Solar energy comes from the rays of the sun, called solar radiation. As it reaches the Earth, the energy can be converted into thermal heat and electricity. Thermal energy can heat water and spaces, while solar cells and solar power plants can convert solar energy into electricity. These forms of solar energy have many beneficial uses in homes and different industries, but they can also have disadvantages.
The process of using solar energy as a heating unit involves storing heat energy in water contained in a storage unit. The unit consists of systems engineered to store solar energy to heat water and air for household use. Health risks associated with using solar energy as a thermal energy system are connected to the storage units, where allergenic molds and fungi may thrive if the materials used for the storage units are not ideal for the purpose.
A solar panel is made of pure silicon, a hard metalloid with a metallic luster that is basically harmless. However, inhaling silicon dust can cause harmful effects to the respiratory system and may result in silicosis, which are scars that form on lung tissue and interfere with oxygen transport. A study by the People's Union for Civil Liberties in Shakapur Village, Khambat, Gujarat in India found that nearly 25 people died from silicosis.
Solar heat systems are used to generate energy to heat water and air. These systems uses solar collectors that generate chemicals that can pose risks to chemically sensitive individuals who are constantly exposed to them.
Solar Thermal Power Plants
The U.S. Energy Information Administration states that large solar thermal power plants could harm the environment and ecology if they are not managed properly. Animals such as insects and birds may die if they fly over an area that contains a concentrated beam of sunlight coming from a solar power tower. Some thermal power plants require the use of hazardous fluids to transfer heat, and these fluids require proper handling and safe disposal.
Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity. The manufacturing process may involve toxic chemicals, solvents, alcohol and strong acids and bases. These substances are harmless if safely contained and not released to the environment, but they may pose health risks with improper handling and storage.
Cost and Efficiency
Solar energy can be costly. Although the sun is a free source of the energy, the technology needed to develop solar energy is extremely expensive. Manufacturing a solar panel requires expensive materials. Also, solar radiation can be efficiently absorbed only during daytime, but the demand for the energy it generates is continuous, day and night.
- Photo Credit solar-cell image by carsten jacobs from Fotolia.com
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