Unlike fossil fuels and other methods of energy production, solar energy isn’t environmentally harmful. When the solar panels are generating 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 of 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 “payback” 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 payback 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 Europe and Asia, the further they have to travel. The further they have to travel, the more their carbon footprint will increase.
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 the 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, brownfields or existing transportation or transmission buildings.
Land use only poses a problem for the larger commercial solar systems that are mounted on the ground. The ones that are mounted on the rooftop of ones home or an on a commercial building, it has very minimal land use.
The process of manufacturing photovoltaic cells does include 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 what type of chemicals are used all depends on what kind of cell they are, the amount of cleaning that is needed and the size of the silicon wafer. The inhalation of silicon dust can be a risk factor for workers.
The PV manufacturers are required to follow U.S. laws that ensure workers are not harmed by exposure to these chemicals. They 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, some harmful chemicals 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 a 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.
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 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 greenhouse gasses around the world. An advantage of 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.
One of the environmental issues that are 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 the earth’s ecosystems. It damages the land that is critical of wildlife habitat, land that wildlife goes to when they migrate and to breed. The animals that can leave have backlash because they are forced to leave and live in a habitat that isn’t ideal.
Water pollution is another side effect of fossil fuels. Coal mining has acid runoff that is washed into rivers, lakes and often 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 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 wastewater, which can have heavy metals and radioactive materials. These materials can find their way into waterways and contaminate them. They are also known to have links to cancer.
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 daily. 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 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 absorb 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 ocean's ecosystem and it affects the oceanic food chain.
Solar Power Advantages
Luckily there is an alternative to these harmful methods of extracting power, solar power. An advantage of solar energy is when we generate electricity with solar power instead of using fossil fuels, it will vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon footprint 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 of solar energy is the reduction in air pollutants. In an analysis done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), they found that if there was a widespread solar adoption there would be a huge reduction in nitrous oxide, solar dioxide, and particulate matter emission.
Nitrous oxide, solar dioxide, and particulate matter emissions have been known to cause health problems. The NREL found that solar power resulted in fewer 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 number 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 as well.
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