Solar Power vs Coal Power
Solar energy can be converted in two ways, by Photovoltaic or “solar cells” which change sunlight directly into electricity or by concentrating solar power plants which generate electricity by using heat from solar thermal collectors. Coal powered energy has played an important role in the advancement of civilization and will continue to be a major fuel source for at least the next quarter century. It is used primarly to produce electricty and heat through a dirty process which involves mining and combustion of the fuel. The two most common types of coal mining used today are surface mining and underground mining.In the long run, solar energy has greater potential than coal powered energy. Availability of fossil fuels is a considerable factor when dealing with various energy sources.
Coal is non-renewable and it is estimated that at least 40% of the world’s electricity comes from coal, and in 2005 Coal power produced 49. 7% of the United State’s electricity supply. The consumption of coal is expected to increase 71% between 2004 and 2030, highly motivated by developing countries that use coal to generate about 75% of their power.There are limited stocks of coal remaining, they will be entirely depleted this millennium if we continue to burn coal in the future at the same rate we are today. Solar energy, on the other hand requires the use of the sun which is renewable and will potentially never run out regardless of how much it is used. Therefore, solar energy seems to be the better choice. The cost of both solar and coal energy is a contentious topic.
Wether in the form of water heating solar panels or PV panels to generate electricity, the solar energy technology is relatively expensive compared to coal-fired plants.Electricity costs in the United States average 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. A currently inexpensive solar system running at an average of 30% peak capacity due to no sun at night or cloudiness which produces 3 kilowatts will cost $6,552. This system will take about 10 years before it costs less than paying for electricity which has been made from coal. However there are some cases where solar energy makes economic sense. Photovoltaics power remote data storage devices can be highly beneficial where electricity is not available such as poor developing countries.Countries such as Africa use inexpensive solar collection devices for cooking and heating water, special design of new houses and buildings can greatly reduce the cost since much of the house becomes an effective solar collector.
At the moment the price of coal is relatively cheap and stable due to easy access and an abundant amount that will last up to 250 years longer. Although solar energy is at disadvantage right now, the availability of “free” sunlight will continue to contribute to the development of new ideas that can make solar power more affordable in the future.The biggest concern associated with coal energy is the affect it has on the environment. It is a dirty fuel that pollutes the air, water and land. Burning coal releases harmful waste such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphuric acids, arsenic and ash. It also emits twice as much carbon dioxide when compared with natural gas to produce the same level of heat, which in return increases the level of harmful greenhouse gases let off into the earths atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for about 65% of the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Coal mining can also damage the landscape as it requires trees to be cut down, this can impact on wildlife as they have are being forced out of their natural habitat. Similarly, Cadmium, a type of conductor which is used to convert solar energy into electricity, is highly toxic and can build up in the environment even though it is used in small amounts. While coal is a huge contributing factor towards pollution, solar power produces almost no carbon emission or greenhouse gases.There is no oil being burnt nor does it produce toxic waste and its lack of moving parts reduces the chance of enviromental accidents drastically, the only possible pollution may result from the construction and transportation of its parts. The material used to make photovoltaic cells which contribute to most solar energy systems are usually made of silicon, one of the most common minerals found on Earth. This means that creating the components is extremely easy, it doesn’t require mining or drilling therefore limiting the negative environmental effects.Solar energy is shown to be the obvious choice when environmental factors come into discussion.
The large amount of land required for solar power plants causes a problem and is an important factor to be considered, especially where wildlife protection is a concern. Generating electricity from coal actually requires as much or more land per unit of energy delivered if the land used in mining is taken into account. It is estimated that as much as 6 million acres of solar thermal farms would be required to replace all coal fired power production in the USA (Energy Matters, 2010).However, the continuation of coal use would require 7 million acres over the next 60 years which is a significant 1 million more when compared to solar thermal farms which is obviously seen to be the better option. In conclusion, solar powered energy is much more suitable for long term use then coal powered energy, even though in short term it might cost more to develop. Coal is a non-renewable energy source so it isnt going to last forever, it’s negative effect on the environment is a serious issue and can not be ignored. Therefore we must consider the future and safety of our planet and continue to move towards solar power rather than coal.