Are Solar Panels Good For The Environment? (Report)

Developing solar panels to utilize the abundant energy from the sun to generate power for grids and homes has reduced fossil fuel emissions. It will continue to do so, but solar panels have an environmental downside.

Using solar panels to replace fossil fuels as a source of clean, renewable energy means they are good for the environment. However, the materials solar panels are made from may be harmful to that same environment if not recycled and disposed of properly.

To get both sides of this discussion, we need to consider the following:

  • The advantages of using solar energy
  • Disadvantages of using solar energy
  • Are solar panels environmentally friendly

Many people believe that solar panels are solely beneficial, and to a large degree, they are, but the truth is they can have some potential side effects that we need to be aware of.

Solar Photovoltaic Panels. Industrial Installation Of Solar Panels - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Solar Photovoltaic Panels. Industrial Installation Of Solar Panels

What Are The Primary Advantages Of Solar Energy?

Solar power is an abundant, clean, and renewable energy source for planet Earth and our civilization. It is utilized efficiently; it could power humanity for millennia while stabilizing and reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel stations.

Solar Energy Is Abundant Worldwide

As a power source, it is probably the most abundant non-terrestrial one available, and we have begun to harness it successfully for our homes and cities. I say started as there is still a lot of development to do in this field to maximize the efficiency of solar panels.

Our sun is halfway through its lifetime and will only burn out in about five billion years, so we are in no danger of it becoming depleted soon.

Most countries could use solar energy to supplement fossil fuels and other energy sources such as wind or geothermal.

Solar Energy Costs Are Reducing

The evolution of technology and the rising demand for solar energy have ensured that the cost of solar energy is reducing to more affordable every year. As solar panels become more efficient and used ones are recycled, this cost will decrease.

Third-world countries with high levels of solar exposure are developing large solar farms to provide power to more people and industries. This bodes well for reducing carbon emissions in the future as solar requires no emissions and does not add to pollution.

Solar Energy Has A Variety Of Applications

Photovoltaic energy from the sun generates electricity, while solar thermal energy is used to heat water and create electricity by driving steam turbines. Solar power is also used to water crops and power cars and other vehicles.

Few other renewables and abundant energy sources can provide this sustainability and consistency in supply and variety.

Sun Beating Down On Solar Panels
Sun Beating Down On Solar Panels

What Are The Disadvantages Of Solar Energy?

The sun is not always up, so solar energy is unavailable 24/7, and storage costs are high. The capital cost of solar energy is higher than any other, and solar panels are not efficient. Land-based farms take up a lot of space, panels can get damaged by weather, and their components are toxic and harmful.

Solar Energy Has A High Capital Expenditure

Solar energy has high costs to set up. Although the costs are reducing, installing solar energy systems is still a long-term ROI for homeowners and business owners.

Storage Systems Are Expensive & At Risk From Weather

Storing energy is expensive and takes up space, as anyone with a home or business PV system knows. Whether lithium-ion or lead-calcium, batteries require maintenance and don’t have an infinite lifespan.

Solar panels are at risk from the environment and can be damaged by hail and other severe weather events, requiring replacing at a cost.

Solar Energy Is Inefficient

Because the best solar panels can only utilize around 22% of the available energy, you need a large quantity of them to generate enough power. When set up for land-based solar farms, they use more space per kW generated than geothermal or wind.

Solar Panel Materials Are Toxic

Solar panels are mostly made from glass and silicon semiconductors that make up the panels’ photovoltaic cells. They also have steel components for the frame and some wiring to conduct the electricity.

Solar panels use minerals like lead and cadmium in their manufacturing processes, which are highly toxic to the environment. Harmful and highly toxic compounds like acetone, gallium arsenide, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and hydrogen sulfide manufacture solar panels.

Recycling Solar Panels Can Be Environmentally Hazardous

In the USA, regulations require solar panel manufacturers to recycle panels rather than dispose of or destroy them. Still, in other countries that produce high volumes of panels, old and broken ones are often discarded in landfills or fields, resulting in air and water pollution.

Recycling solar panels is also expensive as it requires the disassembly of the panel and extraction of electrical components before the glass and silicon can be recycled.

Sun Beating Down On A Roof
Sun Beating Down On A Roof

Do Solar Panels Contribute To Global Warming?

