When we, as individuals talk about what we can do for the environment, the conversation often turns to solar panels. As a viable alternative to fossil fuels, turning to solar power is one of the most efficient ways to go green. However, although we rarely think about that side of the story, solar panels have their disadvantages as well. But which side outweighs the other? Let’s find out.
Weighing the Environmental Impact of Solar Panels
Guest Post by Derek Lotts
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Solar energy, or energy from the sun, is a source that can, to a large extent replace fossil fuels. Together with hydroelectric power and wind energy, solar power is one of the most important renewable energy sources. The panels work on a relatively simple principle. The sun’s rays, or, to be more precise, the photons of light, excite the electrons in the cells of the photovoltaic panels. This process turns the rays of light into electricity in the panels. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels work just fine even in colder climates. How come? Well, the sun still shines even when it is obscured by the clouds, and light still reaches the panels. Short of a snow build-up on the panels themselves, colder climates don’t negatively impact the functionality of the system.
The Pros: the Homeowner’s Perspective
The eco-friendliness of solar power may not be the only, or even the primary reason for a homeowner to install solar panels. The main reason why people opt for solar energy is the budget. While they mostly require some initial investment, the savings from switching to solar are immediate. Depending on the size of the panels installed, homeowners can often see a 100% reduction in their electricity bill. In layman’s terms, that means you don’t pay anything at all. A quality 5kW Solar System can produce an average of 20 kW/h of electricity per day, which is enough to cover daily needs of an average home. In case you produce more than you spend, you can either store the extra electricity in batteries or return it to the grid. Most countries offer incentives in the form of cash or credits for people who provide clean energy.
The Pros: Lower Air and Water Pollution
Fossil fuel electricity plants pollute the air by emitting harmful greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. These gases lead to climate change since they trap heat inside the earth’s atmosphere. The carbon emission of solar panels is connected only to the production and transportation before they are put to use. Once they start working, they are a completely clean energy source.
It may come as a surprise to many that air is not the only aspect of the environment that suffers a great negative impact from fossil fuels. Water, one of our most valuable resources is just as affected. To produce electricity, fossil fuel-based power plants use jaw-dropping amounts of water a day for cooling. Most solar panels use no water at all, and those that do, don’t pollute it. Finally, solar power is completely renewable, meaning, in theory, it is inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels such as coal or oil.
In the wake of climate change, people mostly talk about solar energy only in positive terms. However, it too has certain drawbacks. While the energy that is produced using solar panels is clean, the plants that produce them mostly still use electricity obtained from fossil fuels. That means that the very production of the panels harms the environment. Solar panels are also a very space-consuming method of creating electricity. Some estimates say that, in order to power the entire planet with renewable energy, we would need to cover an area the size of Spain in panels. That would cause a disruption in the ecosystem of the affected areas. Finally, it’s very important to dispose of solar panels using the proper procedure, as some of them may release hazardous materials when damaged.
When all is said and done, installing solar panels is still one of the most far-reaching decisions a homeowner can make when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint. Although there are negatives, both the environmental and the personal benefits (such as budget friendliness) ultimately outweigh them.
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