The Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy
Solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular energy choice for home owners. The technology has become much more affordable and solar owners can benefit from reduced bills and financial incentives. While financial incentives are a large part in choosing to install solar, many people install solar panels for the environmental benefits. This blog will cover all the different environmental benefits of solar energy and cover why it is such an important technology for the future of our planet.
What types of energy are there?
Let’s start by having a look at solar’s competing energy sources. The UK's energy comes from 3 main types of energy: fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables. Within these, there are a number of different methods and energy sources.
A fossil fuel is a natural fuel (such as coal, gas or oil) that is formed from the combustible remains of living organisms. Over millions of years, the heat and pressure of the earth's crust turns the plant and animal remains into oil, coal or natural gas. Energy is then created when fossil fuels are burnt. Although fossil fuels are the most traditional and commonly used source of energy, there are many problems that come with this energy source.
First of all, fossil fuels are a finite resource and as the name suggests, they are very old. Much of the fuel that we use is dated back to over 100 million years ago and therefore cannot be replenished after they are used. This highlights the important issue that eventually we are going to run out of this resource. As world population increases, the rate of fossil fuel consumption is also going up, which only makes this issue more prominent. Due to the scarcity of this resource, it is becoming one of the most valuable commodities and this can give rise to conflict and price fluctuations.
Secondly, the process of getting energy from fossil fuels is combustion. Fossil fuels are predominantly made up of hydrocarbons which, when burnt, release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. This is dangerous for both air pollution and global warming.
Nuclear energy is the energy produced through the splitting of uranium atoms. This process is called nuclear fission. When the atoms are split, they release heat energy which is then used to heat water. The steam turns a turbine to generate electricity.
Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear energy does not release greenhouse emissions in the energy process. Despite this however, the process comes with large amounts of nuclear waste which is dangerous to both the environment and human health. The dangers of nuclear power were highlighted in the Chernobyl accident in 1986 where one of the nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl power station exploded. The destructive effects on both humans and ecology can still be seen today.
Additionally, nuclear power stations use vast amounts of water in the cooling process (nearly eight times as much as average natural gas plants).
Renewable energy can come from a number of different sources. It relates to the energy collected from renewable resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. Renewable energy harnesses various natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat to produce energy.
Energy Breakdown in the UK
If we look at these BEIS energy figures, we can see that the majority of the UK's electricity generation comes from gas. Renewables are a growing source of energy but are still largely dominated by other sources.
The Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy
1. Doesn’t Contribute to Global Warming
Burning fossil fuels emits a large number of pollutants that are harmful to the environment and public health. Carbon dioxide along with other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burnt. A build-up of these hydrocarbons causes a greenhouse effect where heat radiation from the sun is trapped in our atmosphere. Global warming is a serious problem and is contributing to extreme weather, droughts and flooding, rising sea levels and ocean pollution. As well as this, chemicals in the atmosphere are causing depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects earth from harmful UV rays and the more this gets destroyed the more dangerous it will be for human health and ecosystems.
The energy created from solar panels doesn’t release any form of gas or contribute to global warming. You can sit back and enjoy knowing that for every clean bit of energy you produce, you are offsetting the need for fossil fuels.
2. Reduces Air Pollution
The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas is a leading contributor to air pollution. As well as causing environmental problems, air pollution can cause many public health problems such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart disease and lung problems. Solar energy however, is a totally clean source of energy and does not produce any harmful gases. By installing solar panels, you are reducing the amount of pollutants in the air.
3. Reduces Water Usage and Pollution
Unlike traditional biomass or geothermal plants, which require immense amounts of water for the cooling process, solar panels do not need water to work. Nuclear and fossil fuel power plants require billions of gallons of water every day which puts strain on local water supplies. Solar also reduces the risk of water pollution, as only 60% of waste water from energy industries is treated.
4. There is an Infinite Supply of Solar Energy
Solar energy does not use up finite resources. The sun is the most abundant source of energy in our solar system and produces around 173,000 terawatts of energy every second! That is over 10,000 times more than the total global consumption. To contrast, fossil fuels are finite and this means that they will run out. As fossil fuels become more and more scarce, they will inevitably become more expensive and this can cause conflict over these natural resources.
5. Does Not Impact the Land or Wildlife Ecosystem
While large solar farms require a lot of land, domestic solar systems can go on your roof without taking up any extra space and without impacting the surrounding ecosystem.
6. Long Lasting Materials
Solar panels last for an exceptionally long time! They are the only energy source that have no moving parts and therefore mean that the technology is designed to last. Solar panels often last well beyond there 25 year warranties making them a great long term investment.
Converting to Solar Energy
If you are interested in protecting the environment and think solar energy might be for you, NES are here to help you find a solution to suit your needs and your budget. It may feel like a big step, but once you have installed solar you can sit back and enjoy knowing that you are actively protecting the environment as well as reaping the many other benefits of solar energy.
NES operate in Liverpool, Wirral, Cheshire and North Wales. If you want to find out more about solar energy, don't hesitate to get in touch we are happy to talk you through any questions you may have. Fill in our contact form or give us a call on 0151 372 0305!