Environment and social hotspots associated with a technology

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State of knowledge about the technology’s sustainability (member 1)

The sun is one of the most reliable sources of energy in the world. Solar power is, therefore, a reliable and sustainable source of clean energy since the source is inexhaustible. As a renewable source of energy, the solar power technology does not pollute the environment. Within the last thirty years, scholars among other stakeholders have carried out hundreds of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) designed to determine the sustainability of both the technology and the source of clean energy. The expansive LCAs on both utility-scale and residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have yielded varied results mostly attributed to the diversity of the technologies utilized by most manufacturers. Despite the variations in most of the assessments, they contend that solar power technologies present numerous environmental and economic benefits. The average lifespan of both a domestic and commercial solar panel is about thirty years.

Solar panel technology has attracted immense interest from numerous stakeholders including scholars, inventors and governments alike owing to the drawbacks of the predominant fossil fuels. As such, the scholars and stakeholders have developed substantial knowledge about the technology including its uses, applications, benefits, and drawbacks. The adequacy of information has influenced the development and inherent uptake of the technology across the world. Governments rely on the information about the technology to influence policy formation. Countries throughout the world signed the Paris Climate Accord on April 22, 2016, to cut the emission of greenhouse gases. The accord and the subsequent national policies enhanced the adoption of the solar power technology especially in countries that receive abundant sunlight including Australia, China, India, and the United States. Australia, for example, implemented the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target program as a critical way of increasing the uptake of renewable energy by Australian.

The growing popularity of solar power technology demonstrates the wealth of information that exists for all the key stakeholders including users, government agencies, and manufacturers. A critical finding of most of the Life Cycle Assessments indelicate that the lifespan of the solar power system is thirty years. The efficiency of the crystalline Silicone Module is at 14.0% and 13.2% for mono-crystalline and multi-crystalline modules respectively. Studies on the film module efficiency established that Amorphous silicon is at 6.3%, 10.9% for Cadmium Telluride and 11.5% for Copper indium gallium diselenide (Hsu, O’Donoughue, Fthenakis, Choi & Turney, 2012). A final study on the performance ration of solar panels found that ground-mounted solar panel have 0.80 performance ration while rooftops have a performance ratio of 0.75. The studies continue to influence the design and manufacture of solar panels to ensure increased efficiency.

Key environmental issues (member 2)

The solar power technology has numerous environmental issues that influence its adoption across the world. The issues include land use, water use, hazardous materials, and the lifecycle global warming emissions. Solar panels raise queries about land use especially on large utility scales that require large tracts of land for the installation of solar panels among other systems. The land use issues may border on land degradation depending on locations especially where the installation of a system requires extensive deforestation. While solar panels do not require water to generate electricity the use of water during manufacture and operation of some panels to cool components may raise issues relating to the pollution of water sources and wastage of water. The raw materials for solar panels include acetone, fluoride, sulfuric acid, and hydrogen fluoride among others. The chemicals may cause bodily harm and even pollute the environment. Similarly, while solar panels do not emit any harmful substances to the environment fears of emission of greenhouse gasses arise during transportation of materials, installation, maintenance, manufacturing and decommissioning among other pertinent processes.

Minimizing the harm arising from the above concerns require adequate planning to help maximize the efficiency of the technology. Land use, for example, is a critical concern. To minimize the threat of land degradation, stakeholders should carry out an extensive feasibility study. Solar panels are effective in regions that receive abundant sunlight like deserts. Instead of felling trees to create land, engineers can install the systems in deserts and convey the power to the forested parts of the country. Furthermore, rooftops of large establishments like malls, schools and health facilities provide adequate surface areas for the installation of solar panels instead of eliminating forests. Similar planning and efficient utilization of resources apply to the use of water. Recycling of water is the surest way of conserving water. The water used in cooling the systems is still usable in keeping the system working for days.

Recycling offers alternative to the management of the hazardous materials used in the manufacture and operation of solar power systems. Studies have established that thin-film PV cells possess the highest number of dangerous materials including copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, gallium arsenide, and cadmium-telluride. The government among other stakeholders should provide manufacturers with adequate incentives to encourage them to recycle the high value and often rare materials thereby improving efficiency. Eradicating or even minimizing the risk of emission requires a multi-prong approach that encompasses developing high-quality systems that are less likely to break down thus requiring maintenance. Fortunately, studies establish that solar power system release between 0.08 and 0.2pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. The figure is far less than lifecycle emission of other technologies in the sector.

