Is solar power worthwhile?
- Solar energy is considered the “most abundant energy resource on earth” as ”173,000 terawatts of solar energy strike the earth continuously.”
- How solar rays are turned into energy: Solar photovoltaic (PV) devices convert direct sunlight into energy as “most solar-thermal power systems use steam turbines to generate electricity.”
- In 2019, the US reported “more than 2,500 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generating facilities” were in use, generating 2.5% of utility-scale electric capacity and only 1.7% of annual electricity generation.
- The US Energy Information Administration describes American electricity as being produced by several sources: Renewables (wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal) amount for 20%, 1% is petroleum, 20% comes from nuclear, coal is 19%, and natural gas makes up the remaining 40%, with solar energy providing “about 2.3% of total US electricity in 2020.”
- Solar and wind energy production requires backup energy (usually from nuclear or fossil fuels) since solar and wind are both dilute (weak) and intermittent (unreliable) energy sources.
Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular, but there are challenges with using solar power as a main source of energy. First, and perhaps most apparent, it is dependent on sunlight and is thus not a reliable source since sunlight isn’t always available, for instance, during wintertime. Likewise, it is not as great for the environment as expected; Some new solar facilities are built on agricultural land, affecting livelihoods, culture, and sinking local food production. This land-use change can stir tensions in rural communities, as seen in Connecticut, where solar panels were taking up precious farmland. In the Mojave Desert, where the Colorado River Indian Tribes were protesting the development of utility-scale solar facilities, which they maintain will disturb archaeological sites and harm biodiversity.
The initial cost of purchasing a solar-based energy system is fairly high, making it inaccessible to low-income consumers. In Germany, a backlash against renewable energy grew in opposition to the high costs imposed on struggling citizens who remain dependent on utilities and the grid.
While solar generation is emissions-free, the construction process has notable adverse effects on the environment. The method of producing raw materials and establishing extensive solar panel facilities disturbs local ecosystems, increasing pollution and habitat loss.
For example, PV panels require rare materials, like silver, whose extraction is energy-intensive and polluting. In Ghanzou, China, 190 million tons of waste have been produced. Environmentalists say it will take 70 years to address because efforts to recycle inputs for solar thermal and PV solar facilities are still under-developed. As solar energy is being touted as a cleaner energy option, it is ironic it has become a 'cobra effect,' where the solution might be worse than the problem.
Not only is solar power worthwhile, but it is also a necessity. The way we utilize fossil fuels today is unsustainable. We can either stop using them gradually or be forced to stop suddenly. Fossil fuels are responsible for destroying wilderness and wildlife and the primary driver of climate change for the last 130 years.
While most of the capital gains from oil go to major corporations, the adverse health and environmental effects are most felt by people excluded from its profits. We do not pay the full cost of oil, as globally, oil and gas receive around $290 billion in government subsidies each year. And, this is not even considering the military expenses to defend oil infrastructure and the health costs to society. By purchasing oil from oppressive foreign governments, we are spending money that is against our national interest.
Each day, the sun provides more energy than the world uses in a year. By capturing that energy more effectively, we solve the environmental destruction, adverse health effects, and socioeconomic disparities of oil. We make our country stronger and safer by enriching ourselves with domestic and democratically available energy.
As the solar industry grows, it becomes more efficient and more affordable, making it more attractive as more people adopt it. This is the opposite economic effect of the oil industry, which will only get costlier as demand rises.
For more than a century, we have relied on a single energy source. Indeed, solar alone cannot replace oil. But, as part of a diverse portfolio of renewable energies that includes wind, hydroelectric, and nuclear, we can provide for all our energy needs now and forever.