In an age where high-quality fossil fuels are continuing to become rarer and rarer, there is still a perpetual demand for these energy sources, and we are beginning to see an “energy crisis”. The world’s economic growth is contingent on the increasing use of energy sourced from hydrocarbon:
- Natural gas
These energy sources are being produced at an increasing rate, all for the health of the global economy. What’s important to understand is that these are non-renewable energy sources.
The “Low Hanging Fruit” Principle and Its Effects
It makes sense that when these energy sources are found in high quality, and in massive amounts, these are the first to be acquired. The consequence here is that once the materials have been collected from these areas, our efforts must then turn to lower quality fuels concentrated in areas that make them more difficult to acquire, and harder to produce. The process of extraction now comes with an increased impact on the environment.
Since 1964, it’s become harder and harder to locate easily accessible oil, and thus new technology has been developed to extract oil from difficult-to-access locations. This technology includes:
- Deepwater drilling
- Horizontal drilling
Oil must be extracted from evermore fragile environments, which is having an increased impact on various ecosystems, especially when accidents occur. Furthermore, this is coming with an increased production cost. In the year 2000, a barrel of oil cost around $20. Today, the cost has risen to $60 to $80 per barrel in order for the oil industry to have any incentive to find and produce oil.
Coal production has also been projected to soon peak and begin to decline, and new technological developments like hydraulic fracturing have been developed to collect natural gas, which comes with its own environmental costs, namely:
- The degradation of groundwater quality
- The degradation of surface water quality due to waste fluid disposal
- Seismicity resulting from waste fluids being injected into deep disposal wells
- Impacts on habitats and wildlife corridors
Additionally, the increasing scarcity of these resources foments international conflict, particularly in the case of gas and oil.
Solar Energy As A Viable Alternative To Fossil Fuel
In the past, solar power was regarded as a technology that just “wasn’t there yet”. However, over the years, the technology behind solar power has advanced to the point that it has become a valid option for many home and business owners. Solar energy is clean affordable, and sustainable. Many people switch to solar energy strictly for financial reasons, however, there are also many environmental benefits that should be considered as well.
The Reduction of Water Pollution
Coal and natural gas facilities use large amounts of water to fulfill certain cooling requirements. Solar panels require no water to keep them cool, instead relying entirely on glass casing sheets to limit heat and humidity. The photovoltaic (PV) cells don’t require any water for them to generate electricity to power your home.
The creation of solar panels does not contribute to water pollution, nor does it involve any competition with drinking systems or agriculture.
The Reduction Of Air Pollution
Traditional energy sources like fossil fuels produce methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which has a major impact on air quality. However, solar energy produces no greenhouse gasses at all. The switch to solar energy has been projected to offset around 16.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Independence From Finite Resources
Yes, technically the sun itself is a “finite resource”. In fact, the local star that provides roughly 173,000 terawatts of energy to us every second is “middle-aged”. That said, it will continue to provide us this energy for another five billion years. As far as humanity is concerned, we have an endless supply of sunlight at our disposal.
Conversely, fossil fuels are becoming more and more rare, and are entirely non-renewable.
How Solar Panels Work, And Why They Don’t Negatively Impact The Environment
In order to understand how solar panels work, let’s go over some basic physics.
- All material objects in nature are comprised of atoms.
- Atoms are comprised of a positively charged nucleus and surrounding negatively charged electrons.
- The nucleus and the electrons are bound together through the electromagnetic force.
- It is possible for one or more electrons to be forced from the atom, to move from one atom to another, or from an atom to a nearby positively charged substance.
- This flow of electrons is electricity (electrons flowing from one place to another).
Solar panels are made with photovoltaic (PV) cells that use sunlight to force electrons from atoms. Positive and negative charges in the solar panels are created which direct these free electrons along a certain path, creating an alternating current (AC). This electric current is then directed to a solar inverter, through which it is converted to direct current (DC). This direct current is used to power your home and all devices plugged into it.
As you can see in this process, there is no emission of harmful chemicals in the air and there is no use of water. The energy source from which your electricity is derived is the sun, which is renewable and (for all intents and purposes) endless in supply.
Given the remarkably clean way in which electricity is produced through solar power, it’s no wonder why so many people are turning to it as a viable alternative to fossil fuel.
The Financial Benefits Of Solar Power
As stated above, many people move to solar power through financial incentives alone, but it’s important to consider the environmental benefits of solar power, of which there are many. That said, the financial benefits shouldn’t be downplayed either. All over the world, people are switching to solar power in order to save money.
While the average cost per kilowatt hour is increasing at the same time fossil fuels are becoming rarer, solar energy is projected to go down in price. Those who make the switch to solar power see a dramatic reduction in their energy costs.
Most people who adopt solar power for their home or business do so while retaining some standard utilities, however, any energy from your utility agency that you don’t use is energy you don’t have to pay for. Furthermore, it is also possible to sell unused energy back to your utility agency, usually in the form of an energy credit. Those who use solar power can not only save money, they can make money as well!
There is also the Federal Solar Tax Credit, which allows you to deduct 30% of the total cost of installation.
Considering today’s energy crisis and the continual need to save money, it just makes sense to go solar.