Am I Actually Helping the Environment by Installing a Solar Power System?

Posted on January 31, 2019

Solar power systems don’t produce air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases. They create clean, pure energy from the sun. Using solar energy can have a positive, indirect effect on the environment when it replaces or reduces the use of other energy sources, such as fossil fuels, that have a negative impact on the environment.

Installing solar panels on your home helps combat greenhouse gas emissions as it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas. When fossil fuels are burned to produce electricity, they emit harmful gases that are the primary cause of air pollution and global climate change. Not only are fossil fuels bad for the environment, but they are also a finite resource. Energy from the sun is infinite and free.

Renewable energy also improves public health. Coal and natural gas plants produce air and water pollution that can be harmful to human health. But replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, such as solar power, can reduce premature mortality as well as overall health care costs.

Unlike fossil fuel production, which requires significant water resources, solar energy requires little to no water to operate. Solar energy also doesn’t pollute water resources, while fossil fuel production does.

Solar power continues to work during a drought or heat wave. Coal, natural gas and nuclear power use large amounts of water for cooling. During heat waves or severe droughts, electricity generation is at risk. But solar power systems don’t require water to generate electricity, and in fact continue to produce consistent power through a natural process called photovoltaics.

We also need to consider how much Greenhouse Gas is avoided by using solar power. The typical focus is on the most significant greenhouse gas from electricity generation which is Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

In Australia each kWh of electricity generated from conventional sources creates, on average, 1kg of CO2. According to the Australian Energy Market Commission, the average Australian home uses approximately 6,164kWh of electricity/ year thus creating 6.1 Tonne of CO2 each year.

The amount of CO2 avoided depends on the conventional electricity it replaces, and this varies by country and generation technology.

An average sized solar power system of 5kW will generate about 7300 kWh per year. Solar works out to about 50g of CO2 per kWh. This system will, therefore, prevent approx. 360 kgs of CO2 pollution from going into the atmosphere every year. That equates to the saving of 9,000 kgs, or 9 Tonne, of CO2 over the 25-year life of the solar module.

Yes, it’s true that making solar panels creates carbon dioxide, but over the life of a solar installation it produces on average 30 times less CO2 than coal power. While solar is 50g of CO2 per kWh, coal is 975g of CO2 per kWh, which is 20 times more!

If we look at the lifecycle energy cost, or how much energy it takes to create a solar panel from start to finish, the embodied energy is very low. Although this varies a little depending on the type of solar panel and the individual manufacturer, several studies have been conducted into the amount of embodied energy in different countries. The consensus is that the total amount of embodied energy will be recovered in the first 1-2 years of a solar panels working life, which is extremely low.

In principle, solar creates no CO2 or other emissions (other than during the manufacture and recycling of the product) and therefore is a renewable CO2-free form of energy generation.

Installing a solar power system is definitely helping the environment. Each household can help reduce the production of CO2 by an average of 6 tonnes/year. If everyone were to install a solar system, imagine the combined positive impact on the environment…