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The Environmental Impact of Solar Energy

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Potential environmental impacts due to solar energy may vary significantly depending on the technology that is being utilized. With solar power, the amount of electricity the solar panels produce depends on a few different factors including the size of the panels that are being used, the efficiency of the interior solar cells, and how much sunlight is actually reaching those panels.

The typical power rating for a solar panel is approximately 265 watts of power, but again, this number can vary greatly depending on the above factors. The sun is a substantial source of energy that we are now able to harness, and this incredible resource can provide us with a clean and non-polluting and sustainable source of electricity.

When you begin to compare the use of solar energy to more conventional forms, you can begin to make the comparison between the two and see how each affects the environment. With solar energy, however, you may find many more benefits than disadvantages when using this cleaner form of power.

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Sustainable and non-polluting electricity has both positive and negative impacts on our environment in equal measure. The deployment of solar energy systems on such a wide scale level must, in one way or another, pose potential risks to the environment. These risks may come as a plausible barrier to the further development of systems such as these in some consumers. The negative environmental impacts can be categorized into numerous fields, some of which are socioeconomic, agricultural and marine.

Again, these impacts vary substantially depending on the type of technology used – Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or Concentrating solar thermal plants. Let’s explore a couple of the upsides and downsides of solar energy on our surroundings.

Positive Impacts of Solar Energy on the Environment

The larger the scale of the solar energy being used, the larger the impact that is being made on the environment in the process. The following are a few of the positive impacts one can expect from the use of solar energy.

Minimizes Noise Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Solar power, unlike fossil fuels, emits zero carbon dioxide into the airspace. This, therefore, reduces the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A certain energy technology company approximates that converting the entire US grid to solar power from electric power is enough to lower greenhouse gases in the air by 40%.

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Also, solar energy systems are completely noiseless. As they do not have booming moving components, they are less likely to promote noise pollution. It is a silent system that effectively absorbs light while emitting no sound.

Lessens the Strain on Limited Resources

It’s an undeniable fact that the earth’s population increases with every passing day and this affects the earth’s finite resources – coal, oil and natural gas – in more ways than one. Fast Fact: The sun, being the most available energy source, produces solar energy worth 173,000 terawatts each second! This is 10,000 times more than the world’s energy uses combined.

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Solar energy is a renewable energy source and energy is also one of our most important resources. Being able to harness the sun’s energy to convert it into electricity that can be generated for our homes and businesses is a huge advantage and means we will not have to use as many fossil fuels.

Offsets Vehicles’ Environmentally Unfriendly CO2 Emissions

Wouldn’t it be great having to stop by the gas pump less frequently than you do with your fuel-consuming guzzler? Driving an electric car saves you not only that extra cash but also rids the air of excess carbon (iv) oxide.

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A well-established solar system will go that extra mile in powering your car and home as well. With solar energy, you can forget about conventional electricity and forms of energy that you would otherwise seek to purchase from your utility company.

Negative Impacts of Solar Energy on the Environment

While there are many positive impacts and advantages to using solar energy for our continuing energy needs, we must also take a closer look at the negative impacts it may have on the environment as well.

Once the solar panels have been installed in your home or business, there are no emissions to worry about. However, this does not count toward the entire lifetime of solar energy. They first must be manufactured before they can be used in the home and this is where we see a greater environmental impact.

Ecological Impacts and Land Use

For most systems during the production phase, having a negative impact on the environment is inevitable. Conventional methods are still used to produce the required energy for production of solar energy systems.

During the production phase, utilized chemical substances are produced as by-products. Solar battery cells pose the highest risk on the earth’s natural resources.

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For one, they have a relatively short lifespan. Secondly, they contain cadmium and a host of different heavy metals. What could be done to weigh down its detrimental effects? Handling them with extra caution, of course. Disposing of them in the right way could otherwise go a long way in taming this potential environmental beast.

The large systems that are needed to harness solar energy, unfortunately, take up a lot of land and space which will disrupt the surrounding environment as well as disrupt the animal life that is inhabits it.

Therefore, one of the major drawbacks of erecting a solar farm has to be endangering native wildlife and vegetation. Doing so may escalate to an ecological crisis which affects the region’s drainage and rainfall levels.

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These solar power systems tend to reflect light beams that may interfere with operating pathways of aircraft. They also produce electric, magnetic fields which hinder the natural activities of its surrounding.

Heavy Discharge of Pollutants

Despite the fact that solar cells emit zero pollutants during their operations, their modules contain highly toxic substances. If these substances are accidentally released on groundwater and agricultural soil during the manufacturing process, there are high risks involved.

For emergency situations such as these, it’s necessary to take precautions.

Negative Visual Impact

Depending on the surroundings and scheme of the solar cells, solar energy is bound to have a visual impact. Solar cells are integrated into buildings during the construction phase. This, without a doubt, is the reason behind negative visual impacts in most establishments.

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Preferably, solar cells should be planned during the developmental phase. At this point, the color of the solar cells should be taken into serious consideration.

Final Thoughts

While people have pointed out its inefficiency and extremely high costs, solar energy has risen to become one of the most beneficial energy sources we have at our disposal – both financially and environmentally.

The growing need for cleaner power has sparked up a rapid technological revolution and this, in turn, has transformed it into a tremendously useful source of clean energy. Like all things in life, solar energy is not perfect in its entirety – no matter how much we wish it would be.