Life Cycle: Environmental Impacts Of Solar Power

Drew Gartland
Life Cycle Environmental Impacts of Solar Power
Are you concerned about the future of the environment and the impact of your actions? If so, you need to do your part in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions. Solar energy offers two considerable environmental advantages in comparison to fossil fuels like coal, fuel oil, and natural gasses. The most obvious fact is that it is renewable and will never run out. The second is its effect on the environment. The life cycle of solar power differs greatly from fossil fuel, but when considering the entire life cycle each makes pollutants. Solar energy starts with the production, moves on to transportation, installation, operation, maintenance, and finally ends with the waste management.
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This is the most harmful part to the entire process of solar energy. Dustin Mulvaney, a science advisor to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, states potent gases and other harmful materials present a significant occupational risk in the factories during production. To start, silica is found in quartz or sand, which is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust. In order to extract these materials from the earth, fossil fuel is used. Once this is transported to the factory, again by using fossil fuel, the silica is then heated by more fossil fuel and made into multicrystalline or monocrystalline silicon. After several refining steps, this process eventually forms c-Si wafers. These wafers need to then be cut into usable sections. During this process, sizable amounts of silicon dust particles are released into the air and inhaled or washed away to pollute water when cleaning the final product. This poses a major health risk to the employees. Not only is this an environmental hazard, but also so is the potent greenhouse gas, sulfur hexafluoride, which is used to clean the machines after production. After this process, the polluted water and sludge is then transported from the factory to remote locations using trains or trucks fueled by fossil fuel (Dearen). In order for solar energy to produce less carbon footprints in the future, steps need to be made in the …show more content…
Solar powered photovoltaic (PV) panels collect solar energy. These panels consist of small cells that are wired together to form the module, and the modules are then wired together to form the panels. When a bunch of panels is located together, this is called an array (Davison). These arrays then absorb solar radiation and converts energy to electricity. During the collection of solar energy, no greenhouse gas emission is released. Solar energy releases no air pollution during its life span for the use of the energy as well. In contrast, coal is the number one source for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (Union of Concerned Scientists). During the burning of coal, four other major air pollutants are released together with a few smaller ones. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) releases during this process and is the leading cause of acid rain. It can also be absorbed into the bloodstream causing problems to humans. Another major pollutant is Nitrogen oxides (NOx) which cause smog. Particle matters also discharge causing asthma as well as mercury triggering brain damage and heart problems. Along with these major toxins are a few smaller concerns with arsenic, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and lead (Union of Concerned Scientist). On the other hand, the key problem with fuel oil is the amount of spills around the world and the amount that enters the oceans and other types of water. Not

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