Member of the Clean Energy Council:
CEC No: A9320629
ACT Licence No: 2011432
Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular as the world begins to take notice of the burgeoning carbon emission problems that come with burning fossil fuels. But why all the fuss?
Nay-sayers have become less and less vocal as solar energy’s popularity has grown increasingly unhindered. Below I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy.
The first and foremost advantage of solar energy is that it does not emit any green house gases.
Solar energy is produced by conducting the sun’s radiation – a process void of any smoke, gas, or other chemical by-product.
This is the main driving force behind all green energy technology, as nations attempt to meet climate change obligations in curbing emissions.
Italy’s Montalto di Castro solar park is a good example of solar’s contribution to curbing emissions. It avoids 20,000 tonnes per year of carbon emissions compared to fossil fuel energy production.
Another advantage of using solar energy is that beyond initial installation and maintenance, solar energy is one hundred percent free.
Solar doesn’t require expensive and ongoing raw materials like oil or coal, and requires significantly lower operational labor than conventional power production.
Lower costs are direct as well as indirect – less staff working at the power plant as the sun and the solar semi conductors do all the work, as well as no raw materials that have to be extracted, refined, and transported to the power plant.
Solar energy offers decentralization in most (sunny) locations, meaning self-reliant societies.
Oil, coal, and gas used to produce conventional electricity is often transported cross-country or internationally. This transportation has a myriad of additional costs, including monetary costs, pollution costs of transport, and roading wear and tear costs, all of which is avoided with solar.
Of course, decentralization has its limits as some locations get more sunlight than others.
Solar energy can be produced on or off the grid.
On grid means a house remains connected to the state electricity grid. Off grid has no connection to the electricity grid, so the house, business or whatever being powered is relying solely on the solar or solar-hybrid.
The ability to produce electricity off the grid is a major advantage of solar energy for people who live in isolated and rural areas. Power prices and the cost of installing power lines are often exorbitantly high in these places and many have frequent power-cuts.
Many city-dwellers are also choosing to go off the grid with their alternate energy as part of a self-reliant lifestyle.
A particularly relevant and advantageous feature of solar energy production is that it creates jobs.
The EIAA states that Europe’s solar industry has created 100,000 jobs so far.
Solar jobs come in many forms, from manufacturing, installing, monitoring and maintaining solar panels, to research and design, development, cultural integration, and policy jobs.
The book Natural Capitalism has a very appropriate view of the employment benefits of green design and a prudent approach to using resources.
The book proposes that while green technology and increased employment cost alot of money, much greater money can be saved through simple but drastically improved resource efficiency.
With solar energy currently contributing only an estimated 4% of the world’s electricity, and an economic-model where raw materials don’t have to be indefinitely purchased and transported, it’s reasonable so assume solar jobs are sustainable if the solar industry can survive the recession.
One of the biggest advantages of solar energy is the ability to avoid the politics and price volatility that is increasingly characterizing fossil fuel markets.
The sun is an unlimited commodity that can be adequately sourced from many locations, meaning solar avoids the price manipulations and politics that have more than doubled the price of many fossil fuels in the past decade.
While the price of fossil fuels have increased, the per watt price of solar energy production has more than halved in the past decade – and is set to become even cheaper in the near future as better technology and economies of scale take effect.
Furthermore, the ever-abundant nature of the sun’s energy would hint at a democratic and competitive energy market – where wars aren’t fought over oil fields and high-demand raw materials aren’t controlled by monopolies.
Of course, a new form of politics has emerged with regard to government incentives and the adoption of solar, however these politics are arguably incomparable to the fossil fuel status quo.
Because solar doesn’t rely on constantly mining raw materials, it doesn’t result in the destruction of forests and eco-systems that occurs with most fossil fuel operations.
Destruction can come in many forms, from destruction through accepted extraction methods, to more irresponsible practices in vulnerable areas, to accidents.
Major examples include Canada’s tar sands mining which involves the systematic destruction of the Boreal Forest (which accounts for 25% of the world’s intact forest land), and creates toxic by-product ponds large enough to see from space .
The Niger Delta is an example where excessive and irresponsible oil extraction practices have poisoned fishing deltas previously used by villagers as the main source of food and employment, creating extremely desperate poverty and essentially decimating villages .
A more widely known, but arguably lower human-cost incident is the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed 11 people and spilled 780 thousand cubic meters of crude oil into the sea.
An interesting glance at the situation caused by destructive fossil fuel company practices in the Niger Delta. Sweet Crudeis a good documentary if you want to learn more.
Solar technology is currently improving in leaps and bounds. Across the world, and particularly in Europe, savvy clean technology researchers are making enormous developments in solar technology.
What was expensive, bulky, and inefficient yesterday, is becoming cheaper, more accessible, and vastly more efficient each week.