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Contribution of Solar Energy to the Reduction of Air Pollution


Contribution of Solar Energy to the Reduction of Air Pollution

Air pollution in Germany has various causes, generally stemming from emissions in industry, private households, power plants, the burning of biomass in forests and fields, and other sources. One major contributor to air pollution is the use of gas and coal power plants that rely on fossil fuels. To counteract this, it is necessary to harness energy from renewable sources, such as the sun. Solar energy is widely recognized as an effective means to replace fossil fuel power plants. While it requires efficient battery storage, given the rapid developments in both markets and state support for renewable energy projects, a successful energy transition is likely only a matter of time.

How Solar Energy Helps Reduce Emissions: An Overview

In essence, every kilowatt-hour generated through solar energy prevents a kilowatt-hour from fossil fuel power plants. It's a simple principle: coal and natural gas emit carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur oxides (SOx), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) during combustion. These pollutants remain in the environment unless solar energy takes over the task of power generation. Thus, the combination of solar energy and air purification becomes a successful model. The level of air purity affects both our health and the environment, including the climate. The higher the air pollution, the greater the impact on the climate, or the more accelerated the climate change. Therefore, reducing air pollution is necessary to maintain our health and a life-friendly environment. While climate change is often cited as a reason for the energy transition, the health aspect should not be overlooked. However, the boundaries in this area are not always clear-cut. For instance, climate change also includes severe weather fluctuations, with alternating cold and warm periods occurring at shorter intervals, causing health problems and, in extreme cases, death, especially among older individuals. Thus, emission reduction through solar energy should be a goal for all people. But how does solar energy compare to the energy generation from fossil fuels?

Comparison of Environmental Impact: Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels

The use of fossil fuels compared to solar energy has been examined in numerous studies, and the results are clear. Both the construction and operation of fossil fuel power plants are resource-intensive and emit climate-damaging gases throughout their lifespan, primarily the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Coal, oil, and gas have significant negative effects on the environment, as demonstrated by a study from the Federal Energy North. In contrast, solar energy has environmental advantages. It is a sustainable energy source, and apart from the production process of solar cells and panels, the solar cell converts pure solar energy directly into direct current throughout its life. This direct current is then converted into alternating current via an inverter and can be fed directly into the grid. This is a straightforward, secure, and environmentally friendly technology. However, to be fair, it should be mentioned that the production of solar cells is comparatively energy-intensive. Nevertheless, it is possible to produce solar cells using solar energy. Another positive point worth noting is the recyclability of defective panels. A solar panel can be 100% reused. A study by Engie concludes that 94% of the panel can be recycled, and the remaining 6% can be used as sand in the construction industry. However, a challenge lies in the extraction processes of some materials needed for solar panel production. The extraction of aluminum, copper, and silicon, at present, does not fully satisfy environmental concerns. Nevertheless, solutions for better environmental compatibility are being worked on.

Case Studies: Successful Reduction of Air Pollution through Solar Energy

A study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems investigated whether a complete reduction of CO2 in the energy sector through the use of solar energy is possible. The result: it is possible, but in combination with other renewable energies. The energy transition is no longer an ideological goal but one grounded in tangible evidence. For this reason, the government heavily supports sustainable energy production projects through funding. According to the latest statistics from the Federal Statistical Office, these efforts are already paying off. In Germany, approximately 2.6 million solar installations with a total nominal output of around 70,600 megawatts were installed in March of last year.

Future Perspectives: Potential of Solar Energy in Air Purification

As described earlier, solar energy has the potential to make a significant difference in the energy transition. The potential is enormous, especially when combined with modern battery storage systems, which, however, need to become significantly more affordable. Statista has published figures illustrating the rapid increase in the capacity of solar installations since 2000. In 2000, 1,000 megawatts peak were installed, rising to 17,300 MWp in 2010 and 52,000 MWp in 2020. By 2023, it had already reached 70,600 MWp. According to the Federal Network Agency, renewable energies currently cover 12.1% of the total electricity demand. To cover the entire electricity demand, additional solar installations with a total capacity of 2.2 million MWp would need to be installed. A significant task, but certainly not an impossible one.

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