Well, let’s look at how much water is contaminated when using solar energy. To be entirely straight forward and honest in this comparison, I do have to point something out. In the previous posts, I only looked at the production process of coal, oil and natural gas fossil fuels. I did not look at the environmental and health risks of actually using these fuels. For instance, if you were to sit in a car with it on while in a closed off room, allowing the gasses to fill the space, you would die. This seems an entirely accurate depiction of exactly how dangerous these gases are. They can cause death in people, so what are they doing to the environment around us?
Solar energy production produces no pollution. Solar panels produce no air, or water pollution. They are quiet, producing no noise pollution and they are mounted on the tops of homes, not taking up large amounts of space in someone’s yard or property. If there is any pollution, it is only by the way certain companies choose to make the solar panels and solar equipment. The problem with these companies that create solar panels, is that almost half of them are from China, where there are less regulations for employee work environments and waste removal.
Most solar panels are created using quartz. Rather than mining quartz, many times the crystals are created artificially then converted into metallurgical-grade silicon. This is done in a giant furnace which can take a fair bit of energy to keep hot. The emissions given off from this process, chemicals such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, can’t do too much hard to those working in this process or the local environment. The next step, however, which is taking the metallurgical-grade silicon and converting it over to polysilicon, is where the problems can arrive. Depending on regulations set by the government and company, the waste created by this will sometimes be dumped into the local environment. The thing is, this waster can actually be used to create more polysilicon and most manufacturers do in fact recycle it. There are some, however, that do not and elect to toss it out. They do this because the equipment needed to convert the waste into more polysilicon can cost tens of millions of dollars. Of course, the waste is only harmful if exposed to water…which covers over seventy percent of our planet and falls from the sky occasionally.
There have been a few companies in China that have been discovered to be involved in the process of just tossing out the waste rather than reusing it.
Of course, since the discovery of these actions by the companies involved, the situation is improving. After all, most of the time, people go solar not just because they want to save money, but also because it’s a safe alternative for the environment than traditional fossil fuels. These problems and worries are entirely capable of being erased in the future, as long as companies are willing to handle their waste and production of their product responsibly.
Of course, there are new developments in the production of solar panels every day. There is even a more recently developed thin-film solar cell technology, which is much safer for the environment and produces less waste.
While solar panel production isn’t entirely without it’s flaw, yet, everyday there are new developments and advances that make it easier and safer. If we look at how solar has developed in safety to the environment and those that are working with it in comparison to the oil, goal and gas industry, we’ll see that despite the drilling and mining industries being around for over a hundred years, they have made few advances in protection the environment with regards to the processes used to extract the fossil fuels. Solar, however, started out miles ahead of the competition and are currently working to create an even bigger distance between the two.
The biggest issues that the solar industry faces in regards to being completely green are, for the most part, choices made by those producing the panels themselves. Historically, many large companies have chosen to disregard environmental responsibility in favor of their bottom line, but the investors in solar are more concerned with the environmental impact and therefore are likely to have an effect on the companies creating the solar cells used to create solar panels.
Unlike coal, oil and gas, there may come a day when solar panels are entirely green, without any environmental hazards associated with their creation.
By LaVetta Cain,
West Virginia writer, Solar Sales Representative
So, in comparison to the types of mining, how does solar energy stack up in relation to how it effects the environment?