Design is a funny wordThe Environmental Impact of Using Solar Energy
The sun has long been recognized as a massive source of energy. It has vast resources that can be used to produce renewable, non-polluting, and long-term energy, resulting in zero global warming emissions. Solar power has long been touted as a solution to the worldwide electrical and pollution crises by eliminating traditional energy sources.
In addition to traditional energy sources, solar energy systems have significant environmental advantages and thereby significantly contribute to the long-term sustainability of human activities. However, the large-scale operation of such systems may also have detrimental ecological consequences. Consumers may find these potential issues to be a significant obstacle to the further development of these programs.
The possible environmental impacts of solar power can be classified into various categories, including land use impacts, ecological impacts, water, air, and soil impacts, and other socio-economic impacts. They can differ widely based on the technology, which can be divided into two broad categories:
- Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels
- Concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP).
Impacts of Land Use on the Environment
Solar energy facilities require large areas for energy storage to generate power at a utility-scale. As a result, the facilities can obstruct existing land uses and affect wilderness and recreational management areas.
Energy footprints will become incrementally larger as energy systems affect land through materials exploration, production, processing, and disposal. As a result, some of the grounds may be used for energy in such a manner that restoring to a pre-disturbed state requires a considerable amount of energy and/or time. In contrast, other uses are so drastic that the changes caused are irreversible.
Environmental Impact on Soil, Water, and Air Resources
The installation of solar facilities on large swaths of land necessitates clearing and leveling, which leads to soil compaction, drainage channel destruction, and increased erosion. Central tower cooling systems require the use of water, which is a problem in arid areas since a rise in water demand could put a burden on available water supplies, as well as chemical spills from the facilities, contaminating groundwater or the ground surface.`
Like the building of any large-scale industrial facility, the installation of solar energy power plants will wreak havoc on air quality. Such risks include the release of plant pathogens, which leads to a rise in atmospheric particulate matter, contaminating water reservoirs.
Some also stated that the most recent developments on the market, such as thin-film panels, are made of hazardous heavy metals like Cadmium Telluride. Although these dangerous materials may produce solar panels, coal and oil often have these substances emitted as they are burnt.
Furthermore, coal power plants release even more hazardous compounds than solar panel manufacturers, polluting up to 300 times more.
Aside from the above environmental effects, solar energy facilities could have other consequences, affecting a region’s socio-economic status. Utility-scale solar energy facility construction and operation would have both direct and indirect economic impacts in a given region.
The direct effects would come from wage and salary expenditures and the acquisition of goods and services needed for project development and operation.
Project wages and salaries procurement costs will have indirect effects, resulting in increased jobs, sales, and tax revenue. Construction and maintenance of the facility will necessitate workforce in-migration, affecting accommodation, public utilities, and local government jobs.
Recycling Solar Panels
Currently, there is a severe issue with solar panel recycling; there are not enough places to recycle old solar panels, and there are not enough non-operational solar panels to make recycling economically viable. Solar panels must be recycled since the components used to manufacture them are rare or precious metals, all of which are platinum, tellurium, or indium. Due to the inability to recycle the panels, such recoverable metals could end up going to waste, resulting in potential resource depletion concerns.
Consider silicon, which is required to manufacture the majority of today’s photovoltaic cells and which is currently abundant; however, a silicon-based solar cell requires a significant amount of energy in its production process, with the source of that energy, which is often coal, defining the size of the cell’s carbon footprint.
The inability to drive meaningful progress in the recycling of the materials used in solar panel production, an industry that still has solid environmental credibility from a power-generation perspective, is due to a lack of knowledge about the manufacturing process of solar panels and the problem of recycling them, as well as a lack of external strain.
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