Over the years, the quest for a cleaner energy and environment has become the major concern for most countries of the world. In December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted as a step to reducing global warming.
As the days go by, the possibility of global warming increases significantly. This is as a result of constant emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful greenhouse gases (GHG). It is projected that Global temperature will warm by approximately 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2050. The only way this can be curtailed is by switching from the traditional form of energy production to solar energy.
In 1881, American inventor Charles Fritts was reported as the first person to create a commercial solar panel. In his words, Fritts reported the innovation as “continuous, constant and of considerable force not only by exposure to sunlight but also to dim diffused daylight”.
In this article, we will take you through the environmental impact of solar energy as well as some of its negative effects on the environment.
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a clean, abundant and renewable source of power that is derived directly from the sun.
Environmental Impacts of Solar Energy
The Solar energy has numerous positive impacts on the environment which are not limited to the following:
Renewable and clean source of energy: Unlike other conventional energy sources like coal and natural gas, solar energy is the cleanest. Its main source is the sun and as such, it does not deplete other natural resources during its production. Solar energy also reduces air pollution and helps in the mitigation of climate change.
Reduction of greenhouse gas emission: Transmission of solar energy reduces to a reasonable extent the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are harmful to the human anatomy. This is what makes solar energy stand out when compared to other fossil-fuel-based power generation.
Reduction of land use and biodiversity preservation: Solar panels which are media from which the rays from the sun enters the solar system are either installed at roof tops, vacant lands or integrated into existing structures. This helps to drastically reduce the use of large scales of land for installation especially for multi million industries who use solar energy as a source of power. Most importantly, these lands can be used for other commercial activities such as large-scale agriculture.
Air and water quality control: Solar energy has been proven to be the best measure in reducing the level of pollutants released in the air and water bodies. Such pollutants are sulphur dioxide which are emitted by electrical appliances that burn coal and combustion of fossil fuels used by cars. On the other hand, use of solar energy helps in reduction of oil spills which contaminate the water bodies.
Water conservation: Traditionally, water is the main source of power generation; as a significant amount of it is used for cooling purposes. One good example is the Kainji dam located in River Niger, Niger State Nigeria. The construction of this dam impacted adversely on the people living within the area as one-quarter of the money used to build the dam was used to resettle the people to another area. The solar energy requires no water to enhance its operation thereby reducing strain on the water bodies as well as reduces water scarcity.
Some negative impacts of the solar energy on the environment
In as much as solar energy is widely believed to have a positive impact on the environment, it is also worth acknowledging the fact that no form of energy generation is entirely without any form of negative effects. Hence, we should consider some potential negative impacts of solar energy.
Manufacturing and disposal of solar panels: Solar panels are produced by subjecting extracted raw materials to very energy-intensive manufacturing processes which adds to the amount of emissions into the air. The disposal of these panels can also pose environmental threats when they reach the end of their lifespans.
Land and habitat disturbance: Setting up solar panels for multi-million industries requires a large-scale area of land. These lands most need clearing before these installations are carried out which can lead to displacement of habitats and loss of biodiversity. To minimise these impacts, careful planning and execution must be put into consideration.
Chemical use: Solar panels are produced with heavy metal chemicals and materials such as Lead (Pb) and Cadmium (Cd). These chemicals can be hazardous to the environment, thereby impacting negatively on the ecosystem if not handled properly during production or disposal.
The positive impact of solar energy on the environment significantly outweighs its negative impact. However, ongoing research and innovation are focused on minimizing these impacts through more sustainable manufacturing processes, recycling initiatives, and improved land management practices.