world, there are more solar-powered houses, offices, schools, and other structures. Due to the numerous advantages of using solar electricity, more people are making the move. Solar energy is more cost-effective than burning fossil fuels for our energy requirements, and it is also safe for people and the environment.
Although solar energy is increasingly being used and has numerous benefits, there are still manufacturing, installation, and end-of-life issues to take into account. As a result, is solar energy truly sustainable? How green are solar panels?
This article will explore the world of solar energy and look at how using this renewable energy source affects the environment.
How does solar energy work?
To drastically cut carbon emissions and contribute to the battle against climate change, solar energy may be captured and transformed into electricity for use in homes and businesses. Let’s first have a better understanding of how sunlight transforms into electricity before we consider any potential environmental effects of solar energy.
Solar or photovoltaic panels may convert sunlight, a renewable energy source, into electrical energy. Photons are energy packets that are released by the sun. On our globe, photons are continuously released, producing solar power that can meet the world’s energy demands for a whole year. Many solar cells form solar panels. These silicon solar cells function as semiconductors. To form an electric field, they are created using a positive and negative layer and other components like phosphorus and boron. As sunlight strikes solar cells, photons, or light particles, knock off unoccupied electrons and produce energy.
Disadvantages of using conventional energy sources
The major part of electricity is produced from fossil fuels like coal and oil. Fossil fuels made up 79% of the nation’s overall energy consumption in 2020 in the United States.
Fossil fuels are made from natural, limited resources found on earth. Manufacturers use techniques like mining, fracking, and drilling to extract fossil fuels from the earth to produce energy.
Regrettably, the environment is negatively impacted by these procedures. The ground becomes weaker as a result, leaving it more vulnerable to natural calamities like earthquakes and floods. It also exposes our water systems to potentially harmful substances.
Oil spillage and greenhouse gas emission:
When oil is obtained from offshore or the ocean, additional problems appear. Drilling into the ocean floor by manufacturers harms marine life and raises the possibility of an oil leak.
Accidental oil spills and leaks can happen while oil is transported across the oceans and lands by ocean tankers or pipelines, harming our ecosystem.
To produce energy, utilities, and power corporations burn fossil fuels, which send harmful gases into the atmosphere. Large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are a result of this, and these gases ultimately cause environmental issues like global warming and climate change.
Several nations are moving away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources like solar energy due to the harm they inflict on the environment.
Environmental advantages of solar energy
Natural gas, coal, and petroleum are examples of fossil fuels that are limited in supply and cannot be replenished once used up. As long as the sun is shining, solar panels may create electricity by using photons from the sun to gather enough energy. This is fantastic since solar energy is a renewable resource that never runs out naturally. These are some advantages of solar energy for the environment.
Solar power lowers carbon emissions:
In 2020, the combustion of fossil fuels in the US was responsible for 73% of greenhouse gas emissions. These gases are released into the atmosphere, which worsens environmental problems including climate change and global warming.
The carbon emissions of solar and other energy sources have been measured in many studies throughout the years. Tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per megawatt-hour (CO2/Mwh) or grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (gCO2/kWh) can be used to measure the carbon emission intensity of solar panels and other fuels. More favorable environmental effects result from lower carbon emission intensity.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy conducted investigations in 2014 that revealed the lifecycle carbon emission intensity of solar energy to be roughly 40 g CO2 per kilowatt-hour and coal to be approximately 1000 g CO2 per kilowatt-hour. Simply said, for the same amount of energy produced, coal creates 25 times more carbon dioxide than solar.
Solar power conserves water resources:
One of the most important natural resources in our world is water. The scarcity of pure water has increased. Water is an essential component in the production process of traditional energy. Manufacturers use tons of water to generate energy, from extraction to transportation to power generation. Although recycled, some of the water used in power plants evaporates or becomes polluted.
Water conservation is achievable with solar. To generate power, solar panels require little or no water. This stops harmful gases and pollutants from contaminating our water supplies. Also, it protects pure water.
Solar energy decreases air pollution:
The environment and human health may both be greatly impacted by the air we breathe. The power produced by burning fossil fuels releases toxic chemicals like methane and carbon dioxide, which worsen air quality and create air pollution.
The pH of water systems is lowered, which kills aquatic life, and contributes to acid rain, which disrupts our entire ecology. Moreover, acid rain contaminates the soil and destroys vital nutrients required for healthy plant development. These gases also have a significant role in the development of chronic respiratory illnesses.
By switching to solar-powered electricity generation, we can lessen the demand for power plants that emit harmful air pollutants.
Solar energy conserves finite natural resources:
Natural resources like coal, natural gas, and oil are limited in supply. We face the danger of running out of these resources if we use the energy produced by burning fossil fuels.
More environmentally generated power comes from solar energy. Using sunshine, a free renewable energy source lowers energy costs, reduces carbon emissions, and reduces reliance on limited fossil resources.
Solar energy helps solve climate change:
Oil, natural gas, and coal are examples of limited natural resources. We face the risk of exhausting such resources if we continue to use the energy produced by burning fossil fuels.
Electricity is generated from solar energy more sustainably. It makes use of the sun, a free renewable energy source, cutting energy costs, carbon emissions, and reliance on limited fossil resources.
Negative environmental impact of solar energy
The clean energy produced by solar panels is free of carbon emissions that are harmful to the environment. Solar energy isn’t flawless, though, much like most things in life. There are negative environmental effects associated with using solar power to produce energy.
Use of toxic chemicals and materials:
To clean the semiconductors during the production of solar panels, hazardous chemicals, and materials are used. The size of the solar panels and the amount of cleaning required determine how much chemical is utilized. Hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrogen fluoride, and other substances are a few of these compounds.
Solar panel manufacturers run the risk of breathing silicon dust, endangering the public’s health in addition to releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. To guarantee the correct handling and disposal of these chemicals, solar firms must adhere to legislative regulations.
High energy use:
To manufacture solar panels, a lot of energy is needed. It takes a significant amount of energy up front to mine, manufacture, and transport. For instance, additional minerals like aluminum and copper are required for the conversion of quartz into silicon. High heat is also required for the heating process. Manufacturers must use a lot of energy from conventional fuels like gas, coal, and other fossil fuels to run these operations on a big scale, which increases the carbon footprint of solar cells and releases damaging greenhouse gases.
Large tracts of land must be cleared of all vegetation before solar businesses can install large-scale solar energy installations there. This may ultimately destroy the habitat for wildlife.
Wildlife may suffer if water supplies are diverted for solar energy installations. Moreover, erosion and soil compaction may be brought on due to the building of solar plants. Installing solar panel systems on a pre-existing infrastructure, such as parking lots, commercial buildings, brownfields, etc., can help to mitigate the loss of animal habitat.
Water, air, and soil pollution:
Large areas of land, often cleared of all vegetation, are needed for solar businesses to install large-scale solar energy installations. In the end, this can result in the loss of habitats for species.
Wildlife may be harmed by water supplies that are diverted for solar installations. Moreover, soil compaction and erosion may occur as a result of the building of solar facilities. Installing solar panel systems on a pre-existing infrastructure, such as parking lots, commercial buildings, brownfields, etc., can help prevent the destruction of wildlife habitats.
As we can see, fossil fuels cause more dangerous bad effects as compared to solar energy. The drawbacks caused by solar panels are less than the advantages of solar energy. However, we cannot neglect them. But it is also a truth that solar energy is far better than conventional energy derived from dangerous and finite fossil fuels. Going green through solar energy is a need of the hour.