The production of energy from the sun and wind is often held up as green energy because it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and prevents climate change. But, is it really as green as we think?
Many people support the use of solar and wind energy because they believe that it’s clean and green. But, what if I told you that the production of solar panels and wind turbines involved the burning of minerals?
Would you still consider it green?
Let’s take a closer look at the production of solar panels and wind turbines to see if they are truly greener than fossil fuels.
The Production Process Of Solar Panels And Wind Turbines
When you hear that solar power and wind power are green, what you probably think of is green energy. But, what is green energy?
You may be familiar with the term ‘green energy’ because of its use in government initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. In the UK, for example, under the Climate Change Act, producers of power from renewable sources must offer their energy in a green mode, which means that they must use energy more efficiently or produce less of it. So, in theory, producing more carbon-saving energy. But what does that actually mean?
Many people in the renewable energy industry will argue that producing energy from the sun and wind is inherently more sustainable than producing it from fossil fuels, because the sun and wind are always there and don’t run out. But is that true?
Let’s take a closer look at the production process of solar panels and wind turbines and the resources they require to complete it.
The Raw Materials Used
The production of solar panels begins with the mining of raw materials – typically silicon or copper – which are then processed into solar grade silicon (SGS) and copper sheets (CuS). It’s more environmentally friendly to extract these materials from recycling sources or ore mines, rather than from fossil fuels. However, there is still a small, yet significant, amount of carbon emissions during the production process. Between the burning of fossil fuels in the mines and the manufacturing of the solar panels, there is a total of around 5%.
The Processing Of The Raw Materials
After the extraction process, the next step is to process the raw materials into solar panels. This involves separating the silicon from the copper and forming each into their own sheets. The silicon is then cut into wafers and put through a series of chemical processes to turn it into SGS. The copper is then etched away to leave a silicon sheet with a smooth finish. This process is highly energy intensive and requires a lot of materials, machines, and steps. So it’s not exactly carbon-neutral. But, because it’s a closed-loop system, it prevents any further emissions.
The Manufacturing Process Of Solar Panels
Once the silicon and copper are ready, they are sent to the solar manufacturer’s factory for the final step of assembly. Here, the two sheets are put together and soldered to form large PV modules. Once the modules are complete, they are tested to determine their efficiency in converting light into electricity and are packaged for shipping to the end-user.
Why Do We Need To Look At The Process Rather Than Just The Output?
For as long as humans have been interested in generating energy from the wind and sun, people have been concerned about the impact of manufacturing on the environment. In today’s world, with limited energy resources and growing concerns about climate change, the need to reexamine our relationship with energy generation and consumption is more important than ever.
From the very beginning, when humans began harnessing the power of the wind and sun, people have been concerned about the impact of their technologies on the environment. Although we have made great strides in reducing the impact of traditional energy sources, such as fossil fuels, on the environment, there is still an immense amount of damage that they cause. Every year, millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted by the power plants that generate the electricity we use. These gases contribute to climate change and create a situation where nature is unable to sustain life as we know it. It’s not just about the electricity that we consume, it’s about the entire system – from extraction to use.
If we are to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and become energy self-sufficient, it’s important to understand the entire cycle of energy generation and consumption. While solar and wind power don’t cause as much damage as other traditional energy sources, they are still part of the problem, because the resources they require to be produced are not green by default. The closer we look at these sources, the less green we will see them. And the less green we see them, the more we realize their true impact on the environment. So rather than just looking at the output – in this case, electricity – it’s essential to examine the whole process, starting with mining, through to manufacturing, distribution, and use.
Looking For A Truly Green Energy Source?
If we want to find a truly green energy source, there are a number of steps we can take. First, we should look for sustainable sources of energy, which is why we focused on silicon and copper in the above example. These materials are not only reusable, but they’re also recyclable, so we limit the amount of waste created while still generating electricity. It’s also essential that the source is as close to carbon-free as possible, so that we don’t contribute to climate change.
If we really want to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and become energy self-sufficient, there is another source that we should consider – hydrogen. Hydrogen is an abundant and renewable energy source, which means that we never run out of it. The only by-product created during the generation of hydrogen is water, which is non-toxic and recyclable. The only carbon emitted during its creation comes from the atmospheric carbon absorbed by the water molecules while they are forming.
Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity in a variety of ways. The simplest and most popular method is to use hydrogen fuel cells to directly convert the hydrogen into electricity. Hydrogen fuel cells use an electrochemical reaction to create electricity through a device called a fuel-cell stack. These cells can be found in both reusable and disposable forms, so if you have a fuel-cell powered device, you don’t have to worry about disposing of it after use. The only by-product created during the operation of a fuel cell is water!
Hydrogen can also be used to fuel internal combustion engines, which produce more energy than they consume. These engines can be found in both cars and heavy equipment, such as trucks and construction machines. Simply put, if you have one, you don’t need another.
So, Is Solar And Wind Energy Always Green?
Many people support the use of solar and wind energy because they believe that it’s clean and green. But, does that mean it’s always green?
The short answer is no. Although, in general, solar and wind power is more sustainable than other conventional forms of energy generation, it’s still not entirely carbon-free. And that’s the problem. If you want to be able to say with certainty that your power generation is green, then you should look for sustainable sources of energy, such as hydrogen. And if you want to generate electricity without producing any waste, then you should look into sustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind. The resources involved in generating renewable energy sources are not completely recyclable, so there is still a small amount of waste produced. But, at least in theory, it prevents any further pollution and prevents climate change. So in that sense, it’s green.