Solar panels do not heat the Earth; they do the opposite by absorbing solar radiation and shading the ground from the sun. They reduce dependence on carbon-based power generation, helping to offset the greenhouse effect.

By using solar radiation as a fuel source and not producing emissions of any kind, solar panels are assisting in reducing the impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

However, studies have shown that large-scale solar farms could affect the regional climate by reducing temperatures slightly as they absorb radiation rather than letting it hit the Earth.

In turn, this could reduce the rainfall in that area and contribute to a rise in temperatures. But, these experiments took energy demand to extremes and concluded that the overall impact of temperature rise would be negligible compared to fossil fuels.

Power Outlet On The Side Of An Rv
Power Outlet On The Side Of An Rv

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Solar Energy?

The long-term benefits of solar power include less dependence on fossil fuels for energy and transport, lower environmental impacts, business opportunities, and lower noise and air pollution.

Overall, the long-term effects of using solar power far outweigh any negatives this energy source has for Planet Earth. Aside from the abundance and the growing efficiency of solar panels, solar power will reduce our fixation on oil and coal and gradually help our planet become healthier.

It also offers business and job opportunities for application in energy and transport and perhaps other fields not even considered.

When the technology is advanced enough, we may even find that solar-powered planes and ships become the norm reducing the air and noise pollution from vehicles worldwide.

A future with solar energy is promising and exciting as we move away from fossil fuels to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly civilization.

Resources

General Solar Panel FAQ

What Problems Do Solar Panels Solve?

In environmental terms, solar panels can potentially solve a handful of problems, including;
1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Greenhouse gases
4. Reduction in fossil fuel use

For individuals, solar energy allows you to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to your electricity needs and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Are 3 Important Uses Of Solar Panels?

The three most important uses of solar panels are;
1. Solar electricity. This can be used to power almost any appliance in your home, including TVs, computers, and fridges.
2. Lighting. In addition to the use of low-power, LED lightbulbs, solar panels can provide an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to provide lighting to homes. 
3. Portable solar. In our modern, always-connected lives, our phones, tablets, and computers are almost always with us, and all run on batteries. Portable PV chargers can help keep our batteries topped up no matter where we are, as long as there is some sun to charge them.

Do solar panels give you free electricity?

Once the cost of the array is paid in full, the energy it produces is free. There are ongoing maintenance costs, too, such as annual panel cleaning, etc. 

How much will my electric bill be with solar panels?

Suppose your solar array includes a solar battery backup system, and it is large enough to fully cover your energy usage per day. In that case, your monthly electric bill will be next to zero dollars, even with a grid-tied system. 

If your solar array does not include a solar battery backup system, then at night, your house or business will use grid electricity. That cost will vary but expect to pay from 1/3-2/3 of your average electric bill, and that cost will fluctuate seasonally. 

Do you save money with solar panels?

The simple answer is, Yes, you save money with solar panels. There is an initial upfront cost, but since solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, you will save money over time. You will also begin to see monthly savings in energy bills, but there are other ways that solar panels pay you back. Those include:
1. Adding value to your home or commercial building 
2. Monthly decreases in energy costs
3. The ability to add more energy appliances without increased monthly costs
4. The potential for tax credits for going solar

Can solar panels power a house 24-7?

Most definitely! Solar panels can certainly power a house 24-7, with the addition of a high-quality inverter and a suitable battery bank, of course. To power, a house under normal usage will require a massive solar array, though, and there will be a very expensive initial financial outlay.

Do I need to tell my energy supplier I have solar panels?

This depends on where you live, but in most cases, it’s not necessary to inform your energy supplier that you have solar panels. That said, you may be producing excess power with your solar system, in which case you may be able to sell that excess power back to energy companies.

In this case, you’ll naturally need to be in contact with them. 

What Are Solar Cells Known as and Why?

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are called so because the term ‘photovoltaic’ literally means light i.e. photo and electricity i.e. voltaic.

These cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This effect basically causes the generation of free electrons from the semiconducting silicon material of the solar panel when sunlight hits its surface.

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient and Why?

There are currently three types of solar panels available in the market that are:
1. Monocrystalline
2. Polycrystalline
3. Thin-filmed

Among these, monocrystalline solar panels are known to be the most efficient among all others.

Does heat enter your home through the roof?

Absolutely. Heat enters your home through your roof, and on a hot day your attic can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Through conduction, heat from the sun warms your roof which then warms your attic and the rest of your home.

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