Key social issues (member 3)

The use of solar power across the world has equally numerous social issues. First, the technology promises to increase the value of land previously considered valueless. For a long time, deserts and other semi-arid areas had minimal value because of their inability to produce an economically viable activity. The new technology is, therefore, most likely to cause land squabbles as people and communities fight for the resources. Similarly, the solar power technology promises to create new jobs thereby improving the quality of lifestyle for people across the world. The technology promises cheap and sustainable source of clean energy that is likely to change the lifestyles of millions of people across the world. Other social impacts of the technology include improving health and lowering dependence on oil. The social issues require effective management to enhance their positive attributes while overcoming their negative effects.

Resolving the possible conflicts arising from land use requires the concerted effort of all the stakeholders including government and investors. The government should encourage private citizens to use their rooftops and the rooftops of other large establishments like malls, schools, and health facilities. This way, the community maximizes the value of land and overcomes any threat of conflict emanating from the use of private land. Similarly, the government should strive to develop appropriate land policies to safeguard the ownership of deserts among other semi-arid areas. The solar power technology promises to create millions of jobs and economic opportunities throughout the entire value chain. Manufacturing of solar panels is big business throughout the world. Companies will require technicians and salespeople among other important stakeholders (Pimentel, 2008). The government must invest in the technology by providing cash and tax incentives to manufacturers and colleges to ensure the production of appropriate human resource for the sector.

The technology promises immense health benefits. The minimal emission associated with the generation of clean and renewable electricity promises to create a clean environment for users. The technology thus promises to improve the quality of life by lowering emission of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide that often cause numerous health problems including cancer among others. The government should, therefore, encourage the citizen to embrace the technology. The Australian government has demonstrated an interest in the technology by implementing laws promoting the uptake of solar power technologies. Similarly, the government should provide manufacturers among other stakeholders with adequate incentives to help improve the health benefits of the technology. The growing popularity of solar power technology will naturally eliminate dependency on oil thereby creating a clean society free from the harmful carbon dioxide. Solar panels promise to curb global warming and the inherent climate change thus solving a major global puzzle.

State of knowledge about the sustainability effects (member 4)

Solar power technologies have attracted ever-growing interest owing to the varied drawbacks of fossil fuels. Scholars and stakeholders have developed adequate materials defining and describing the environmental and social effects of solar power. Solar power provided an efficient and sustainable way for powering satellites orbiting the earth in space. The satellites have large solar panels that generate the electricity used in powering the compel equipment. The technology has since morphed to include the development of solar panels for both domestic and industrial use (Kim, Fthenakis, Choi & Turney, 2012). The technology provides clean energy characterized with minimal emission of greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, the source remains inexhaustible thereby making it a sustainable source of energy.

Beatty (2016) explains that the sustainability effects of adopting the solar power technology include the generation of clean energy. While the reliance on fossil fuels sustained industrial revolution and the contemporary human civilization, the source of energy has presented numerous environmental effects. Fossil fuels like oil and coal emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The growing accumulation of the gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and has since led to global warming. Global warming has had numerous adverse effects at the turn of the new century. Adverse weather characterized by prolonged drought, extended and severely cold winters among others continue to threaten food production thus the future of human society. Similarly, global warming has led to the sustained melting of the glaciers a development that continues to threaten coastal communities across the world as the sea level continues to rise.

Solar power technology promised a new source of clean and sustainable that would end the reliance on fossil fuels. However, the technology has numerous sustainability issues principal among which is land use. The technique requires the use of large land surfaces that may compel stakeholders to clear vast tracts of forest land thus land degradation. The technology also raises the issue of water use. While the technology does not require water to generate electricity, water is critical in the manufacture of the products and is also a coolant a feature that gives room for pollution of water. Other sustainability issues include emission and the hazardous materials used in the solar energy power systems. Scholars and stakeholders have carried out research and developed adequate knowledge that informs the adoption of the technology in a manner that minimizes the adverse aspects of the sustainability issues.

Key environmental benefits and risks (member 5)

Solar power technology has numerous environmental benefits. First, the technology generates clean and sustainable energy. The technology does not emit any greenhouse gasses often associated with the other sources of energy. As such, it promises to provide the earth with adequate and reliable energy without causing any environmental pollution. Fossil fuels have emitted methane and carbon dioxide thereby leading to global warming and climate change. The solar power technology is clean and will most likely reduce the effects of global warming. Furthermore, solar power is a sustainable source of energy. While fossil fuels are running out, the sun is an inexhaustible source of energy that will provide the earth with adequate energy for as long as the universe exists.

