Solar Energy Effects on the Environment

Subject: Environment
Pages: 4
Words: 1224
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College

Introduction

Recently, the issue of climate change has been a topic of discussion by all governments in the world. A call has been made for the world to focus on developing renewable power rather than using non-renewable fuel. Solar energy has been one of the alternatives to the use of hydrocarbon deposits to provide electricity. Solar energy production has now been commercialized, and substantial solar farms are being set up worldwide. The energy collected is stored in batteries and used in commercial and domestic activities. The use of electricity from solar attracts mixed opinions on whether it is a lasting solution to green energy or the use of this equipment will affect the environment. The advocators of this source of electricity claim that it is the cleanest and has no negative effect to the environment. Although solar power is advocated for production of solar energy, it has negative effects to the environment.

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The Solar Energy Effect

According to the advocators, the use of light rays to produce electricity enhances the sustainable use of resources. Generating electricity by using scarce fossil fuels has energy losses. Energy is assumed to get lost after being converted into heat to the environment and also lost when mining these fuels, whereas solar power requires the sun, which is abundant, and there are no further losses (Boretti, 2018). Substitution of fossil fuels by using solar power takes the world closer to sustainable energy goals of using electricity efficiently without jeopardizing the power needs of the future generation. Nevertheless, solar equipment manufacture does not follow the principles of sustainable energy.

Solar power requires special equipment to be able to convert the light rays from the sun to electricity. This equipment includes solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, and inverters. To make this component, a lot of electricity is used. Processes of mining, manufacturing, and transport of this equipment demand a lot of energy. Quartz, a significant component in solar panels, requires substantial power to clean and process (Boretti, 2018). To produce one solar module, quartz must be mixed with other minerals such as aluminium and copper mined in different places, thus demanding more energy to transport. These processes of manufacturing panels also require heat which is made using large volumes of fossil fuels and coal. This fuel produces smoke and other harmful gases, detrimental to the environment and significant to climate change.

Harmful Chemicals

It is correct to say that use of solar energy contributes to the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gasses. Energy generation using solar power in place of fossil fuel reduces the emission of carbon (iv) oxide, which is one of the primary greenhouse gasses. Increased production of carbon (iv) oxide from fossil fuels leads to an increase in global temperature, one of the significant causes of climate change (Yousaf et al., 2018). Increased temperature causes polar ice to melt, which increases the water level of oceans which causes flooding in islands. Climate change causes wildfires and significant storms, which destroy the environment and livelihoods. However, Production of solar equipment involves the use of chemicals and harmful metals. These chemicals are used to produce semiconductors and batteries. To produce semiconductors, chemicals are utilized in purifying their surfaces. Such compounds comprise hydrochloric and nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, acetone, as well as 1,1,1-trichloroethane (Boretti, 2018). These chemicals are harmful to the environment, where they affect flora and fauna around the manufacturing facility. The gases produced during the process also contribute to global warming.

The manufacture of batteries requires the use of lithium metal or lead-acid. Lithium metal mining causes adverse destruction to the environment as it uses a large volume of water. Lithium metal is harmful to the environment. During the manufacture of batteries, lithium is mixed with other metals such as copper and nickel. This process emits carbon (iv) oxide gas to the environment. According to Boretti (2018), to build a car battery weighing more than five hundred kilograms, 74% more carbon (iv) oxide is produced than an efficient fossil fuel car in Germany. Thus, that is a considerable amount of toxic elements that are being released into the atmosphere.

Recycling of Energy and Land Degradation

The advocators also argue that solar electricity does not contribute to land degradation as the energy collected does not require further processing and there are no waste products. They also argue that this form of energy does not leave open mines which make the land uninhabitable. However, solar components contribute to destruction of land and habitat. Solar equipment has a lifetime of twenty-five to thirty years. This means that the world will be faced with another environmental problem caused by dumping after some time. There will be problems in recycling as reprocessing may turn to be expensive than manufacturing new modules (Chowdhury et al., 2020). Dumped solar modules contain toxic ethyl acetate that may leach and cause soil and water pollution. Lithium batteries have a life cycle of three hundred to five hundred life cycles. After this charge cycles, the batteries are decommissioned and taken to authorized recycling facilities. An increase in the volume of the batteries may be a problem to recycling as not all batteries will be recycled and dumped in dumpsites. This may cause an environmental hazard as the contents of the storms may leach and get to water bodies and destroy freshwater bodies.

Concerns have been raised regarding massive solar energy plants causing land degradation and ecosystem loss. This is because the solar plants could prompt the ground under and around the solar panels to be deteriorated. According to Siddiqui and Dincer (2018), setting up large solar farms has affected land conservation measures. The large solar farms cause a change in land cover as there is interference during the setting up of the equipment. The solar panels also bring shade which affects the ground cover destruction of the ground cover affects the ecology of the area whereby animals migrate, and some species disappear (Siddiqui & Dincer, 2018). Clearing of the ground cover also interferes with rainfall and drainage. There are also possibilities of contamination of the soil due to damage of the solar cells that contain harmful chemicals. However, the advocators of this source of energy claim that the use of solar power has environmental benefits which may outweigh the damages.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, solar power has its fair share of effects on the environment. It should not be considered to be one hundred percent clean, as some put it. Equipment used in collecting solar power requires vast amounts of energy, usually from fossil fuels such as coal and petrol products, to manufacture, process, transport, and set up. Although this may be argued that the electricity used in these processes is recovered after a few years of use, the impact of manufacture is still felt by the environment. The method of manufacturing solar equipment uses chemicals that produce harmful gases to the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Large Solar farms disturb flora and fauna of the area and may cause the extinction of some species due to loss of habitat. However, solar energy has its benefits to the environment and contributes to mitigating climate change by reducing fossil fuel use. Although the benefits of solar energy seem to outweigh the drawbacks, there should also be a conversation highlighting the demerits of solar energy, especially after their lifecycle is complete.

References

Boretti, A. (2018). Cost and production of solar thermal and solar photovoltaics power plants in the United States. Renewable Energy Focus, 26, 93-99. Web.

Chowdhury, M. S., Rahman, K. S., Chowdhury, T., Nuthammachot, N., Techato, K., Akhtaruzzaman, M., Tiong, S. K., Sopian, K., & Amin, N. (2020). An overview of solar photovoltaic panels’ end-of-life material recycling. Energy Strategy Reviews, 27, 100431. Web.

Fathabadi, H. (2018). Impact of high-voltage power transmission lines on photovoltaic power production. Solar Energy, 163, 78-83. Web.

Siddiqui, O., & Dincer, I. (2018). Examination of a new solar-based integrated system for desalination, electricity generation and hydrogen production. Solar Energy, 163, 224-234. Web.

Yousaf, M., Yilbas, B., & Ali, H. (2018). Assessment of optical transmittance of oil impregnated and non-wetted surfaces in outdoor environment towards solar energy harvesting. Solar Energy, 163, 25-31. Web.