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They are packed with insights regarding the science of each energy source and how it affects the environment and the economics of energy. One incredibly interesting section id dedicated to explaining why Solar is The One. Here is a summary from chapter 16 where Slayton details why solar photovoltaic (Solar PV) technology has come of age.
1. Solar PV does not contribute to global warming
Solar PV systems emit zero carbon dioxide during operation. Thus solar PV can shut down the primary driving force behind global warming and climate change. What about the energy used to make PV panels? If fossil fuels are used to make PV panels, those fuels will emit carbon dioxide. Studies have shown that it takes 2 to 2.5 years of operation for a crystalline silicon PV panel’s output to match the energy used to make the panel. With an estimated lifetime of 30 years, that means more than 90% of the energy produced by a PV panel is entirely free of pollution. If solar panels are manufactured using solar electricity, in a kind of PV “breeder” factory powered by PV, then the PV panels coming out of that factory are 100% carbon-free.
By eliminating carbon emissions, solar PV systems also do not contribute to ocean acidification. Since ocean acidification is a direct result of human carbon emissions, and since the emerging consequences of acidification are so drastic, this benefit of solar PV carries particular strength.
3. Solar PV does not pollute the air.
Solar PV systems emit zero air pollution during operation. Because they consume only pure light and no chemical fuel, they emit no hydrocarbons, ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, or sulfur oxides as fossil fuels do. Solar PV would also eliminate the airborne mercury emitted by coal power plants, as well as acid rain. Smog would also be greatly reduced since most of it comes from burning fossil fuels. Battery-electric vehicles recharged with solar PV would largely eliminate air pollution from the transportation sector.
4. Solar PV does not pollute the water.
Unlike fossil fuels, solar PV doesn’t contribute to water pollution. PV panels are sealed in glass, so rainwater never comes in contact with the active material. The only potential for water pollution can come during manufacturing of the panels. The semiconductor industry has proactively set its own water-quality standards to treat any water that is to be released. New companies that haven’t yet invested in on-site treatment ship the waste to a treatment facility. By displacing fossil fuels, solar electricity will eliminate water pollution routinely generated by oil, coal, and natural gas production.
5. Solar PV is safe.
A properly installed PV system poses no hazards to humans and other living things under normal operation. Certainly solar electricity can be dangerous if the system is damaged, so firefighters are updating their procedures to handle potentially live PV panels and high voltages. In contrast, the routine operation of every nuclear power plant reqires constant attention to safety protocols.
6. Solar PV does not produce radioactive waste.
The biggest safety issue of nuclear power has yet to be faced. Long-term storage of highly radioactive waste from the power plants has not even begun. The scientific and political problems of finding a site for a nuclear waste dump haven’t been solved despite 40 years of effort and expense. And once a dump accepts waste, it must be monitored for thousands of years to protect our descendants from exposure. Solar electricity would halt the growth of that stockpile and reduce the exposure of the population to radioactive transports and nuclear terrorists.
7. Solar PV is secure energy.
A transportation system based on solar-charged electric vehicles breaks our dependency on oil. Because the sun bathes every country in solar energy, all countries become solar “haves,” and can rely on a secure supply of energy. Another side of energy security is to protect energy infrastructure—power plants, transmission lines, and refineries—from natural disasters and terrorist attacks. A single attack that disables a large centralized power plant can put millions of people in the dark. The wide dispersal of solar PV systems makes them harder to target.
8. Solar PV saves oil for use as a raw material.
Oil is usually viewed as an energy source, but oil also serves as a raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics. About 16% of oil production goes to materials other than energy. If we burn all the oil for energy, then future generations will not have this valuable resource. How much we preserve will depend on how quickly we can transition from oil to solar-based energy systems.
9. Solar PV saves water for other uses.
Most people are surprised to learn how much water our current energy systems use. In coal and nuclear power plants, water is used for cooling. For a heat engine to continue to operate, its waste heat must be removed. Some power plants are sited so they can divert river or seawater through the plant to carry away the heat. In the U.S., 41% of all freshwater withdrawn from lakes and rivers is used for such energy cooling. By contrast, a solar PV system uses no water for its operation. Large PV farms use water to wash the collector surfaces to maximize output, but that process uses only 0.026 gallons per kilowatt-hour. With water stress growing in many parts of the world, energy systems like solar PV, which don’t compete for water, gain an advantage over those that do.
10. Solar PV is simple.
Though manufacturing solar PV panels employs complex technology, generating electricity with the panels is elegantly simple. You just mount a panel in a location exposed to regular sunshine, connect the wires to an inverter, and you have a useful source of electricity, which can make installing it a do-it-yourself project. For example, the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI) in New Hampshire organizes solar “barn raisings,” where neighbors and installers get together to install projects themselves. Solar’s simplicity also permits easier entry into the business. Becoming a professional solar PV installer requires a few months of on-the-job training, in contrast to the multi-year university degree required to become a nuclear engineer.
11. Solar PV is available to all.
The sun spreads solar energy over the entire face of the Earth. That means all countries have access to solar energy. Solar is an energy source for all humankind. Because energy is the basis of all economic activity, solar PV enables more people to engage in economic activity. Solar PV can also bring modern energy to the billion or so people in the world who don’t currently have access to electricity. A small PV system with battery energy storage can provide the first electricity service for village residents. Small amounts of electricity for lights and refrigeration can make a huge difference in their lives.