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Amine El Aymani

Professor Whittet
ENGW 3302
March 14, 2016

SOLAR ENERGY: In regards to the environment, are solar panels a good alternative to
traditional energy sources?
Widespread fossil fuel consumption in almost all human behavior has led the
world to problems like climate change, and ozone depletion. These drastic changes to the
world created hype around “going green”—or finding ways to use clean renewable
energy sources. The world does need to do some self-reflecting and rethinking on how to
best use energy sources. One of the popular alternative energy sources is solar energy.
Solar energy provides considerable environmental benefits compared to the
nonrenewable energy sources most of the world consumes. Many times, though, the
green movement focuses on the positive impacts on the environment, allowing for the
negative implications to be overlooked by industries, leading to the everyday consumer
thinking there are no consequences to the use of renewable energy. This paper will take a
look at the negative impacts solar energy has on the environment through its production,
operation and harm to endangered species. This paper will discuss whether solar panels
are a good alternative to traditional energy sources.

During operation, solar panel cells do not emit any toxins or greenhouse gases
into the environment, but during production and maintenance, the environment takes
some hits. Solar energy systems are forward thinking and environmental friendly, but the
energy needed for production is “still produced in conventional methods today”
(Gunerhan). Harmful chemicals are emitted as a by-product. An example of a component
of these cells is the battery. They are a nonrenewable, natural resource that has a short
lifespan and include elements like cadmium. Also during production, some toxic
substances are placed into the cell modules (squares on the solar panel made up of
smaller squares, the solar cell) Nothing happens to these toxins while they are inside the
modules, but there is a risk of releasing the chemicals into the soil and groundwater if a
fire breaks out (Gunerhan). A specific type of solar panels that is made of thin PV cells
uses chemicals like, gallium arsenide. If these chemicals are not disposed of properly
they have serious environmental and public health threats. There is also a risk of water
pollution through leaks that might occur. Moreover, the solar converters can reach a
temperature up to 200C, if there is a problem with the coolant. This creates a huge fire
risk. Humans are not perfect and we have to recognize the danger of these chemicals to
be able to dispose of them properly. Moreover, we could try to create an incentive to
these chemicals. Operational systems should be put into place in the case of an
emergency or find a nontoxic replacement for the substances inside the solar modules.

Solar panels are made of very precious materials, however, most of them are not
recycled. The lifespan of a solar photovoltaic panel is 20-30 years. Meaning that after 2030 years, a solar panel has to be discarded. Some solar farms have more than 120,000

solar panels. These solar panels are made of silver, tellurium and indium, which are very
rare and precious metals (GreenMatch). Most of these metals go to waste, because
recycling solar panels does really have any economical benefits. Coal and other natural
gases are still used because of their economic advantages, and by using solar panels, we
are trying to focus more on the environment than money. However by not recycling solar
panels, we are still affecting the environment and losing money. Recycling solar panels is
unheard of, and most of the used solar panels end up going to waste. As stated before,
solar panels have some toxins in them and by just throwing the panels away, we are
risking a leak of these toxins. The whole point of solar panels is to help create a cleaner
environment and by not recycling them, we are pursuing a counterproductive process.

Solar panels do not only use toxins but also they require a lot of energy for
manufacturing. While there are no greenhouse gases emitted by solar panels, there are
emissions associated with other stages of the solar life cycle. These include,
manufacturing, materials transportation, installation maintenance, decommissioning and
dismantlement( UscUSA). It is estimated that the life cycle emission for solar panels is
between 0.07 and 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of energy
produced (UscUSA). The life cycle emissions of solar panels are far less than the
lifecycle emissions of natural gas and coal. However, we should recognize that the life
cycle of a solar panel harm to the environment. Silicon is one the most important
materials used in the solar panels. To make a silicon based solar cell, a great amount of
energy is required. The source of the energy that is used to make a silicon based solar cell
is coal. The process of manufacturing solar panels emits greenhouse gases, thus harming

the environment. It is by recognizing that this problem exists, that we can try to find a
solution to solve it.

Solar farms have a huge environmental impact on the land they are placed on. The
more energy we need, the more solar panels we need to install. By doing this, we require
more and more land, thus affecting the natural ecosystems. The implementation of solar
panels on cultivable land can have severe effects on the land’s productive areas. This is
because solar farms cause the land around them to absorb more energy. This causes a
thermal imbalance which can also affect wildlife (Gunerhan). Because of this abnormal
amount of heat that is being soaked up in a concentrated area, the “topography” of the
land is affected because its ecosystems and the biodiversity within those ecosystems are
absorbing more energy than normal, thus affecting the land’s thermal balance
(Gunerhan). Additional heat might destroy a few species living in this kind of harsh

Solar farms have a significant effect on wildlife, specifically, birds. Over 233 dead
bird were recovered from three sites in California’s Riverside County (Scientific
American). The endangerment of these species is caused by the lake effect. The birds
mistakes the solar panels for a water body and they tend to head towards the solar panels.
Because of the concentrated beam of sunlight that is created by this solar panels, the birds
ignite midair and eventually crash into the ground. This phenomenon is so serious that
one bird species called the yellow-billed cuckoo will be added to the list of threatened
species by the federal government as result of the lake effect created by the solar panels.

