Shift to renewables to combat climate change and air pollution


Climate change and air pollution rank among the most pressing issues of our time, impacting public health, ecosystems, and global economies. 

The shift toward renewable energy has emerged as a pivotal strategy not only addressing environmental concerns but also promising a sustainable and economically feasible future.[1] 

Solar energy, with its vast potential and increasing accessibility, stands at the forefront of this transformative journey. It promises a less polluted, more sustainable, and more equitable world.[2]

But, how exactly is this happening? 

The problem with fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels releases a significant amount of greenhouse gasses, which trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change. 

Plus, the byproducts of burning fossil fuels pollute the air, leading to health issues ranging from respiratory problems to heart diseases, contributing to millions of premature deaths annually.[

Fossil fuels have powered global development for centuries but at a great cost to our planet. They are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming and climate instability. Moreover, fossil fuels are finite. 

According to MET Group, an integrated European energy company, estimates suggest that we could deplete our available reserves within the next 50 to 150 years if consumption continues at current rates. The urgent need to transition to renewable energy is clear, not just to combat environmental issues but also to ensure a stable energy future.

The need to move away from fossil fuels is clear, but the path forward involves addressing both technological and economic challenges.

Renewables forging the path

Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources produce little to no greenhouse gasses or other pollutants when generating electricity. The benefits of renewables extend beyond environmental impacts; they are increasingly seen as economically viable. 

Solar energy, for example, has become the cheapest form of electricity generation in many parts of the world, making it an attractive alternative to traditional power sources.

Growing role of solar energy

Fossil fuels dominate U.S. emissions according to the EPA but at the same time, solar power is increasingly becoming a prominent source of renewable energy globally. 

Unlike fossil fuels, which are limited and contribute to significant environmental degradation, solar energy offers a boundless and clean alternative. 

With technological advancements, solar panels are now more efficient and cheaper to produce, making solar energy a competitive and reliable energy source.

Challenges and opportunities for solar energy

While the transition to solar energy offers many benefits, it also comes with challenges. Integrating solar power into the existing energy grid, managing intermittent energy supply due to weather conditions, and the initial investment in solar infrastructure are significant hurdles. 

However, according to the United Nations, these challenges are addressable with continuous innovation and supportive policies that encourage solar energy adoption.

In addition, the production and disposal of solar panels can be carbon emission intensive, especially if the energy used for these steps in the lifecycle of the panel are conducted in nations where the primary source of electricity is coal burning facilities. 

Energy storage in lithium ion batteries has also come under scrutiny for the harmful impact the mining process can have on the ecology. However, experts agree that the gains from solar power outweigh the current drawbacks and innovation is helping to reduce and eliminate these every year. 

Economic and social benefits

Adopting solar energy can also drive economic growth. It creates jobs in the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of solar panels. 

Solar energy can reduce electricity costs in the long term, being less susceptible to price fluctuations. 

Additionally, solar energy can provide power to remote areas without access to the traditional power grid, improving living standards and promoting equality.

When solar panels are placed on existing structures, the environmental impact is lessened and the economical and social benefits are increased. Moreover, as the technology becomes cheaper and more widespread, the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, making it a financially attractive option for many countries.

Global action

Countries around the world are recognizing the benefits of solar energy. Numerous governments have committed to increasing their share of renewables in energy production. 

Despite the benefits, the transition to renewable energy is not without challenges. One major hurdle is the intermittent nature of sources like solar and wind, which do not produce electricity consistently as fossil fuel-based power plants do. 

Energy storage technology such as batteries is one solution. Policies that support renewable energy development, like subsidies, tax incentives, and regulations that phase out fossil fuels, are also essential to accelerate the transition.

With the right policies and continued investment in research and development, solar energy can meet a significant portion of global energy needs.

Georgette Kilgor is content director at State Solar, a foundation committed to advancing green energy technologies, educating businesses and residents on solar panels, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and providing sustainability training to promote a healthier, more sustainable planet.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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