The sun is a fantastic resource for producing sustainable electricity and it has been said that it doesn’t contribute to global warming or pollute the environment.
You have probably heard about the several ways solar energy may help the environment as more and more people start turning to renewable energy. Well, in this article, we take a look at the environmental impacts of solar energy whether they be positive or negative.
Our dependence on nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels and the reduction of carbon emissions are two of the most widely recognised advantages of solar electricity. However, how does solar energy impact the ecosystem?
Depending on the technology, which can be broadly divided into two categories: photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP), the possible environmental effects of solar power—land use and habitat loss, water use, and the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing—can vary greatly.
The system’s scale, which can range from modest, dispersed rooftop PV arrays to substantial utility-scale PV and CSP installations, greatly influences the degree of environmental effect.
Table of Contents
Environmental Impacts of Solar Energy
Solar energy also has a lot of beneficial effects on the environment, but there are some negative environmental impats of solar energy, which are listed below:
- Solar Energy Is Better for the Environment
- Land Use
- Loss of Habitat
- Ecosystem Disruption
- Solar Lowers Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Water Use
- Hazardous Materials
- Solar Panel Waste
1. Solar Energy Is Better for the Environment
The extraction of fossil fuels for energy has had negative effects on certain local ecosystems. As habitats are destroyed and vegetation is removed to make way for energy operations like drilling infrastructure, many plants and animals suffer.
On the other hand, renewable energy sources like solar can support ecosystem recovery. Solar plants can be mounted on top of buildings and take up far less room during installation. Moreover, solar panels do not pollute the air or water, harming humans or wildlife alike.
Fossil fuel production involves drilling, burning, and mining, all of which emit greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide, harm the environment. By choosing renewable energy sources like solar power, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent additional harm to the environment.
In general, solar energy can assist your town in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and ecosystem restoration—all of which are critical for safeguarding people, wildlife, and entire ecosystems. As a result, less water is needed to produce power and the air becomes more breathable.
2. Land Use
Energy facilities for many conventional kinds of electricity need a large amount of space, including a lot of valuable land. Thankfully, there are differences in the land use regulations for solar systems.
One advantage of solar systems is that they can be installed in isolated locations with bare ground or put on your roof. With the advancement of technology, solar systems will have improved capabilities to help with land usage. Overall, the small amount of land that solar systems require might be beneficial to your local ecosystem.
However, larger utility-scale solar installations may cause worries about habitat loss and land degradation, depending on where they are located. The total land area needed varies according to the technology, location, topography, and solar resource intensity.
Utility-scale photovoltaic systems are estimated to require between 3.5 and 10 acres per megawatt, whereas CSP installations require between 4 and 16.5 acres per megawatt.
Solar installations have less chance of coexisting with agricultural uses than wind facilities. Utility-scale solar systems can, however, lessen their negative effects on the environment by being installed in less desirable areas, such as brownfields, former mine sites, or existing transmission and traffic lines.
Smaller solar PV arrays have less of an influence on land use and can be installed on residential or commercial properties.
3. Loss of Habitat
The land is needed for solar energy system installation to put solar panels. Any land that has been cleared and developed to install solar panels is considered lost habitat, even though certain locations are better suited for this type of installation than others. Installing solar panels on already-existing buildings can help prevent this issue.
4. Ecosystem Disruption
Local ecosystems may suffer greatly if trees or other plants are removed to make room for solar panels. Furthermore, the building of roads and transmission lines required to facilitate the development of large-scale solar energy projects has the potential to disturb wildlife, fragment ecosystems, and bring in non-native species.
5. Solar Lowers Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In contrast to fossil fuels, which must be extracted, drilled, transported, and burned to generate power, solar energy sources are clean, renewable energy sources that do not emit harmful carbon emissions that affect the atmosphere or waterways.
Reducing these pollutants could save 25,000 lives because they are bad for both human and wildlife health. By lowering our reliance on limited resources that harm the environment, sustainable solar energy will safeguard our infrastructure and contribute to the preservation of the planet’s health.