An environmental group, called the Anderson’s group, threatened to sue the U.S
Department of the Interior, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S Bureau of Land
Management (ScientificAmerican). However, this did not solve anything, because all
they did was put nets to keep birds at bay. Clearly, this is not a solution that would
completely stop of birds bursting into fire in midair.

Contrary to the general consensus, solar energy also has a negative impact on the
environment, however it is one of the best alternatives to fossil fuels. These are one of the
most used energy source in the world. The United States gets 84% of its total energy from
oil and 79% of the greenhouse gases emitted in the United States in 2010 came from
fossil fuels (EESI). They provide a great amount of energy and are reliable however; they
are the most harmful source of energy. Fossil fuels generate 381,740,601 lbs of
greenhouse gases every year (EESI). The greenhouse gases include CO2, water vapor,
methane and others. These gases are emitted into the environment by the burning of fossil
fuels. They cause climate change, because they act as a greenhouse. They don’t stop solar
radiation from going into the planet, however, they stop the heat from leaving the planet.
This has severe consequences on the environment. It causes ocean levels to rise because
of the melting of ice in the Greenland and Antarctica. It also leads to changes in rainfall
which can affect water availability and agricultural productivity. Moreover, it can also
increase disease transmission because some diseases are regulated by climate. For
instance, the number of cases of malaria have sky rocketed in recent years. Mosquitoes
that carry malaria can only survive in temperatures between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius

(NCBI). With rising temperatures, mosquitoes are expected to live longer and populate
more. In 1988, Madagascar saw an epidemic where between 30,000 and 300,000 people
died as a result of Malaria. An increase of minimum temperature from 15.5 to 16.5
degrees Celsius from 1987 to 1988 resulted in 24 more cases per 1000 people (NCBI). It
is expected with rising temperatures, malaria would spread to countries and continents
where it never existed before (NCBI). It is clear that fossil fuels have several direct and
indirect effects on the environment. It thought to be the energy sources that harms the
environment the most.

Nuclear energy is also one of type of energy source that is still used today. It
generates energy without creating greenhouse gases. It is thought to be very effective and
efficient. While it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, it can still hinder the environment.
Nuclear waste is the most dangerous process of creating nuclear energy. Nuclear waste is
radioactive material that is supposed to be disposed of carefully, because it is very
harmful to humans, animals, plants, lands and water. It is usually disposed of in steel and
concrete containers, however, it continues to be harmful for thousands of years. There
were many cases where accidents did occur and towns were exposed to radiation. For
instance, in 2011, the Fukushima disaster occurred where an earthquake hit Japan causing
the destruction of some of the infrastructure of a nuclear power plant. This led to the
leakage of radioactive material in neighboring towns. 400,000 people were evacuated
from neighboring areas, however, 32 million people in Japan are still exposed to high
doses of radiation from the Fukushima disaster (GreenCross). To put this into
perspective, we should understand the risks of high doses of radiation. It can cause

genetic problems for humans, animals and plants. It can also lead to cancer growth in
both animals and humans. Radioactive materials can contaminate water, making it
undrinkable. The Fukushima disaster didn’t only affect Japan, but it also affected the
United States of America. A paper was released stating that there were 21% more cases
of congenital hypothyroidism (CH) and 27% more cases of borderline CH in children that
were born in California during the Fukushima disaster (Conserve Energy Future).
Congenital hypothyroidism is a disorder that affects growth in babies, it can affect heart
rate and it can generally affect the metabolism of a person (EndocrineWeb).

Both fossil fuels and nuclear power plants have risks that are nothing compared to
the risk of implementing solar panels. Solar farms are significantly easier to manage. In
the last 20-30 years, we have not seen a disaster resulted from solar panels as big as that
of fossil fuels or nuclear power. Solar panels can affect wildlife and cause some
environmental implications but considering the alternatives, they are the best choice.
There have been no recorded deaths as a result of solar energy or any sicknesses.
Currently, it seems to be the best choice for the survival of humanity. Fossil fuels are the
number one energy source in the world and are also the number contributor to climate
change. While nuclear power doesn’t cause climate change, it directly affects the
environment. Radiation alters the DNA of humans, animals and plants and it also causes
abnormal growths and it can also lead to cancer. Fossil fuels and nuclear power should be
replaced. We have been using fossil fuels for energy since the 1800s and using nuclear
power since 1945 (GreenCross). It is time to change to less harmful energy sources.

Solar energy is one of the most prominent energy sources. It provides renewable
energy, while causing less damage than traditional energy sources. However, we must
recognize that solar energy is not perfect. In order to gather the solar energy, one must
build a system to store and then transfer the energy in order for it to be used. Once these
systems are created and implemented, solar energy becomes a rather infinite energy
source, making it a perfect renewable resource for the growing world population. It is
also cheaper and does not produce any pollutants while it is running. There are several
complications that come with solar energy. Solar panels have serious effects on land,
wildlife and health. They require the use of toxins of maintenance and also require a lot
of energy to manufacture. Fossil fuels are used to manufacture solar panels because of the
large amount of energy is needed. While solar energy has some negative impacts on the
environment, it is nothing compared to the environmental impacts of fossil fuels and
nuclear power plants. These have severe environmental implications. Both affect the
environment and can be very dangerous for all living things. As humans, we keep trying
to find the best solution to a problem. Currently, solar panels, wind turbines and other
renewable sources of energy are the best solution to the problem of climate change. Even
though they hinder the environment, they don’t do it as much as fossil fuels and Nuclear
power plants.

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