Over the years, we have come to recognize the importance of a healthy environment in our lives. Nature has provided us with valuable resources to have the freedom to breathe fresh air, drink pure water and appreciate the beauty around us. But with all the scientific and technological innovations of man, as well as the luxury and convenience it brings, our environment has suffered deterioration which resulted to poor quality of life and even massive death. As residents of this Earth, our survival largely relies on our environment. It is our responsibility to combat destruction in which the well-being of our environment, our economy and our people would greatly depend on the choices we make. It is time for us to realize the wide range of environmental problems specifically global warming and acid rain which are the long-term effects of burning fossil fuels as our main energy sources. We should be willing to embrace changes and develop effective mechanisms to improve our energy efficiency. Tapping on our abundant natural resources as an alternative source of energy is an effective way of fighting environmental devastation. Renewable resources such as Solar Energy are by far the perfect solution to our problems. The leaders of our country should aggressively take the initiative and encourage citizens to support this program. Promoting solar energy to become the primary source of energy in the future can provide us a healthier world while restoring the beauty of Mother Nature.
Keywords: Environment, renewable resources, solar energy
Most of our energy sources derived from non-renewable resources which includes the fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. Renewable energy which comes from natural resources such as wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass is also used as an alternative source. In Los Angeles, electricity mostly comes from three primary sources: coal, natural gas and nuclear. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power generates 39% of its electricity from coal-fired plants in Utah, Arizona and Nevada, 22% from natural gas-fired generating stations, 11% from nuclear power, 3% from hydropower from Hoover Dam and aqueduct system, 20% from renewable energy sources and 5% from unspecified source.
Both non-renewable and renewable resources as well as the whole cycle of generating electricity have some impact on the environment. From fuel production and transportation for the conversion process of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, to electricity transmissions which have influence on electromagnetic fields, aesthetic and land use, and to emissions of airborne pollutants on used fuel. All these process of energy conversion in producing electricity constitutes environmental impacts.
Coal is a major producer in generating electricity. Coal mining has effects on land, ash disposal, and water shortage. Its process of conversion produces solid and liquid waste that needs to be treated and disposed. It produces dust during transportation which could lead to water shortage problems due to the need of huge amount of steam. Coal burning is the major contributor of air pollution which releases sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Natural gas production includes treatment that involves trace metal and liquid residual disposal, emissions of airborne pollutants such as SOx and NOx which produce acid when released into the atmosphere and could cause acid rain. Greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydro-carbon are the major elements accountable for global warming. Explosions and leaks could possibly happen during transportation and storage which could harm the environment.
Nuclear power plants have the most dangerous environmental effect. Nuclear is fueled by uranium and its production involves radioactive, dust and mine-water seepage. The treatment process of uranium involves radiological waste, disposal of mill tailings containing toxic metals and chemical waste and dust releases. Uranium ore enrichment involves liquid and gaseous releases and fission products recycling. Workers should be protected from radioactivity and its disposal of high level of nuclear waste from spent fuel rods which requires safe
storage for thousands of years. These wastes are currently stored at the
plant site in above ground barrels due to non-availability of site for waste
disposal. Its major hazard is the accidental release of radioactive particles during transportation that could lead to loss of life. The shutting down of a nuclear plant is another issue where problems of disposal on radioactive waste from the reactor vessel exist. Plant operators can either completely remove and dispose of all radioactive wastes, bury the reactor in concrete or shut down the plant and prohibit access.
Over the years, the use of these fossil fuel sources has increased environmental problems. More hurricanes and flooding are expected in the coming years due to the devastating global warming or climate change. Some cities in the U.S. like Los Angeles are on seacoasts and close to sea level. A rise on sea level due to flooding could possibly cover the whole city. Due to fossil fuel burning, there is a substantial amount of carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere that dissolves into water droplets and forms carbonic, sulfuric and nitric acid that results to acid rain. This acid rain flows into the rivers and lakes where fishes, plants and trees depend on it for life support. Due to its acidity, more fishes and other aquatic life are killed and plants and forests are destroyed. Air pollutants such as sulfur, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons are degrading our quality of life, making millions of Americans ill and eventually killing them every year. The use of petroleum as a fuel can bring accidents into land and water such as oil spill which could pollute
the oceans and bring damage to aquatic life.
Renewable Energy Resources
The struggle to address the problems of the devastating global warming has initiated the city of Los Angeles to consider total elimination of fossil fuel burning process in producing electricity by converting to renewable sources of energy. Renewable energy comes from natural resources that can quickly be renewed by natural processes and produces clean air emissions.
Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity. Through solar cells, the sun’s energy is converted either directly or indirectly into current electricity. Direct conversion is through photovoltaic using photoelectric effects while indirect conversion is through concentrated solar power systems using lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into the beam. Solar power is an efficient source and provides a clean form of energy. However, solar technology is costly and needs proper location where no buildings and tress can block and affect its performance.
Electricity is generated by extracting energy from moving water such as rivers and streams. Energy is produced through dams by directing water down a rapid and over a turbine that is linked to a hydro generator. Since water is free, it is the cheapest way to generate electricity and is a clean source of fuel which is renewable by snow and rainfall. However, it is only fitted to areas that receives huge amount of rainfall. Installation of huge dams has the potential to destroy the eco-system.