Overall, solar energy has a largely positive impact on the environment. It’s crucial to remember, though, that both the manufacturing of the panels and the harvesting of the materials needed to make them—such as glass and particular metals—can hurt the environment.
Nevertheless, according to experts, solar panels can offset the energy used to create them in one to four years. Additionally, the systems have a 30-year lifespan, which means that throughout their useful lives, solar panels can more than offset their environmental production costs.
Concerns around solar energy and land use are also present. Some are concerned that installing solar panels for large-scale projects may deteriorate the land and cause habitat loss.
To prevent land degradation in already-existing habitats, large solar panel projects can be installed in low-quality locations, such as abandoned mining facilities. Installing panels on top of existing buildings can also reduce land use. Nevertheless, the potential harm to land and habitats can be minimized or even eliminated.
Of course, there are certain issues with solar panels. Fortunately, with careful preparation and attention to appropriate disposal techniques, the possible issues can be avoided.
6. Water Use
Water is not needed by solar photovoltaic cells to produce power. Still, some water is utilized in the production of solar PV components, just like in any other manufacturing process.
Water is necessary for cooling in concentrated solar thermal plants (CSP), as it is in other thermal electric plants. The type of cooling system, plant location, and plant design all affect how much water is used.
For every megawatt-hour of power generated, CSP plants with cooling towers and wet-recirculating technology remove 600–650 gallons of water. Because water is not lost as steam, CSP facilities using once-through cooling technology have higher water withdrawal levels but lower overall water use.
Nearly 90% less water is used in CSP facilities when dry-cooling technology is implemented. Lower efficiency and increased expenses are the costs associated with these water savings, though. Furthermore, the efficiency of the dry-cooling technique decreases dramatically above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Careful analysis of these water tradeoffs is crucial because many of the United States places with the highest potential for solar energy also have the driest climates.
7. Hazardous Materials
Many hazardous compounds are employed in the PV cell production process; the majority of these materials are used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface.
These substances include hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and acetone. They are comparable to those utilized in the general semiconductor business.
The kind of cell, the degree of cleaning required, and the size of the silicon wafer all influence the quantity and kind of chemicals employed. There are concerns for workers who breathe in silicon dust.
To prevent worker exposure to toxic chemicals and to guarantee that manufacturing waste products are disposed of appropriately, PV manufacturers are required to abide by U.S. rules.
Compared to conventional silicon photovoltaic cells, thin-film PV cells contain several more hazardous components, such as gallium arsenide, copper-indium gallium diselenide, and cadmium telluride.
Inadequate handling and disposal of these items may present significant risks to the environment or public health. Manufacturers are financially motivated, therefore, to make sure that these extremely precious and frequently uncommon materials are recycled as opposed to discarded.
8. Solar Panel Waste
Some projections state that by 2050, the world’s solar panel trash might reach 78 million tons. This volume of waste will be extremely difficult for recycling businesses to handle because they do not yet have appropriate disposal solutions in place, such as landfills.
The good news is that this issue was identified early on and that several businesses have already developed affordable (longer product warranties) and technological remedies (recycling technologies).
What occurs if solar panels malfunction or are taken out of service? Solar panel recycling has not yet grown to be a significant problem, but as solar panels need to be replaced, it will in the ensuing decades.
Solar modules can currently be disposed of alongside other common electronic garbage. Nations lacking adequate mechanisms for disposing of e-waste are more vulnerable to problems with recycling.
Solar energy generation has some drawbacks, just like other power-generating technologies. However, these effects are not as great. Until they get big enough, they don’t hurt or tamper with ecology and balance.
The best thing about solar energy is that, since it can be generated and used locally by individuals, its negative effects can be reduced. Unlike large solar arrays, solar systems are typically installed on rooftops by homeowners or businesses, and they do not require water for cooling.
Solar energy, then, is unquestionably a much greener choice and has an environmentally sustainable effect.
- 3 Best Solar Chargers for Laptops
- 3 Best Solar Chargers for Phones
- Tackling Energy Outages With Portable Solar Solutions
- 6 Types of Solar Energy Storage Systems
- How is solar energy stored in plants | Practical Explanation
A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.