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What Are the Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy?

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Author Image Written by Tamara Jude Updated 06/07/2024

Did you know the sun sends enough energy to Earth in a single hour to power the world for a year? Solar panels allow us to harness this free, renewable energy and create clean electricity.

Whether installing your own solar panels or opting into a community solar project, transitioning to solar energy can significantly reduce your electricity bills and your environmental impact. Using renewable energy to power your home contributes to cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, and improved water conservation. Our guide explores some of solar’s long-term environmental benefits and tips on boosting your system’s impact. 

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Environmental Benefits of Using Solar Energy

Relying on solar energy instead of fossil fuels helps reduce harmful pollutants and gases, preserve water, and protect the world’s ecosystems. We’ll examine these benefits below.

Boosts Energy Independence

The problem with relying on nonrenewable energy sources is that they’re finite. For example, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that we only have enough natural gas to last the next 86 years.

Solar energy, on the other hand, is an infinite resource. It’s also more reliable than nonrenewable power sources. Although many residential solar systems are tied to the power grid, your solar panels can still produce most of the energy needed to power your home. This gives you more independence from traditional energy sources.

QUICK Tip

To learn more about how solar power can eliminate your reliance on the grid, check out the video below. Home technology expert Ross Trethewey visits a home in South Carolina that’s comfortably and completely off the grid thanks to solar technology.

Lowers Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Over the years, greenhouse gas emissions have damaged the atmosphere by preventing some of the Earth’s heat from escaping. This trapped heat has caused global warming and unpredictable weather events. Unfortunately, the greenhouse gases produced by human activities have affected the world’s ecosystems and economies. 

Taking advantage of renewable resources, such as solar power, helps lower the harmful gases released into the atmosphere, reducing our Taking advantage of renewable resources, such as solar power, helps lower the harmful gases released into the atmosphere, reducing our carbon footprint. Although some greenhouse gases are released during the solar panel manufacturing process, solar energy production generates zero emissions. . Although some greenhouse gases are released during the solar panel manufacturing process, solar energy production generates zero emissions. 

You can incorporate solar thermal heating into your home for further emission reductions. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), using solar heating and cooling systems can cover about 80% of the energy needed for space and water heating. Solar heating can also improve your home’s energy efficiency, further reducing fossil fuel use.

Promotes Water Conservation

Hydropower, which uses the natural flow of moving water to generate electricity, has long been a dependable alternative energy option. However, it’s reliant on a finite resource. Some areas with limited water access can’t use hydro technology and must rely on fossil fuels.

Water also serves as a cooling component for some thermoelectric power plants. However, as the steam is released, it spreads water pollutants into the atmosphere. 

Solar energy requires little to no water usage, preserving that resource for other things. The solar cell manufacturing process does use some water, and homeowners may need to rinse their panels occasionally to clear away dust and debris. However, solar panels require considerably less water than traditional energy sources.

Reduces Air Pollution

According to the EIA, fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal accounted for 60% of electricity produced in the United States in 2022. These traditional energy sources release harmful pollutants, such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, that contaminate the air and impact our health. A 2021 study from Harvard University found that exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel pollution caused 8 million deaths in 2018 alone. 

Using solar power lowers pollution levels, which in turn leads to overall better air quality and improved health outcomes. Solar energy produces no carbon emissions, reducing smog, particulate matter, and other air pollutants. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that reducing air pollutants eliminates unnecessary health care costs and saves more than 25,000 lives. Using solar power lowers pollution levels, which in turn leads to overall better air quality and improved health outcomes. Solar energy produces no carbon emissions, reducing smog, particulate matter, and other air pollutants.

Preserves Land and Ecosystems

Traditional power sources require extensive land use and invasive extraction processes that disrupt the surrounding ecosystem. According to Appalachian Voices, coal mining has already destroyed over 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of headwater streams in America. The effect of oil spills on marine wildlife is well-documented, but drilling and fracking for oil or gas can cause significant habitat destruction and water contamination even if nothing goes awry.

Solar energy has a comparatively low impact on land and ecosystems. Large-scale solar farms can be strategically placed in already degraded areas like brownfields or former industrial zones, minimizing disruptions to untouched natural habitats. With careful planning, solar installations can coexist with agriculture and conservation efforts. Agrovoltaics combines solar panel arrays with pollinator-friendly ground cover, crop fields, or livestock grazing.


How To Improve Your System’s Environmental Benefits

Homeowners can take the following steps to improve their solar power system’s environmental benefits:

Add battery storage: Solar batteries store energy generated during the day for use overnight and during emergencies. Tapping into this stored energy helps reduce your grid-tied electricity use, boosting energy independence. 
Install electric vehicle charges: If you own an electric vehicle (EV), consider adding a home EV charger to work with your system. Solar-powered EV chargers help reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. 
Invest in energy efficiency upgrades: Making energy-efficient upgrades helps decrease your overall energy use. These upgrades include adding a smart thermostat, top quality replacement windows, and improving your home’s insulation. You can also incorporate more clean energy appliances, such as solar water heaters or space heaters. 
Optimize solar panel energy generation: A top solar installer can help you position your panels for maximum sun exposure. Any surrounding trees or objects that cover your solar panels will reduce their efficiency. Eliminate any nearby shading and remove debris from your panels’ surface.

Our Conclusion

Solar energy offers powerful benefits for both the environment and your budget. Investing in a home system will reduce your energy bills and contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Not sure if investing in solar is worth it? Start by researching the Not sure if solar is worth it? Start by researching the pros and cons of solar panels and how much they cost in your area. and how much they cost in your area. Explore quotes from leading solar companies to make an informed decision about transitioning to solar power.

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FAQ About the Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy

Is solar worth it for the environment?

Yes, solar is a worthwhile investment due to its environmental benefits. Solar energy decreases reliance on fossil fuels and promotes clean energy generation. Harnessing the sun’s power also helps to preserve natural resources, mitigate climate change, and create a healthier planet.

What are some disadvantages of solar power?

Some disadvantages of solar power are the high upfront cost and weather dependence. Solar panels are expensive, even with declining prices, and production will drop on cloudy days or at night.

How long does it take for solar panels to pay for themselves?

Solar panels take an average of six to 10 years to pay for themselves. This time frame, known as the solar panel payback period, may vary depending on your solar panel quality, financing option, and overall system costs. High-quality solar panels yield better savings than cheaper options, increasing your return on investment.  

Is solar energy 100% eco-friendly?

Although solar energy doesn’t create greenhouse gases, emissions, or pollutants, it’s not 100% eco-friendly. Solar panel manufacturing requires energy and resources that still impact the environment. However, solar energy is cleaner and more sustainable than traditional sources.

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