Saturday, October 6, 2012

Is solar energy perfect from environmental point of view?

Harnessing solar energy provides many environmental benefits, with the most important of them all being the fact that there are almost no carbon emissions involved (the only carbon emissions connected with solar energy are the ones that result from fossil fuels used for manufacture and transportation of parts needed for solar systems).

Harnessing solar energy does not pollute air, and since solar panels work extremely silently there is no noise pollution like this can be the case with harnessing wind energy in form of very large wind turbines where large blades can produce significant noise levels. Solar energy also doesn't contribute to climate change, acid rain, and doesn't leave behind toxic waste.

But solar energy is still not the perfect energy source from environmental point of view because such renewable energy source does not exist. On the other hand if we are to compare the environmental damage that fossil fuels do to the environmental damage that solar energy does then solar energy really looks like a perfect energy source from the environmental point of view.

Solar energy -Sunlight over water

In order to prove that even the solar energy isn't sheer perfection when it comes to environmental impact I will give you few negative sides of solar energy. As already mentioned earlier in the article solar energy needs fossil fuels for manufacture and transportation of parts, so we can say that indirectly solar energy does in fact produce some carbon emissions. Some could conclude from this that the more solar panels we produce there will be more emissions involved but this is not the right conclusion because we also have to include the fact that these solar panels once built replace the need for fossil fuels, so overall environmental effect in form of emissions turns out to be positive in the end.

In process of manufacturing photovoltaic panels there are some hazardous materials involved, for instance the cadmium, that is often used as a semiconductor to convert solar energy into electricity, is very toxic element that can even in the small amounts do significant damage to some ecosystems if not monitored and disposed properly. However, these hazardous materials are involved in almost any industry, and by properly monitoring them and ensuring maximum safety measures the potential environmental danger that these materials could produce can be kept at minimum level.

One thing that I should also mention here is that the large solar power plants require large amounts of land so if we were to massively build them this could significantly shrink the habitats of many plants and animals. The current solar technologies require approximately one square kilometer for every 30-60 megawatts of generated solar energy so really large solar energy projects require lot of available land. Also, solar power plants once built require lot of water for cooling purposes, so this could lead to water shortage problem in certain areas.

To conclude I will say that solar energy has largely positive environmental impact. Negative environmental effects are mostly indirectly connected to solar energy, but they are not as nearly as negative as this is the case with coal and other fossil fuels. Solar energy definitely belongs to the category of the cleanest energy sources available on our planet, and we should be really using solar energy on much larger scale than we use it today.