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Around the world, everyone seems to have green on their minds. However, this isnt green as in money, this green deals with the green movement. The green movement was started by environmentalists, whose goal it was to make known we are damaging our earth and that we need to make changes to save it. The main focus of the green movement is to create alternative energy sources for the world to use instead of depleting our fossil fuel energy resources. With fossil fuels being non-renewable resources, we all must recognize the energy problem and work towards other options.
Eric McLamb, in his online article on energy’s future today, states non-renewable fossil fuels were “formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and became buried way underneath the Earth’s surface where their remains collectively transformed into the combustible materials we use for fuel.” (McLamb, 1) Without our supply of fossil fuels, society would fail to exist as it does today. Our most common fossil fuels today are oil, coal and natural gas, giving us our heat and electricity. Eric McLamb continued on to state, “This means that fossil fuels, along with nuclear energy-a controversial, nonrenewable energy source- are supplying 93% of the world’s energy resources.” (McLamb, 1)
We obtain most of our fossil fuels through a mining process. During the various mining processes, the surrounding environment can be highly damaged. Numerous oil spills have occurring while mining, damaging large areas of our ocean ecosystems. In addition to damaging water, the mining of coal strips enormous pieces of land, destroying our land ecosystems. Our ecosystems are being destroyed, as well as our atmosphere. When burned, fossil fuels release large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide in turn contributes greatly towards our planets global warming epidemic, which then creates other issues. With global warming causing temperatures to rise, ice in places such as Antarctica, is melting causing ocean water to rise and negatively impact its surrounding ecosystems and other bodies of water. “Rising sea levels alone can impede processes ranging from settlement, agriculture and fishing both commercially and recreationally. Air pollution is also a direct result of the use of fossil fuels, resulting in smog and the degradation of human health and plant growth.” (McLamb, 1)
“By the year 2020, world energy consumption is projected to increase by 50%… If the global consumption of renewable energy sources remains constant, the world’s available fossil fuel reserves will be consumed in 104 years or in the 22nd century.”(McLamb, 1) With our non-renewable resources depleting and our population continually growing, the need for other energy sources will not be decreasing anywhere in the near future. The energy sources being considered today center around natural elements; wind, solar, and water energy sources. All of these sources are efficient, renewable, and healthy for our environment. For the purpose of this essay, I chose to focus strictly on solar energy. More specifically, I chose to focus on the benefits and detriments of solar energy on the U.S environmentally. I strongly believe that the U.S. needs to make the switch to solar energy and would environmentally benefit from doing so.
Solar energy is radiant energy from the sun, which is then harnessed and used to produce electricity. Solar energy began in the 7th century, using glass and the sun to make fire. Through the years the need for solar energy has increased and is used today to heat rooms, heat water, and generate electricity. In order to heat rooms and water, the radiant energy from the sun’s rays must be captured. It is difficult to capture rays because they are so spread out, the concentrations very dramatically. NEED, The National Energy Education Development Program, shares about how much solar energy that is available depends on “the time of day, the season of the year, and the clearness or cloudiness of the sky.” (Solar, 40) Once the energy is caught, it needs to be transformed into usable energy.
The main processes to transform the rays into energy are photovoltaic, solar power towers or by burning biomass. Photovoltaic cells are the most common and efficient way to convert solar energy. An enthusiast, Marissa Schiff, states in her article ‘Why the U.S. Should Rely More Heavily Upon Solar Energy’, “The photovoltaic effect occurs when sunlight is absorbed by the cells that are similar to computer chips. The solar energy in this instance gets the electrons moving by separating them from their atoms which allows the electrons to move through the material and thus creates electricity.”(Schiff, 2) Silicon is the most common material used in photovoltaic cells and they are most efficiently used in rural settings.
Another way to convert solar into energy is through solar power towers, also known as central receivers. Schiff continues on to address solar power towers that “generate energy from sunlight because they concentrate solar energy onto a tower which has a receiver on the top that converts energy and creates steam.” (Schiff, 2) Solar power towers are ideally for more populated areas, such as large cities. Lastly, a common way to convert the harnessed energy is through the burning of biomass. Schiff states, “the biomass produces usable energy because it contains energy stored from the sun through the process of photosynthesis.” (Schiff, 2) The burning of the biomass releases heat, which in turn can heat up buildings and can be used to create steam to generate electricity.
When speaking of solar power, people tend to think of the positive effects it has on our environment. However, there are many detriments when it comes to the existence of many solar power plants. For example, the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement website states, “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 Energy, 1) The loss of land could damage many animals’ habitats, as well as stop current land use. For example, the land may currently be used for the grazing of sheep or even an archeological site. Also, most solar power plants would chose to use photovoltaic cell panels to capture the sun’s rays. These photovoltaic panels, although they have a coating on them, could be damaged and release harmful chemicals into our environment. As the Solar Energy Development PEIS points out, “concentrating solar power systems may employ liquids such as oils or molten salts that may be hazardous and present spill risks.” (Solar Energy, 1)
In addition to damaging the land, the water sources surrounding the solar power plant may be damaged. Many solar power plants use turbines to generate the electricity after captured by the panels. These turbines use water for cooling purposes. As many solar power plants would be located in arid, hot climates, the water sources would already be limited. If a solar plant was to be built in such a place, there would be an increased strain on the water reserves. Another thought is if the water was contaminated accidently while cooling in the turbine, it could contaminate the entire water supply. Overall solar power plants could possibly cause a lot of damage to our environment. They are massive facilities that would have to be treated much like that of a construction site, with extreme caution.
Although there are several possible detriments to our environment, if we choose to convert to solar our environment would be greatly saved. Solar energy, along with all renewable resources, does not pollute our air and is quiet efficient. Solar energy would reduce global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions because it doesn’t emit any at all. Solar energy also does not release nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide into our atmosphere, which would reduce smog and acid rain. (Schiff, 1) Also, as previously addressed, we must make the switch to solar energy in order to conserve our remaining fossil fuels so that we don’t run out within the next 104 years as proposed.
Fossil fuels must be mined; solar on the other hand does not. Solar would reduce the waste that occurs through these mining processes that negatively effects our environment, such as dust, drainage and emissions. Finally, the efficiency of fossil fuels for electricity is relatively low. McLamb states, “When you burn these fossil fuels to create electricity, we only convert about 35% of the energy produced into electricity; the other 65% is lost mostly in heat.” (McLamb, 1) As our fossil fuels are steadily depleting we need a reliable energy source with a higher efficiency. Although single solar cells have relatively low efficiency, when millions are combined to create an entire solar power system, the efficiency increases. Since the sun is everlasting, the efficiency isn’t as big of a deal as in the case of our fossil fuels.
As our fossil fuels continue to deplete, everyone from environmentalists to national oil companies, are recognizing the fact that we must decide on an alternative energy source for our nation. Through the evidence collected here, it is clear solar energy has its benefits and detriments, but it is understandably the best energy alternative. Although solar energy does present some detriments to our environment, they are only possibilities, not proven facts. The fact is that solar energy is dramatically better for our environment than today’s fossil fuels. Initially expensive, yet worthwhile in the long run, environmentally-friendly solar energy is the direction the U.S. should be heading.
MLA Works Cited
McLamb, Eric. “ecology.com | Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy.” The Ecology Global Network | Ecology News and Information for Residents of Planet Earth. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.
Schiff, Marissa , and Jason Vaupen. “Economic Benefits.” Why the U.S. Should Rely More Heavily Upon Solar Energy. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.
“Solar.” Solar at a Glance 2008. The NEED Project, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.
“Solar Energy Development Environmental Considerations.” Solar Energy Development PEIS Information Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.
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