As more people become concerned about the environmental impact of the continued use of fossil fuels, alternative energy sources get more and more attention.
Biomass fuels, wind turbines, hydropower and solar energy all have been around for centuries. Today, solar is the most readily adaptable of the four for widespread use with minimal environmental issues.
Generating renewable energy helps reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, as the burning of fossil fuels for energy is the world’s top source of those emissions. Renewable sources also add flexibility to the energy resource mix and reduce dependence on limited reserves of fossil fuels.
Environmental benefits of solar energy
Solar energy is abundant and highly efficient. The science journal “Nature” reported that the sunlight that hits Earth in one hour is more than enough for an entire year’s needs worldwide. The federal government estimated an area of solar panels of 100 square miles could power the entire United States. A relatively small number of solar panels easily can deliver enough energy to power your home or business.
Solar power is relatively pollution free. It does not generate pollution like other traditional energy sources. Yes, there are emissions created in the manufacturing, delivery and installation of solar power systems, but these are minimal and for limited duration compared to ongoing emissions from conventional energy providers.
Increased use of solar energy offers many positive results. These include:
Reducing the need for coal, gas and nuclear power plants to generate electricity (or at least reduces the need to build more for future population growth);
Stemming the rising cost of energy for homeowners by providing less expensive alternatives that could even generate income by selling excess energy to power companies. Some estimates indicate that you could save more than $100 a month, or even more if you live in California, Hawaii or another sunny climate;
Leaving a more environmentally friendly home for your children and grandchildren.
Issues with alternatives other than solar
Some renewable energy sources have issues that make them less acceptable to most homeowners.
Energy from wind and water sources: Wind and water often are touted as non-polluting, renewable and efficient energy sources. Essentially, these sources create their own energy by harnessing mechanical power to turn turbines and convert that power to electricity. There are more than enough renewable energy sources to supply all of the world’s energy needs forever; however, the challenge is to develop the capability to effectively and economically capture, store and use the energy when needed.
Wind and water energy are not available everywhere, however. Hydropower sources and wind energy cannot be generated in many areas and are very dependent on the weather. For example, California’s historic drought and reduced snow pack have severely impacted the state’s hydroelectric generation.
Two other issues with power systems harnessing wind and water are sound and space. Both have moving parts (unlike solar panels) that can be noisy in generating energy, particularly hydro generation. In addition, both require land resources. Realistically, most of the land investment is in remote areas. Large solar farms also require land, but most solar energy is generated on existing homes and buildings anyplace where there may be adequate sunlight.
Generating biomass energy, which is basically energy created by burning pieces of wood and other organic matter, goes back to the cave man days. In developed countries, wood-burning fireplaces or stoves provide secondary heating. Conversely, for about 3 billion people in developing nations, burning biomasses like wood, animal dung and crop waste is still a primary source of heat and means of cooking.
The issue with burning biomass products is not so much the external air products found in burning coal and oil products. It is venting and indoor air pollution. If wood stoves are not properly vented, they can give off particulates and nitrogen dioxide. In poorer nations, the stoves and fireplaces using biomass fuel are often used in homes with no ventilation, which creates internal air pollution and health issues and, according to the World Health Organization, premature deaths.
Issues with solar energy
Solar energy is cost-effective and efficient, but there are some environmental issues here, too. Some solar photovoltaic (PV) panels contain hazardous materials that could be released if the PV panel is damaged or eventually (after 20 to 30 years) needs to be replaced. Some people think solar panels mar the aesthetic look of a home or building. While, the options to create a look used to be limited, there are now a wide variety of options in solar panel designs and colors. They even make some PV panels that resemble shingles.
The biggest environmental issue with solar power is the intermittent nature of weather. The sun does not shine at night or during inclement daytime weather. This requires either hybrid approaches to energy or energy storage capabilities.
Solar energy has the potential to dramatically change the way the world gets its power. There have been continual advancements in technology that are increasing the efficiency and lowering the cost of production. As a result, solar power for your home makes more sense than ever.
RGS Energy was the first solar energy system provider and installer in the United States, and it’s still the market leader. To learn how solar could lower your electric bills and to get a free quote, visit www.RGSEnergy.com.