Pena: Solar and wind power

THE utilization of solar and wind power is on the rise. The cost for constructing these facilities is going down, making them attractive alternatives to fossil fuels like coal. Also, the issue of global warming and climate change is prompting the shift to renewable energy. At the Paris Convention, countries committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and one of their strategies is to shift to renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind.

While the production of renewable energy is increasing every year, researchers said that it is at a slow pace and it is not enough to limit global warming. Analyzing the growth rates of wind and solar power in 60 countries, researchers at Chalmers, Lund University and Central European University in Vienna, Austria conclude that virtually no country is moving sufficiently fast to avoid global warming of 1.5°C or even 2°C.

Even the International Energy Agency’s new World Energy Outlook makes it clear that this clean energy progress is still far too slow to put global emissions into sustained decline towards net zero. Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Net zero is attained when the amount added is no more than the amount taken away.

So why are these renewable energy alternatives not growing fast enough? From my own observation here in Pampanga, one major hindrance to solar energy is the large space needed for solar farms. Around one hectare of land is needed for every megawatt (MW) of power. Take a look at Raslag’s 23MW solar farm in Mexico, Pampanga which is along the NLEX. You will have an idea of what I’m talking about.

In other countries, they combine solar farms and agriculture to maximize the use of land. They elevate solar panels so that the ground can be used for planting crops or animal grazing. Another innovation is floating solar farms. Singapore has one of the world's largest floating solar panel farms, spanning an area equivalent to 45 football fields with a peak capacity of 60 MW. Floating solar panels save space and also shade the body of water and reduce evaporation.

To help speed up the use of solar energy, the government can promote its use for homes and commercial establishments. For these applications, the land is not a problem. I’ve seen several advertisements on Facebook for solar panels for roof installation. Prices range from P65,000 for 1kw to P400,000 for 10kw. When I went to the United States in 2016, the two houses I visited had solar panels on their roofs.

Some shopping malls have installed solar panels on their roofs. Robinsons Land Corporation said that 23 Malls nationwide are powered by solar energy with a total capacity of 29.5 MW. SM Malls are also going solar too with SM North Edsa being the first mall in the country to be solar-powered.

Large windmills on the other hand cannot be constructed everywhere, unlike solar farms. Aesthetics and noise are also a problem. When I went to England in 2016, I noticed several posters opposing windmills. My uncle told me people don’t like them because of the noise. Another issue is that birds and bats are killed by the spinning wind blades.


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