Solar energy is a sustainable source of energy because low levels of environmental pollution are associated with its use. The purpose of this paper is to determine the impact of solar energy on the environment. The major positive impact is the minimal emission of greenhouse gases. However, negative upshots include emission of toxic wastes, large water, and land use requirements for cooling and installation, respectively. These problems can be reduced by proper waste disposal strategies, dry-cooling technologies, and rooftop installations.
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The sun is a valuable source of energy for living organisms, given that it makes it possible for autotrophs to manufacture food via photosynthesis. The energy emitted by the sun is resourceful in the generation of hygienic and sustainable electricity devoid of toxic wastes and emissions that cause global warming (Kabir, Kumar, Kumar, Adelodun, & Kim, 2018). Furthermore, it is an economical way of producing energy because there are no high recurrent costs after the initial installation. Solar energy can be harnessed through two main ways: photovoltaic (PV) cells and concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) (Khan & Arsalan, 2016).
However, the use of these technologies can also lead to unforeseen negative consequences. The purpose of this paper is to determine the impact of solar energy on the environment. The positive and negative effects of solar energy will be considered.
A literature search was conducted on databases such as PubMed and Google Scholar to find information on the topic. The search phrase impact of solar energy on the environment was used. To ensure that current information was obtained, the search was limited to articles published within the last five years. Relevant articles were obtained by reading through the abstracts followed by the retrieval of full-text versions. Information from the publications was then summarised as indicated in the findings section.
The long-term use of solar energy is beneficial to the environment because it replaces or cuts down the use of other energy sources with detrimental environmental effects (Wang & Lu, 2016). Nonetheless, solar energy use has negative effects that can be classified under four main categories of land use, water utilization, hazardous chemicals, and global warming emissions. Facilities that generate solar energy for large-scale use degrade the land.
Additionally, clearing land to pave the way for the construction of power plants destroys the habitats of plants and animals. The actual land needed depends on solar generation technology, topography, and solar energy demands. PV systems are estimated to require between 3.5 and 10 acres of land per megawatt of energy (Aman et al., 2015). The key shortcoming is the same piece of land cannot be used for agriculture and solar projects simultaneously.
CSPs are thermal electric plants that need large volumes of water for cooling. The precise water needs are determined by the exact construction, location, and cooling system. It is estimated that wet-circulating technologies use between 600 and 650 gallons of water for each megawatt-hour of energy generated. On the other hand, once-through cooling systems require even more water, but they conserve water because it is not lost to the surroundings as steam (Ahjum et al., 2018).
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The manufacture of PV cells uses several dangerous chemicals to prepare and sanitize the semiconductor surfaces. Examples of such chemicals include acids such as sulphuric, hydrochloric, and nitric. Other chemicals used are acetone, hydrogen fluoride, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane. The exact volumes of these chemicals are determined by the magnitude of silicon wafers, the extent of cleaning, and the cell. Conventional silicon PV cells use less noxious chemicals than those needed in thin-film PV cells. These substances include cadmium-telluride, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and gallium arsenide (Hosenuzzaman et al., 2015). Poor handling and disposal of these chemicals pose environmental and public health threats.
Even though the production and usage of solar energy from the sun does not emit greenhouse gasses, other stages in the life-cycle of the process produce global warming emissions. For example, manufacturing of components, conveyance of materials, setting up, maintaining, and disassembling procedures. Approximations of life-cycle emissions of PV systems range from 0.07 and 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour (Gong, Darling, & You, 2015). CSPs have slightly higher levels of emission.
The data have addressed the initial goals of pinpointing the negative and positive effects of solar energy. The findings show that solar energy use has positive and negative effects on the environment. The positive upshots include clean energy, sustainability, and minimal emission of greenhouse gases. Conversely, the undesirable outcomes encompass the excess use of land resources, the requirement of large volumes of water for cooling, and the use of hazardous materials in the manufacture of solar components. The negative consequences can be used to develop recommendations to solve them to reap maximum benefit from solar energy.
Based on the identified negative environmental aftereffects of solar energy use, the following recommendations are suggested to mitigate them:
- The land impacts of using solar energy can be reduced by installing solar panels at locations with low demand, for example, brownfields, deserted mining land, or accessible carriage and transmission corridors.
- Commercial buildings and homes can take advantage of small-scale solar PV arrays that can be installed on rooftops to minimize the land use impact.
- Adverse effects on water use can be lowered by using dry-cooling technology as opposed to wet-cooling. It has been shown that this know-how cuts down water use at CSP factories by about 90% (Hu, Li, Jiang, & Du, 2018).
- Manufacturers of PV cells should adhere to relevant regulations concerning the use of toxic chemicals through the proper disposal of waste products and protection of workers.
- Valuable and rare materials used in the manufacture of solar cell components should be recycled instead of being discarded.
Ahjum, F., Merven, B., Cullis, J., Goldstein, G., DeLaquil, P., & Stone, A. (2018). Development of a national water‐energy system model with emphasis on the power sector for South Africa. Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy, 37(1), 132-147.
Aman, M. M., Solangi, K. H., Hossain, M. S., Badarudin, A., Jasmon, G. B., Mokhlis, H.,… Kazi, S. N. (2015). A review of Safety, Health and Environmental (SHE) issues of solar energy system. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 41, 1190-1204.
Gong, J., Darling, S. B., & You, F. (2015). Perovskite photovoltaics: Life-cycle assessment of energy and environmental impacts. Energy & Environmental Science, 8(7), 1953-1968.
Hosenuzzaman, M., Rahim, N. A., Selvaraj, J., Hasanuzzaman, M., Malek, A. A., & Nahar, A. (2015). Global prospects, progress, policies, and environmental impact of solar photovoltaic power generation. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 41, 284-297.
Hu, H., Li, Z., Jiang, Y., & Du, X. (2018). Thermodynamic characteristics of thermal power plant with hybrid (dry/wet) cooling system. Energy, 147, 729-741.
Kabir, E., Kumar, P., Kumar, S., Adelodun, A. A., & Kim, K. H. (2018). Solar energy: Potential and future prospects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 82, 894-900.
Khan, J., & Arsalan, M. H. (2016). Solar power technologies for sustainable electricity generation–A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 55, 414-425.
Wang, C., & Lu, Y. (2016). Solar photovoltaic. Web.