Secondly, solar power promises to reduce water pollution. All the other technologies utilized to generate electricity contribute to water pollution. From large nuclear reactors to geothermal, biomass and coal-powered facilities, water remains the most readily available coolant for the energy generators. Unfortunately, the technologies often cause widespread pollution of water with nuclear reactors even heightening the risk of nuclear pollution of some of the global water sources like oceans and seas. Solar cells do not require water to generate electricity (O’Brien, 2000). Furthermore, domestic solar panels and electricity systems do not require any cooling a feature that promises to reduce the vice exponentially.

Despite the fundamental environment benefits, solar power technology may also present specific risks to the environment. First, the technology requires large tracts of land a feature that has compelled the degradation of land. In some cases, the quest for solar power has led to the deforestation of vast tracts of land to pave way for the installation of solar panels. Furthermore, the parts of the land soon become useless since they cannot support any biodiversity beneath the solar panels owing to the lack of sunlight. The technology thus threatens the biodiversity that exists in the soil and rely on roots of plants to survive. The technology also contributes to the emission of hazardous materials which include various types of acids and hydrocarbons used in operating the system. furthermore, it threatens water use. Fortunately, the environmental risks presented by the technology are negligible compared to the environmental threats posed by the other technologies a feature that makes solar power technology favorable.

Key social benefits and risks (member 6)

Solar power technology has equally numerous social benefits. The technology promises to create numerous jobs thereby give millions of people descent jobs and dignified lifestyles. The growing popularity of solar panels both at the domestic and industrial level continues to create a growing demand for engineers, technicians, and operators. The society is therefore changing to realign its production to the new source of energy. As such, millions of students from across the world register to study relevant courses to help fill the demand for skilled workers. Furthermore, the technology promises to stimulate economic growth. The creation of new jobs continues to increase the purchasing power of many people thereby revitalizing economic growth (Whitaker, Heath, O’Donoughue & Vorum, 2012). New industries are most likely to spring up around the technology as inventors will strive to exploit the flexible technology. Electric cars and self-recharging appliances will enhance socialization and commercial activities in the future.

Similarly, solar power promises to improve the quality of health. An increased uptake of solar energy will reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The fossil fuels result in the emission of massive amounts of various greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide and methane among others. the gasses have adverse health effects. Studies have tied the prevalence of various types of cancers to a polluted environment. They also cause respiratory diseases. Solar power introduces clean and sustainable source of energy that does not emit any greenhouse gasses. The resultant clean environment will lead to the development of healthy people a feature that will improve the quality of life, human lifespan and save on healthcare costs.

However, the technology has some social risks. The need for large tracts of land coupled with the fact that it improves the value of some lands that were once valueless is most likely to cause social conflicts especially in poor African countries with weak land policies. Likewise, the growing demand for land arising from the use of the solar power technology is most likely to compel the reclamation of uninhabited lands. Inversion of such lands is dangerous since it will result in cases of human-wildlife conflict. Such are dangerous conflicts that will send wild animals into human communities thus causing injury and deaths of both the animals and humans.

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  1. Beatty, A. S., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (U.S.)., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (U.S.)., & Characterizing Risk in Climate Change Assessments (Workshop). (2016). Characterizing risk in climate change assessments: Proceedings of a workshop. Washington, DC: the National Academies Pres.
  2. Hsu, D.; O’Donoughue, P.; Fthenakis, V.; Choi, J.; Turney, D. (2012). “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Electricity Generation: Systematic Review and Harmonization.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 16(S1): 122-135.
  3. Kim, H.; Fthenakis, V.; Choi, J.; Turney, D. (2012). “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Thin-film Photovoltaic Electricity Generation: Systematic Review and Harmonization.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 16(S1): 110-121.
  4. O’Brien, M. (2000). Making better environmental decisions: An alternative to risk assessment. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  5. Pimentel, D. (2008). Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks. Dordrecht: Springer.
  6. Raffensperger, C., & Tickner, J. (1999). Protecting public health and the environment: Implementing the precautionary principle. Washington, D.C: Island Press.
  7. Whitaker, M.; Heath, G.; O’Donoughue, P.; Vorum, M. (2012.) “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of CoalFired Electricity Generation: Systematic Review and Harmonization.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 16(1): 53-72.
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