Solar Energy: How ‘Green’ is it as an Alternative Source of Power?

Published on March 11, 2016

Solar Energy in Van NuysHarnessing the power of the sun is one of the more viable forms of alternative energy presently, and its popularity is due to its ready availability to the general populace. While other alternative sources, such as natural gas, nuclear energy, and coal are viable on their own, solar power is arguably the most easily accessible and the safest.

But does being safe to use mean that solar energy is a truly green alternative to standard energy sources? One of the many counterarguments against solar power is that it’s not exactly as green as it is marketed, and may even be harmful to the environment.

Just how true are these claims?

Solar Energy and the Environment

On paper, solar power is the greenest form of energy simply because the sun is the most renewable source of energy there is. The lifespan of the sun is beyond reachable by any human lifetime, and it will take roughly five billion years before the sun ‘runs out’. This guarantees us a stable source of energy, for as long as no other astronomical event will affect the yellow dot in the sky (which is highly unlikely to begin with).

When it comes to actually constructing the photovoltaic system, though, the main argument against solar energy is that it requires expansive use of land in order to generate ample amount of electricity. To illustrate, it requires one square kilometer of solar panels to generate at least twenty to sixty megawatts of power. While one megawatt is enough to power over 1,000 homes, the argument also takes into account our increasing dependence on electricity.

This means that the average electrical consumption of a household can be more than one megawatt, if we postulate future electricity use as well as the demand of said devices in the future.

What this argument fails to understand, though, is that the need for land is not exactly specific to solar energy. Canopy Energy explains that traditional energy sources such as coal require just as much land per unit of energy. Coal, unlike solar power, isn’t renewable, and this means that land is also not reusable, especially when you factor in how debilitating strip mining is on the land.

Technology and Solar Energy

One other thing that sets solar power installations apart from its traditional and less environmentally friendly counterparts is that it’s on the good side of technology. Solar technology has advanced considerably from its rudimentary beginnings back in the mid-1900s. Apart from becoming even more attainable to everyday people, the technology behind it has advanced so much and its efficiency in generating electricity through a photovoltaic system is constantly improving.

The basic technology, or function, behind these systems remains the same as it was back in the beginning, but how much it generates is steadily increasing. Traditional methods of creating technology, such as coal, nuclear energy, and natural gas all require strip mining; apart from damaging the environment, the technology behind the process cannot go beyond what it can already do as it risks destroying an even larger portion of natural resources in the process.

This is not even mentioning carbon, sulfur, and nitrous oxide emissions, which traditional forms of generating electricity pump generously into the air. In contrast, solar energy has no such emissions at all since the conversion from solar energy to electricity doesn’t require any other material.

While the use of land is still a major concern presently when it comes to installing solar panels, the problem isn’t new to it. Additionally, with solar technology constantly marching forward, it’s highly probable that photovoltaic systems and their installations will evolve to use even less space, without sacrificing energy production. All these make solar energy, truly, the greener way to produce electricity.