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Solar Panel Emissions V. Fossil Fuel Emissions

Jessica PirroMay 17, 20192600

Unlike fossil fuels and other methods of energy production, solar energy isn’t environmentally harmful. When the solar panels are generating the electricity, they aren’t producing any emissions.

Because the panels aren’t emitting anything, they aren’t contributing to climate change or any health issues. This is unlike other energy sources.

Another way these differ from other sources of energy, is they draw their energy from the sun. The sun is considered an abundant resource of energy and it accessible across the world and isn’t going away anytime soon.

The negative environmental impact of solar energy

It is a known fact that when the solar panels are on your roof they aren’t producing any emissions, but that isn’t the case during a solar panels whole life.

When the solar panels are being manufactured in the factory and when they are being recycled at the end of their life cycle, that is when the panels have an environmental impact.

A lot environmental researchers base the environmental impact of solar energy on the concept of energy payback time, also known as EPBT.

The energy payback time tells us exactly how long it will take for solar panels to produce enough clean electricity to “pay back” the unclean energy that was used to make time. This time is based on a few things.

How productive your solar panels are

If you live in a sunny area and you have very efficient solar panels, your system will generate more electricity and have a shorter energy pay back time.

How your solar panels are produced 

Certain solar panels use more energy to make than others. If you have thin-film modules, they don’t have as big of a carbon footprint that silicon modules do. This is because during production, thin-filmed modules don’t use as much energy to make.

Where your solar panels are made

Where your solar panels are made is more than likely not going to be where they are installed. Where your solar panels are manufactured have to be transported to where they will be installed.

The further away from the manufacturing location to the installation location the larger their carbon footprint will be. Therefore, if your solar panels are installed in the United States, but manufactured in the Europe and Asia, the further they have to travel. The further they have to travel, the more their carbon footprint will increase.

Land use

Some of the larger utility scale solar facilities can raise some red flags about land degradation and habitat loss. Depending on the technology needed, the topography of the site and intensity of solar resources, is how much land area will be needed.

The typical estimation for utility scale PV systems ranges from 3.5 to 10 acres per megawatt. Unlike wind facilities, there is not as much opportunity for multiple solar projects to share land with other agricultural uses.

But the land impact can be reduced by putting these commercial solar systems in the low quality land locations. Locations such as, abandoned mining land, brown fields or existing transportation or transmission buildings.

Land use only poses as a problem for the larger commercial solar systems that are mounted on the ground. The one’s that are mounted on the rooftop of ones home or a on a commercial building, it has very minimal land use.

Hazardous materials  

The process of manufacturing photovoltiac cells, does include a numerous amount of hazardous materials that are used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface. These chemicals are hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, 1,1,1,-trichloroethane and acetone.

How much and they what type of chemicals that are used all depends on what kind of cell they are, the amount of cleaning that is needed and the size of silicon wafer. The inhalation of silicon dust can be a risk factor for workers.

The PV manufactures are required to follow U.S. laws that ensure workers are not harmed by exposure to these chemicals. The also have to follow U.S. laws while disposing of waste products.

Thin-film PV cells contain a few more toxic materials than those that are used in traditional silicon photovoltaic cells,chemicals that include gallium arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride.

If these chemicals aren’t handled an disposed of correctly, the could be a serious threat to public health or the environment. The manufacturers do have a very large financial incentive to ensure that these hazardous materials are disposed of correctly.

Environmental impact of solar energy is overall net positive  

Yes there are some harmful chemicals that are used in the solar panel manufacturing process and yes in the beginning and the end of a solar panels life span, there are emissions. But, solar energy is still net positive.

In 1970, the energy payback time was 40 years. Today, because of manufacturing improvements, energy payback is now down to just six months.

With continued technological developments and new research developments, it is only expected that these payback rates will continue to positive developments.

Another thing to keep in mind is, even though there are emissions and there are hazardous chemicals that are used, solar panels are still a clean energy option.

Fossil Fuels

Sandy beaches, tree filled mountain ranges, warm deserts, lakeside sunsets and roaring rivers are a few of the earth’s enjoyable features. We travel across the globe to enjoy these things and partake in the earth’s beauty.

We enjoy these things without giving a second thought to the fact the power we are using to research these places could be what one day pollutes them.

One of the advantages of solar energy is that it creates power from the sun and the power that it creates is clean, renewable power that actually benefits the environment.

Fossil fuels carbon footprint

A solar energy pro is that it is an alternative to fossil fuels and it reduces the carbon footprint at home and elsewhere, which also results in reducing green house gasses around the world. An advantage to solar energy is that it not only benefits economically, but it also is known to have a favorable impact on the environment.  

Right now in the United States the majority of electricity is generated from fossil fuels, such as, coal and natural gas. Not only is extracting fossil fuels expensive it is also very harmful to the environment. Where another advantage to solar energy is that it is free and abundant, thanks to the natural energy the sun is already producing.

Land degradation

One of the environmental issues that is caused by extracting fossil fuels, is land degradation. Land degradation is the process of unearthing, processing and moving underground gas, oil and coal deposits.

Land degradation is damaging to earth’s ecosystems. It damages the land that is critical wild life habitat, land that wildlife goes to when the migrate and to breed. The animals that are able to leave have backlash because they are forced to leave and live in habitat’s that aren’t ideal.

Water pollution

Water pollution is another side effect from fossil fuels. Coal mining has acid runoff that is washed into rivers, lakes and often times large quantities of the runoff is dumped into streams.

When extracting these oils and transporting them, there can be leaks which can pollute drinking water and put entire freshwater and ocean ecosystem in jeopardy.

Fracking

Fracking has toxic fluids that have been known to pollute drinking water, the same goes for all drilling and mining operations.

The mechanisms are also known to have large quantities of waste water, which can have heavy metals and radio active materials. These materials can find their way into waterways and contaminate them. They are also known to have links to cancer.

Air pollution

The fossil fuels are also known to leak harmful toxins that pollute the air. About 12.6 million Americans are exposed to these toxins that are in the air on a daily basis. Toxins that are extremely harmful to both humans, animals and the earth.

These toxins include benzene, which is linked to childhood leukemia and blood disorder, and formaldehyde, which is a cancer causing chemical.

Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is something that happens when we burn oil, coal and gas. When we burn these oils, coal and gasses we change the chemistry of the ocean making it more acidic.

Our seas absorbs as much as a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions. Since the Industrial revolution, the ocean is now 30 percent more acidic. The more acidic the ocean becomes, the more damage happens to the oceans ecosystem and it effects the oceanic food chain.

Solar Power Advantages

Luckily there is an alternative to these harmful methods of extracting power, solar power. An advantage to solar energy is when we generate electricity with solar power instead of using fossil fuels, it will vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

Carbon foot print reduction

A pro to solar energy is you can shrink your carbon footprint by going solar. When you use solar power you can reduce the demand for fossil fuels and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emission. Just by switching from fossil fuels to solar power in the state can have the same effect of emission reduction by planting 150 trees every year.

Nitrous oxide reduction 

Another advantage to solar energy is the reduction on air pollutants. In an analysis done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) they found that if there was a widespread of solar adoption there would be a huge reduction in nitrous oxide, solar dioxide and particulate matter emission.

Nitrous oxide, solar dioxide and particulate matter emission have been known to cause health problems. The NREL found that solar power resulted in less cases of chronic bronchitis, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, another solar energy advantage.  

These are just some of the environmental solar energy advantages. By going solar you can help reduce the amount of chemicals that are emitted, you can reduce your carbon footprint and you can help not only your health but the health of those who you love was well.  

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