Environmental Impact of Solar Energy

At Solar Panels Express, we know that solar energy is commonly known as a green energy alternative for the environment. It harnesses free and bountiful energy from the sun turning it into energy that serves a large population. This energy type comes with a promise of cheaper rates that attract many people. 

But is it all rosy as it may seem? Solar energy comes with its environmental challenges regarding several things. Let’s look at the environmental impacts of solar energy and determine if the good outweighs the bad. 

Environmental Impact

  1. Land use. The implications of land by the solar system depend on their scale. Small rooftop arrays are not a major concern. But large scale projects can take up a large piece of land. It depends on the type of solar technology, solar intensity, and topography. The large solar systems can span anywhere from 3 to 16 acres per megawatt of generation. One megawatt serves around 650 homes which is a good number. The large solar installation raises concerns about habitat loss and land degradation. In the solar installation, there is no shared use of the land. But in wind power where the projects co-exist with agricultural use.
  2. Water use. There are two main types of solar energy technology. The Photovoltaic solar cells and Concentrating Solar thermal Points. Solar PV does not use water in generating power but the CSP consumes water. The definite water usage depends on variables like location, plant design, and type of cooling method used. CSP project uses wet re-circulating technology with cooling towers that draw about 650 gallons of water per megawatt /hour of electrical generation. The dry cooling technology cuts water usage by about 90% resulting in higher costs. One major concern is the use of CSP projects in the driest climates with poor water supply.
  3. Life cycle emissions. Solar energy earns its reputation as an energy source that does not emit greenhouse emissions during operations. What is not said is that global warming emissions are created at other stages of the energy life cycle. The stages include manufacturing, extraction, transportation, maintenance, installation, dismantling, and decommissioning. The PV solar project requires heavy amounts of energy to mine and manufacture the materials. It is important to note that its emissions are way more friendly to the environment than greenhouse gases. While solar power is not a perfect solution, it is friendlier to the environment than energy from other sources. Solar produces a lot less carbon dioxide than other renewable sources. 
  4. Hazardous materials. Some hazardous materials are used during the PV cell manufacturing process. These chemicals are used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface. They include hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrogen fluoride, acetone, and 1,1,1 trichloroethane. The manufacturers must exercise caution to make sure the workers are not harmed by the exposure to dangerous chemicals. They must also dispose off the chemicals properly. 

Finally, to be certain, toxic materials are associated with every type of energy generation. 

  • Coal must be cleaned with chemicals and burnt  
  • Nuclear energy needs high radioactive material 
  • Wind turbines utilize metal that has to be mined and processed

No energy type is ideal! But some are better than others. Make an informed choice!