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Solar Energy Versus Nuclear Energy Engineering Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The sun has been around since the beginning of time but only recently has it been used as a source of renewable energy. Approximately 120000 TW of solar energy is absorbed by the Earth’s surface which is equal to 10000 times the total global demand for energy. Only 0.1% of this energy would be required to satisfy the world’s present consumption of fuels.[1] Break down of solar energy[2]

There are three main ways to harness the suns energy. These include solar cells which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar water heating where heat from the sun is used to heat water inside panels on roof tops. And lastly solar furnaces that make use of mirrors to concentrate the suns energy into a small space to produce high temperatures.

There are close to 440 nuclear power plants in the world today which supply 16% of the world’s energy demand, however only 1% is useable energy with the rest being nuclear waste. If 1% of the area where there is recoverable energy utilised solar energy devices all the world’s energy needs could be met with solar energy alone. If 10% of the area were to be utilised then in two years the electricity produced would be equal to all known reserves of fossil fuels.[1]

Cost problems with solar energy are the high capital costs involved in the installation of solar panels which can be very expensive. The need to store energy because of solar availability due to factors such as time of day and weather conditions is also costly. Countries at higher altitudes with daily cloud cover will have an economic disadvantage due to long distance transfer of energy. Maintenance of panels also has to be considered. Nuclear energy is presently cheaper than solar power however the construction of the facilities and the disposal of radioactive waste is costly and can affect the environment.[3]

Solar power is relatively safe to use as long as you do not look directly into the sun’s rays or come into contact with hot solar panels. In the case of nuclear power it is also safe to use as the nuclear reactors are equipped with redundant systems to make sure there is no nuclear meltdown. This makes it a very stable energy source. Nuclear energy starts to get more dangerous in the form of spent fuel rods and radioactive waste. Even though nuclear energy is reliable and stable as a whole, when something does go wrong it can become very serious and very dangerous.

Solar energy does not have any form of waste as replaced panels and components can be reused or recycled. Nuclear energy has two types of waste products, the spent fuel rods which if not stored properly in pools of water to cool down could become very unstable. The other form is radioactive gasses and other waste products that if released into the atmosphere can pose various risks.

Solar energy produces no waste or pollution. Waste from nuclear power must be sealed and stored underground for long periods of time. This waste must be kept safe from external factors and from human contact in order to prevent a threat.

Such a threat is currently under way at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan where a pool of spent fuel rods caught fire this year.

Solar power is a renewable power source therefore it is environmentally friendly. It is silent and requires no fuel therefore there is no pollution. It even decreases the amount of harmful green house gasses. Although there are many advantages to solar energy there is still the fact that a large amount of panels is required to produce the needed electricity. This becomes very costly. It is reliable and has no risks that are associated with nuclear energy. Nuclear energy on the other hand is not a renewable source and if not handled in the correct way could impact the environment in a negative way. Even though it does not contribute to global warming like other fossil fuels, the waste gasses it does produce could potentially cause radioactive sicknesses and cancer in humans and other life forms.

Advantages

Solar Energy

Nuclear Energy

Renewable energy source

Does not emit green house gasses

Has no volatile waste

Plenty of resources available

Once panels are in place the energy is free

Cheaper than solar power

Disadvantages

Solar Energy

Nuclear Energy

Does not work at night

Radioactive waste

Currently very expensive

Long-term storage required for waste products

Requires big fields in order to harvest a suitable amount of energy

Some reactors produce plutonium which can be used to make nuclear weapons

All around the world we require every energy source that we can get including nuclear. All energy sources have both pros and cons. Even though nuclear energy is portrayed as an unstable source of energy it is in fact one of the most reliable and stable types in the world today. The downside is in its waste that if treated incorrectly could land in the hands of terrorists. In the next 20 years there will be emerging economies throughout the globe that will require low cost, environmentally friendly alternative energy sources and Nuclear power is expected to satisfy this demand.

[1] Botkin,B.&Keller,E.A.2001.Enviromental Science:Earth as a living planet.4th ed.Santa Barbara:John Wiley and Sons.

[2] Breakdown_of_the_incoming_solar_energy.[Online].Available: ‎http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Breakdown_of_the_incoming_solar_energy.svg[2011,March 23]

[3] Solar Energy.[Online].Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_energy[2011,March 23]


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