Geothermal energy is the heat generated beneath the Earth’s core where magma heats release water through streams, hot springs, mud pots and underwater hydrothermal vents which can be used to generate electricity. Geothermal plants have a lesser impact on the environment due to its minimal release of air pollution. However, it only serves to regions with hot rocks below the earth that could produce steam for a long period of time.
Energy is produced by burning organic matter called biomass which comes from living organisms such as plants and animals. This biomass are heated through thermal conversion then burned in an incinerator where the heat is directly converted into electricity. Biomass can also be converted into flammable gas to produce greater efficiency and cleaner performance. However, the use of human and animal waste can produce methane gases which can harm the ozone layer.
Among these renewable energy resources, the most commendable alternative source of energy for the city of Los Angeles is the solar power. Solar power is not only beneficial to the environment but is also the most efficient source of providing the high electricity demand from residential and commercial customers in the city. Los Angeles has 276 long hot summer days where the sun’s power is abundant. The city can utilize these resources by creating a network of solar energy systems through residential solar programs and developing projects through the LADWP and other large-scale projects. The highest electricity demand in the city reaches 6,165 megawatts daily. These projects have the potential to produce 1,280 megawatts of power enough to power its 4 million residents.
In order for the solar power conversion program to realize, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power can provide incentive programs to encourage ratepayers to install solar panels on their roofs. Financing institutions can extend low-interest loans to residential and commercial customers in the installation of solar systems. The federal government is also willing to grant 30% federal tax credits and rebates to those who are
interested to install solar power in their homes and businesses.
The people of Los Angeles are expected to give their full support on solar energy conversion for many reasons. Increasing the production of solar energy can reduce the city’s reliance on natural-gas fired plants and eliminate the use of coal production which has the largest contribution of air pollution in the city. Reduction or elimination of these fossil fuel resources can enhance the quality of life and well-being of the people. Installing a solar energy for your own home or business means purchasing a system that generates your own electricity needs with minimal reliance on your power provider which lowers your monthly utility bills. Solar power solution can also open economic opportunities for the city by creating jobs for the people such as research and development, manufacturing, services, installation, maintenance and repair. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power can support the city by providing comprehensive programs to educate the people on solar innovation which could eventually encourage solar related business investments that could boost the city’s revenue growth.
The Cost of Solar Energy
The cost of solar energy installation is relatively expensive. However, once the initial investment has been paid off, the energy collected is already free which could save a lot of money. It doesn’t involve any recurring costs because it requires no maintenance. Installing and producing your own power will protect you from the continuous increase in the cost of electricity. The average cost is about $6 to $8 per
watt. A medium-sized grid tie system with 24 solar panels that produces 797 kWh a month will cost about $6,722 after 30% federal tax credit and rebates excluding installation cost. The more solar panel systems used and the higher overall wattage, the cheaper the cost. Massive use of solar technologies can boost the growth of solar energy thus increasing the volume of solar equipment purchases. This could establish a sustainable commitment between installers and manufacturers which could help lower the cost
Impact of Solar Energy on the Environment
With the rising problems associated with fossil fuels, solar energy is a clean alternative power solution. When it functions effectively, there’s a better chance to replace or eliminate fossil fuels as our main source of energy. With the environment as its primary beneficiary, the good thing about solar energy is that it doesn’t produce toxic waste and doesn’t burn oil thus it has no carbon emissions or greenhouse gases. It doesn’t require mining or drilling and transportation of parts which reduces the environmental risks and accidents. Its energy supply never runs out because the sun will always shine upon the Earth. Components of solar energy are always available such as photovoltaic cells made of silicon which is an abundant mineral on Earth. Its acquisition requires lesser amount of resources which has minimal effect on ecosystem. In converting solar energy to electricity, a semiconductor like Cadmium telluride solar cells is used which is extremely toxic. However, effective monitoring should always be imposed to avoid build up in the ecosystem and harm the environment. To get maximum exposure to the sun, solar panels are installed on rooftops which save a lot of space while having a lesser impact on land.
Solar Energy not only affects non-living things like wind, storms, rains and sea waves but also living organisms like plants, animals and micro-organisms. All these organisms are dependent on solar energy for their survival and is essential for the production of important nutrients in their cells. Plants need solar energy to produce the green chlorophyll, animals need the energy for the evolution of their daily consumption and humans use the sunlight to nourish their bodies with Vitamin D.
The use of solar energy has provided us a wide range of benefits which constitutes economic values due to cheaper energy costs and moral values by fighting the devastation of our environment. Solar energy has always been an important part of our lives since time immemorial. Now that we have learned to utilize this important natural resource, we could look forward to a cleaner and healthier environment as well as a better future for us and for our children.
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The Los Angeles Solar Energy Plan, (November 24, 2008). Solar LA.
Retrieved from http://mayor.lacity.org/stellent/groups/electedofficials/@myr_ch_contributor/documents/contributor_web_content/lacity_004982.pdf