Post By
Samarth Gara

Environmental Impact of Solar Power

March 8, 2021

The ever-growing popularity of solar energy is great when it comes to environmental sustainability. Our collective future hangs in the balance now more than ever and it is high time that harnessing renewable energy is realized to the best possible extent. Solar energy as a resource can be reliably used to fulfill our power requirements and more and more people have put their faith in it and are now reaping the benefits. However, the joy of using solar energy is two-fold. Not only does it let you manage your energy bills better, it also helps you reduce your carbon footprint.

Ever since it was discovered that solar energy could be stored and collected, the energy source has seen rapid growth in various parts of the world. We might even entertain the possibility that someday, all conventional sources of energy would eventually be replaced with solar and renewable energy. In this article today we will try and assess the environmental impact of solar power. We will speak about different ways in which solar energy is better for the natural environment as compared to the traditional conventional sources of energy. Apart from this, we will also discuss some of the costs and negative trade-offs that are associated with potentially higher levels of solar energy usage. 

The potential environmental impact of solar energy usage on a large scale can be divided into various subcategories such as land use impacts, ecological impacts, impacts to water, air and soil as well as its impact on society and economy. It's also important to mention that these impact assessments can vary depending upon the types of technology used by different solar energy systems. 

Ecological impacts including land usage 

Land is a very important factor if we are to produce large-scale solar energy that can be a genuine replacement for electricity. Such a solar energy system would require a lot of land for production as well as the collection of energy. As a result of this, there can be genuine ecological fallouts with regard to the ecological balance in different areas. The effect on flora and fauna could also be significant and these factors should be thought of prior to establishing a massive elaborate solar energy grid that can fulfill the needs of numerous households in a particular area. Special attention should be paid to the wilderness or recreational zones or parks while setting up solar energy grids. 

Another aspect that should be carefully considered is that the local ecological balance could also get altered as a result of activities such as exploration, extraction, manufacturing, and disposal of manufacturing and settlement processes. This could lead to significantly high energy footprints. Effective evaluation should be undertaken prior to planning procedures for the solar energy grid. There might be areas where the damage can be mitigated through careful and dedicated usage of the right inputs, time, and effort. However, there might also be other areas where the balance is delicate that once it is disturbed, it can never be restored.

Impact on Soil 

Any moderate to large scale construction of solar energy grids require a great deal of cleaning and grading of the soil. This results in the compaction of soil over time and also leads to alteration of traditional natural drainage channels which could cause issues related to the flow of water from local streams and water bodies. With higher levels of construction comes a higher risk of soil erosion which has a number of different adverse consequences for the region and its biodiversity. 

Impact on Water 

Often, large-scale solar energy projects require central tower systems. Each of these towers needs to be maintained and they consume a lot of water in order to remain cool. This is a serious concern in arid settings and should be adequately investigated before any major solar project. Apart from that, keep in mind that higher water demand is a strain on the ecological balance in any environment.

 Along with this, there are also factors such as chemical spillages which need to be considered. Chemical spillages often result in groundwater contamination that could take years to reverse and this could create major problems for not only the local human population but also the flora and fauna. 

Impact on Air 

Any kind of large-scale industrial facility will always cause certain environmental issues for the air in and around the area, including solar energy installations. Hazards to air quality can be because of different reasons and adequate safeguards should be put in place to combat these issues. For instance, one of the biggest issues surrounding solar installations involves the release of pathogens that are carried by the soil. This eventually results in increased levels of suspended particulate matter and this could also have an effect on contamination of reservoirs. 

Heavy Metal Contamination 

A lot of people have reported on the adverse effects of contamination as a result of the residue and excesses of heavy metals used in solar power installation areas. Some heavy metals pose contamination risks to the various biological and ecological balance in open areas. 

Metals such as Cadmium Telluride are notorious for causing minor to significant damages to ecological diversity. It is important to mention, however, that similar contamination occurs on a much larger scale in the case of coal and other industrial power plants which are engaged in manufacturing traditional metals and energy sources. According to some estimates, coal plant installations cause up to 300 times more pollution as compared to solar power installations. 

Other impacts 

Besides the ones we have already mentioned, solar power installations could also have other social and economic impacts. Things such as the construction of the facility would result in the creation of jobs of various kinds and this could bring positive change. 

Apart from the income drawn as wages and salaries, there would also be a requirement for specialized services and maintenance work for the construction and daily operations of the project. 

. The construction of large-scale facilities creates a demand for migration of workers to the specified area and this affects things such as housing, public expenditures as well local government involvement. 

Recycling Solar Panels 

At this point in time, solar panels do not have a great deal of recyclability. This is because there aren’t enough locations to carry out the recycling and it's not economically viable to recycle panels. . 

This is rather unfortunate as solar panels often contain a lot of precious metals such as silver, tellurium, and indium. All of these metals suffer from varying degrees of scarcity and there is a lot of scope to recycle them for future use. There is a lack of awareness when it comes to the recycling potential of solar panels and this needs to change. 

Conclusion 

In this article today we tried to give you a comprehensive picture of the environmental impact of solar panel installations. We started off with a brief intro where we discussed the ever-growing popularity of solar panels and the numerous benefits it provides. Then we moved on to detailed explanations about the different kinds of impacts on the natural environment that could occur..  We advocate for increased recycling as the way forward to tackle these detrimental impacts and we hope you found this information useful. Until next time!

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