Solar Power Vs. Power Generators

Coal power generators have been around since the start of the industrial revolution, whereas solar power generation has been with us for but a few short years. Historically, coal has always been a cheap form of fuel and it was probably for that reason that coal’s underlying problem was ignored – it polluted the atmosphere and damaged our health.

Pollution differences between solar power generation and coal powered generation

As coal is a combustible fuel, when it burns, it emits carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 has been noted as a major cause of global warming causing sea levels to rise. However, an immediate benefit of solar power is that the level of CO2 produced is ZERO – it has absolutely no negative impact whatsoever on global warming.

Another cause of pollution is sulphur dioxide, the largest component of acid rain. It mixes with water when it goes up in the atmosphere and then drops back down to earth in the form of rain still containing the sulphur dioxide. Interestingly, it is estimated by the United States that coal fired generators are responsible for as much as 65 per cent of emissions of sulphur dioxide every year in their country. Another benefit of solar power is that the amount of sulphur dioxide emitted by it is ZERO – absolutely no particles of sulphur dioxide.

Finally, when coal burns it emits various particles such as smoke and soot that could build up in your lungs. Even though the process in coal-fired generators stops most of these particles escaping the plant, some will still do so. As solar power is not combustible, the level of particles entering the atmosphere due to solar power generation is ZERO.

Infrastructure comparison between solar power generation and coal powered generation

The infrastructure required for coal powered generators is colossal, starting with the mines and mining machinery to extract the coal, the transport network required to move the coal to the power plant to the size of the power plant itself and the coal storage facilities necessary.

In the case of solar power generation, the vast majority of solar panels are fitted to the roofs of houses so they take up no additional space. Coal has to be physically removed from the land whereas the sun’s rays do not.
On the face of it you may think that vast solar panel farms take up more land space than the mining of coal but this is not the case. For instance, it is estimated that solar panel farms covering 6 million acres would be required to replace the production of every coal powered generator in the United States of America but 7 million acres of land would be required by the coal mining industry over the next 60 years.

It is also estimated that, over a 60-year period, a solar power plant is capable of producing 18 gigawatt hours for every acre whereas a coal-powered plant is capable of producing 15 gigawatt hours for every acre.

Electricity price comparison

Homeowners consume between 50 per cent and 65 per cent of their daily electricity requirement between 7am and 11 pm. The significance of this is that period includes the daylight hours when solar panels are able to generate their power.

This is reflected in the supply peaks of electricity that is provided to the utility companies by both solar power system and coal power generation. For instance, during daylight more electricity is being provided by solar power but through the night more is by traditional methods of power generation. This factor will no doubt give coal power generators cause for concern as utility companies will direct their attention to their solar power electricity suppliers to provide an increasing amount of electricity. This can only be beneficial to their consumers when calculating electricity prices.