The Environmental Impact Of Solar Energy Vs Fossil Fuels

Solar Energy Vs Fossil Fuels

The way we produce energy is changing, and our environment is one of the main motivations behind the shift. However, the general public is still unsure if switching to alternative energy sources like solar is the best choice, especially when fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are considered reliable and have powered human activities for decades. 

Solar energy and fossil fuels have distinct environmental impacts, and comparing them provides insights into their advantages and disadvantages to help you make an informed decision. Here’s a comparison of their environmental impacts:

Solar Energy Vs Fossil Fuels: Which One Is Better For the Environment?

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gases are those released into the atmosphere that have the potential to trap heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect and subsequent warming of the planet’s surface. The primary greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Fluorinated Gases. 

Solar EnergyFossil Fuels

Solar energy is considered a clean and renewable energy source, as solar panels generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases during operation. The manufacturing process of solar panels produces some emissions, but these are significantly lower than fossil fuel extraction and combustion.
Fossil fuels produce energy through combustion, which releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Methane and fluorinated gases are also detrimental byproducts of fossil fuel use.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is caused by natural processes and human activities, including industrial, agricultural, and residential. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) are among the primary air pollutants.

Solar EnergyFossil Fuels
Solar energy generation does not contribute to air pollution as solar panels produce no emissions during operation.Burning fossil fuels for energy production releases various air pollutants, including SO2, NOx, particulate matter, and even mercury. These pollutants can have severe health impacts and contribute to smog formation.

Water Usage

Indiscriminate water usage has various environmental impacts, including pollution, ecosystem disruption, habitat destruction, and altered hydrological cycles. 

Solar EnergyFossil Fuels
Solar panels generally do not require water for electricity generation, except when water is used for panel cleaning or cooling purposes. However, this water usage is minimal.Fossil fuel power plants often require substantial amounts of water for cooling and steam generation. Moreover, other water-intensive processes like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas and oil extraction also put additional strain on water resources. For example, a fracking operation in the Horn River Basin in British Columbia is reported to have used 15.8 million gallons of water.

The water used for fracking is mainly fresh water from surface and underground sources, which can lead to drinking water shortages in the surrounding regions.

Land and Habitat Impact

Human activities, such as agriculture, deforestation, urbanization, or mining, are the main causes of habitat destruction. Habitat destruction has far-reaching consequences for both the environment and the species and people that depend on these habitats, including loss of biodiversity, species extinction, and negative impacts on indigenous and local communities.

Solar EnergyFossil Fuels
Solar installations typically require land space, particularly for utility-scale projects. However, solar panels can be installed on various surfaces, including rooftops, without significant land disturbance. Proper planning can minimize habitat disruption and enable coexistence with agriculture and other activities.The extraction, transportation, and processing of fossil fuels can destroy habitat, especially in ecologically sensitive areas such as forests and wetlands. Oil spills and mining activities can have severe consequences for wildlife and ecosystems.

Solar Energy Helps Save the Planet 

Switching to solar has clear environmental benefits. The initial manufacturing impact is greatly offset by decades of clean energy production, and with the ongoing technological improvements, the overall sustainability of solar energy is constantly improving. 

If you’re ready to protect our planet for future generations, and lower your electricity bills at the same time, book a free, no-pressure consultation and start your solar energy journey.