Renewable Energy: is solar power the better option?

As the world continues to embrace greener power options, it is time to reflect upon solar power. For a long time, the world thought to embrace the benefits of the greatest power in our galaxy, and environmental activists fought for it. However, through trial and error, scientists discovered the many economic, political, and technical barriers standing between them and unleashing this fascinating, endless source of energy.

Requiring too much space

One of the barriers standing between the world and fulfilling their solar-powered needs is space. At the first glance, the problem may seem trivial. Citizens can simply install solar panels on the roofs in the case of residential purposes. However, the problem escalates in the case of large grid-scale solar installations that are needed to power factories and other power-hungry facilities. 

For example, if Japan or North Korea hopes to meet their 2025 resolution of being 80% electricity dependent on solar energy, they’ll have to dedicate 5% of their land to solar panels. 

“This huge demand for land will not help the renewable transition,” said Dirk-Jan Van de Ven of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3). “Land occupation usually has several negative side-effects, and the aesthetic impacts will be noticed by many, potentially affecting public support for such a transition,” he added.

The economic side of the equation

In the long run, experts believe that using solar panels can prove to be a quite beneficial investment. They can not only eliminate electricity bills, but they can also regenerate some extra income. Via net metering, citizens can sell their solar power excess without much trouble. On the other hand, the upfront cost of solar panels is rather high. 

The environmental direct impacts

Though one of the main reasons for converting to solar energy is to coexist in harmony with nature, solar energy can have direct and indirect negative impacts on the environment. Using the arable land as a location for solar panels, as well as the fragmentation of ecosystems, are both direct negative effects of implementing solar energy policies. Moreover, even though solar panels don’t generate carbon emissions, manufacturing them can cause some pollution. Some polar panels have harmful pollutants that are even more potent than CO2, such as sulfur hexafluoride. On the other hand, carbon dioxide emission is much more harmful to the climate than sulfur hexafluoride.

Indirect environmental impacts

 As for indirect effects, solar installations will cause the displacement of some activities into other biodiverse lands. The installation will set off a chain reaction that can reach rainforests and entire untouched ecosystems. For example, clearing lands containing institutions to construct solar parks will cause these institutions to agriculturally and economically transport into another area. This can increase the probability of deforestation as an indirect consequence.

“Relatively high crop productivities in the EU, Japan, and South Korea mean that the displacement of cropland from these regions to regions with lower crop productivities would indirectly increase global cropland cover, amplifying the impact of solar energy expansion in these regions on the global land competition by up to 22%,”  stated the European Union-funded LOCOMOTION project study. “For every 100 hectares of solar land in the EU, we find that, depending on the solar penetration level, 31 to 43 hectares of unmanaged forest may be cleared throughout all the world.”

Therefore, transforming lands can not only cause an irreversible biodiversity loss but can also emit unaccounted emissions. These emissions include both installation-related emissions and the re-installation of displaced activities in other lands.

“In the absence of land management practices specifically aiming at carbon sequestration, land cover change due to the expansion of solar energy in the EU would cause 13 to 53g of CO2 per produced kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, about 4% to 16% of the CO2 emissions from natural gas-fired electricity,” the study estimates.

Furthermore, it is important to note that such emissions are a lot lower than those emitted via the combustion of fossil fuels. However, these unaccounted data can affect the world’s ability to reduce carbon emissions.  

All in all, solar energy can provide a successful alternative to fossil fuels, but only if the world proceeds with caution. Most of the barriers standing in the way of achieving adequate solar electricity can be removed in the case of creating and following a thorough plan that accounts for all possible variables. 

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