As technology develops, humankind is seeing an increasing need for electricity.
The easiest method of generating electricity seems to be by using fossil fuels, as they are relatively inexpensive and dense in energy. Coal, natural gas, and oil account for 87.1% of total energy use in Canada, with oil accounting for 41.4%; natural gas, 36.5%; and coal, 9.
2% (Natural Resources Canada, 2016). Although they are widely used, the extraction process and the emissions of fossil fuels are both extremely destructive to the planet. When coal is mined, or when oil is drilled out of the earth, the ecosystems within the area are damaged and the minerals and metals that are dug up can contaminate the water, harming the plants and animals in their own habitats (Greenpeace International, 2016). The emissions that come from fossil fuels are also harmful to the environment because they can cause air pollution and global warming. When fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide is released, which is the greenhouse gas that is the largest contributor to global warming. Global warming can have devastating effects on the earth, such as rising sea levels, the melting of the polar ice caps, flooding, droughts, and various natural disasters (Bradford & Pappas, 2017). A seemingly easy solution to this problem would be to use an alternate source of energy, like renewable energy. Renewable energy, such as is energy that is generated from sources that are naturally restored faster than they can be consumed, such as solar energy (Natural Resources Canada, 2018).
Solar energy is better for the environment than fossil fuels are since it doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide emissions and the source will never run out because the energy from the sun is limitless. The problem with converting to solar energy is that in order to produce solar power, proper equipment, such as solar panels, is required, which would be built using non-renewable energy. This, combined with the high cost of solar panels, brings the question, is it worth it?Solar energy works by converting sunlight into electricity, which can be used in powering houses, businesses, or even transportation. To convert the energy of the sun into electricity, solar panels are needed, which are comprised of photovoltaic cells.
Multiple cells are connected to form a panel, and several panels are then typically connected to form an arrangement that would generate enough electricity to power infrastructure. These photovoltaic cells are composed of both a positive-type and a negative-type film of silicon. The negatively charged silicon is typically formed when phosphorus is added to the silicon, resulting in additional electrons and the positively charged silicon is formed with the addition of boron, resulting in fewer electrons (Dhar, 2017). Boron is used to form the positive-type side because it has one less electron in its outer shell than silicon does, so when the boron atoms bond with the silicon atoms, an electron vacancy is formed. Phosphorus is used for the negative-type side because it has one more electron in its outer shell, resulting in electrons that are free, because in every bond between the silicon atoms and the phosphorus atoms, one electron is not used.
The extra electrons in the negative-type side move into the vacancies on the positive-type side, causing the positive-type side to have negatively charged ions and the negative-type side to have positively charged ions. This creates an electric field at the junction between the layers of silicon (American Chemical Society, 2017). When the photons from the sunlight hit the silicon, the electrons are knocked off the silicon atoms, which are then pushed to conductors on the sides of the cell by the electric field. The conductors gather the electrons and transfer them to wires so that the electrons can flow. This electricity is direct current (DC) and must be converted into alternating current (AC) to be suitable to be used for houses or businesses by using an inverter (NW Wind and Solar, 2015).While solar panels are fairly expensive, the cost has been reduced in recent years, making it more affordable for the typical household. As of 2017, the average solar installation cost in the United States of America was $2.
80 per watt. This number has decreased dramatically since 2009, with a 60% decrease in cost for residential solar panels. Of this amount, approximately 32% of the cost comes from hardware costs, such as the photovoltaic cells and the inverter, and the other 68% represents the installation cost, including the labour and the profits. The total breakdown of costs includes a $0.
34 profit; overhead, $0.31; marketing, $0.34; permits, $0.10; installation labour, $0.30; equipment sales tax, $0.09; supply chain cost, $0.
42; electrical business operating system, $0.24; structural business operating system, $0.11; inverter, $0.19; module/cell, $0.35.
(Garneau, 2017). With an average total cost of $15,000 – $30,000, homeowners might be hesitant to convert to solar energy (Sunrun, 2018). This is why there are multiple federal incentive programs in the USA, including a federal solar tax credit. This program allows taxpayers to subtract 30% of the cost of installing a solar system from their federal taxes, as long as the system was installed between January 1st, 2006 and December 31st, 2019, after which, the credit will gradually reduce (U.
S. Department of Energy, 2017). Even though solar panel systems do not create any emissions while they are used, the manufacturing process of the system can negatively affect the environment. The first step in manufacturing a solar panel is gathering the silicon needed for the cells. Silicon is the primarily found in sand, but converting sand into silicon is an expensive and energy-demanding process. Once the silicon has been separated from the sand, it is melted into cylinders called ingots.
Once the ingots have been shaped and smoothed, they are cut into thin films called wafers, and an anti-reflective coating is applied to reduce the amount of sunlight that is lost by the reflectiveness of the original silicon. Metal conductors are then added to the wafers and boron and phosphorus are added to make the silicon either positive-type or negative-type. Multiple cells are then fused together and a layer of glass is attached (Greenmatch, 2017). During this process, both human health and environmental health can be compromised. Multiple hazardous materials are used, such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid, which are mostly used to clean the surface of the silicon, can pose a risk to the workers involved. The manufacturing process also involves water use and carbon dioxide emissions. Once the silicon has been melted and shaped, it needs to be cooled. Most solar thermal plants use a cooling system that requires between 600 and 650 gallons of water per megawatt hour of energy that is produced, but there is technology that can reduce the amount of water wasted.
Dry-cooling technology is able to lower the amount of water used at these plants by up to 90%, but since it is much more expensive and has a lower efficiency than traditional cooling systems, most solar thermal plants choose not to use it. There are also carbon dioxide emissions involved in the manufacturing process. These emissions come from the manufacturing itself, transportation, installation, and maintenance. Although the total emissions are much less than any fossil fuel, at an estimated 0.07 to 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour compared to natural gas’ 0.6 to 2.0 pounds per kWh and coal’s 1.
4 to 3.6 pounds per kWh, these emissions still have an impact on the environment and is worsening the global warming situation (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013).In conclusion, it is justified to use carbon-based energy to produce solar energy, which could solve the growing local and global problem of society’s increasing need for technology, because it will benefit society and the planet in the long run. Solar energy is a good solution to this problem, because while it does have its downfalls, such as being expensive and intermittent, as it relies on the weather to function, its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. Solar energy is mostly environmentally friendly and it is renewable, since the energy from the sun is unlimited. Although the manufacturing process of solar panels does produce carbon dioxide emissions, which is one of the largest contributors to global warming, the total emissions produced are much less than the total emissions produced in even the “cleanest” fossil fuel, natural gas. Once renewable energy becomes the norm in society, renewable energy can be used to manufacture more equipment to produce solar power, cutting down the carbon dioxide emissions and solving this problem. Solar energy is a renewable energy source that has many more long-term advantages than continuing with the use of fossil fuels.
By introducing solar power as the primary source of energy in the world, it could become the stepping stone in the international combat against global warming, which is why it is justified to initially use carbon-based energy to produce the equipment needed to generate solar energy.