• Solar power is the people and the environment at risk?

  • The energy and electricity derived from the sun is the cleanest type of power generation available to us. Emissions-free, it is also indefinitely renewable since the sun is bound to shine for a few billion years to come.

    Solar power currently accounts for a tiny fraction of power generation worldwide, or 0.05 per cent. A report by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association and Greenpeace claims that this figure could increase to 2.5 per cent by 2025 and 16 per cent in 2040.

    Harnessing the power of sunshine through panels (cells) does bring up environmental concerns due to the materials used in the manufacturing process. The production process makes use of materials such as hydrogen fluoride, sulphuric acid, nitric acid and sodium hydroxide.

    Manufacturers of solar parts need to include recycling into the lifecycle of the panels they make and put in place a good and efficient toxic waste disposal system. Solar power is the people and the environment at risk?

    Besides that, energy is required to manufacture solar components and it is quite likely the energy needed will come from fossil fuels that generate emissions. Fortunately, the energy balance is favourable to solar applications and the tendency is that it will only get better as more efficient and cost effective systems are developed and applied.

    Most photovoltaic cells are made of silicon, which is quite inert but could be hazardous to workers when they are exposed to it in dust form. With the development of thin-film solar panels, cadmium telluride has become increasingly popular. In Europe, cadmium is banned for use in electronics but the European Commission made an exception for use by renewable energy industries.

    The question is, therefore, one of risk management. In industrial societies we are constantly exposed to similar levels of hazard. That is why regulatory bodies introduce laws to keep any type of danger at a very low level. The solar industry is not different and if we consider the bigger risks associated with fossil fuels and coal, then solar wins out as far as human and environmental health are concerned.

    Besides toxic elements, land use is likely to attract its share of controversy when it comes to large solar installations in desert areas. In fact that is already happening as massive solar plants are being built on the Mojave Desert in California. Concerns have been raised regarding the displacement of wildlife and the large water demand by solar thermal plants. However, all these issues are even more pronounced with coal power plants. Besides, the future of solar is more likely to be based on small-scale power generation, on the roof top of homes and industrial buildings. As the technology develops, the structure of buildings can double as collectors, and no additional space will be necessary in these cases.

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    released by Energy RefugeAntonio Pasolini writes about alternative energy.
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