Solar energy is generated using the sun as a power source to produce clean and sustainable electricity without toxic pollution or global warming emissions. There are multiple technologies that are used to create electricity from solar energy, and they help the environment because they reduce the need to burn fossil fuels. This correlates with the drop in air pollution and greenhouse gases.
The potential environmental impacts associated with solar power can vary greatly according to the technology that is being used, with two main one being photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or be concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP). The scale of the system, ranging from small rooftop PV arrays to large-scale PV and CSP projects, can also play a significant role in the level of the environment.
The global warming emissions that come from electricity sectors include fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. In contrast, most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions. If the supply of renewable energy increased, it would replace carbon-intensive energy sources and significantly reduce global warming emissions. According to UCS analysis from 2009, it states that “national renewable electricity standard would lower power plant CO2 emissions by 277 million metric tons annually by 2025—the equivalent of the annual output from 70 typical (600 MW) new coal plants.”The study by US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) also mentions that renewable energy could help reduce the electricity sector’s emissions by approximately 81 percent.
The air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants can lead to health problems such as breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, cancer, premature death, and a host of other serious problems. One Harvard University study estimated the life cycle costs and public health effects of coal to be an estimated $74.6 billion every year. That’s equivalent to 4.36 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced—about one-third of the average electricity rate for a typical home. However, according to NREL’s 80-percent-by-2050 renewable energy study states that by including biomass and geothermal, the total water consumption and withdrawal would decrease significantly in a future with high renewables.
Unlike fossil fuel technologies that are mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor intensive and solar panels need humans to install them. This means that more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.
Wind and solar energy are less prone to large-scale failure because they are either distributed or modular systems. Distributed systems are spread out over a large geographical area, so a severe weather event in one location will not cut off power to an entire region. Modular systems are composed of numerous individual wind turbines or solar arrays. Even if some of the equipment in the system is damaged, the rest can typically continue to operate.
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