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Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy

By Andy Kirmayer, eHow Contributor

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Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy Solar energy is the most abundant and most efficient of all the potential power sources. It can be applied to many applications and, given its quantity, has the potential to substitute all other forms of energy production. Solar energy can be derived from photovoltaic panels or solar thermal collectors, which can be placed anywhere there is sunlight. Technologies are constantly being developed to make harvesting energy from the sun more practical.

1. Effects

Using solar energy conserves natural resources, results in less pollution in the atmosphere caused by particulates, and reduces waste caused by coal burning from mining, transport and plant operations.


Solar energy is not only more efficient than other ways to create energy but is available anywhere in the world where the sun shines.


Since solar energy is so efficient, solar plants don't have to be as large as wind farms, for example, and solar panels can even be placed on rooftops to power individual buildings.


The amount of solar energy that hits Earth in a year is so huge that it is equal to twice the energy that all coal, oil, natural gas and other resources can ever generate.


Homes using solar technology for cooling, heating, and ventilation can save 50 percent of their energy use. In addition, solar systems can be developed for cooking, create process heat for factories and to distill water.

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Solar Energy Development Environmental Considerations

Utility-scale solar energy environmental considerations include land disturbance/land use impacts, visual impacts, impacts associated with hazardous materials, and potential impacts on water and other resources, depending on the solar technology employed. Solar power plants reduce the environmental impacts of combustion used in fossil fuel power generation such as green house gas and other air pollution emissions. However, concerns have been raised over land disturbance, visual impacts, and the use of potentially hazardous materials in some systems. These and other concerns associated with solar energy development are discussed below, and will be addressed in the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS.

Land Disturbance/Land Use Impacts

All utility-scale solar energy facilities require relatively large areas for solar radiation collection when used to generate electricity at a commercial scale, and the large arrays of solar collectors may interfere with natural sunlight, rainfall, and drainage, which could have a variety of effects on plants and animals. Solar arrays may also create avian perching opportunities that could affect both bird and prey populations. Land disturbance could also affect archeological resources. Solar facilities may interfere with existing land uses, such as grazing. Proper siting decisions can help to avoid land disturbance and land use impacts.

Visual Impacts
Because they are generally large facilities with numerous highly geometric and sometimes highly reflective surfaces, solar energy facilities may create visual impacts; however, being visible is

not necessarily the same as being intrusive. Aesthetic issues are by their nature highly subjective. Proper siting decisions can help to avoid aesthetic impacts to the landscape.

Hazardous Materials
Photovoltaic panels may contain hazardous materials, and although they are sealed under normal operating conditions, there is the potential for environmental contamination if they were damaged or improperly disposed upon decommissioning. Concentrating solar power systems may employ liquids such as oils or molten salts that may be hazardous, and present spill risks. In addition, various fluids are commonly used in most industrial facilities, such as hydraulic fluids, coolants, and lubricants. These fluids may in some cases be hazardous, and present a spill-related risk. Proper planning and good maintenance practices can be used to minimize impacts from hazardous materials.

Impacts to Water Resources

Parabolic trough and central tower systems typically use conventional steam plants to generate electricity, which commonly consume water for cooling. In arid settings, the increased water demand could strain available water resources. If the cooling water was contaminated through an accident, pollution of water resources could occur, although the risk would be minimized by good operating practices.

Other Concerns
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems could potentially cause interference with aircraft operations if reflected light beams become misdirected into aircraft pathways. Operation of solar energy facilities, and especially concentrating solar power facilities involves high temperatures that may pose an environmental or safety risk. Like all electrical generating facilities, solar facilities produce electric and magnetic fields. Construction and decommissioning of utility-scale solar energy facilities would involve a variety of possible impacts normally encountered in construction/decommissioning of large-scale industrial facilities. If new electric transmission lines or related facilities were needed to service a new solar energy development, construction, operation, and decommissioning of the transmission facilities could also cause a variety of environmental impacts.