Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy in the Pacific Northwest

Environmental Benefits Of Solar Energy In The Pacific Northwest
Silfab Elite panel

Oregon and Washington residents are grappling with the harsh realities of climate change, from drastic weather shifts to the alarming increase in wildfires. At Smart Solar Energy, we are deeply committed to the environment, and our company was born out of a strong desire to slow the climate crisis. Continue reading to discover the significant environmental benefits of solar energy in the Pacific Northwest and how it plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change and protecting our environment.

How Climate Change is Impacting Oregon & Washington

In recent years, damaging wildfires have become a regular occurrence in the West, decimating vast tracts of land and homes, followed by heavy smoke that spreads across the region. The increasing frequency of heat waves has created unbearable temperatures, exacerbating drought conditions and decreasing farm productivity. 

Increases in temperature and changes in precipitation are reducing soil moisture levels, resulting in stress in crops, which may lead to crop failure. Climate change has forced many Oregon and Washington farmers to grapple with losses and increased costs. 

In addition, melting glaciers and declining snowpack levels have significantly disrupted water systems, leading to water scarcity. This issue has left communities with low or no water for domestic and agricultural use and concerns about drinking water quality. In fact,  authorities in Washington declared a statewide drought emergency recently in response to poor snowpack levels.

Drinking Water

Although the climate crisis is daunting, it requires collective action to create and implement solutions. One of the best ways to slow climate change is by dramatically reducing our use of fossil fuels. An extremely promising solution in Oregon and Washington is adopting renewable energy source, especially home solar power. 

By harnessing the sun’s energy, solar energy does not produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions like burning fossil fuels for energy does. In addition, solar installations can be tailored to the specific needs of the user, from individual households to large-scale utility companies.

How Solar Energy Benefits the Environment

Solar energy can significantly reduce greenhouse emissions and combat climate change in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike fossil fuel-based sources, solar power generates electricity without emissions. By transitioning to solar energy, you can reduce your dependence on fossil fuels and move towards clean and renewable energy production.

Solar Energy Reduces Air Pollution

Transitioning to solar power significantly reduces air pollution, which benefits the environment and public health. Fossil fuel energy sources like coal and natural gas emit pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. These substances contribute to smog formation, negatively impacting air quality and leading to respiratory issues among the population. 

Solar energy, by contrast, produces electricity without emitting these harmful pollutants. By replacing fossil fuel-based power, solar energy helps clear the air, leading to a significant decrease in pollution-related health issues. The impact is especially pronounced in urban areas, where smog reduction can greatly improve the quality of life for millions of residents. In particular, air pollution is especially concerning in cities like Portland and Medford, Oregon, and Seattle and Spokane, Washington.

Solar Power Conserves Water

In the naturally lush landscapes of Oregon and Washington, preserving every drop of water is essential for maintaining our region’s abundant agriculture, meeting the drinking water needs of our communities, and ensuring the health of our numerous rivers and streams. Traditional power generation methods, such as those relying on coal, gas, and nuclear energy, use a tremendous amount of water, primarily for cooling processes. 

This significant consumption strains our water resources and puts them in direct competition with critical local uses like crop irrigation and drinking water supplies. The impact of such practices can aggravate water scarcity challenges, especially during the drier summer months when water levels are already lower.

In contrast, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells offer a refreshing alternative by generating electricity without needing a single drop of water, safeguarding this precious resource for other vital uses. The adoption of solar power in Oregon and Washington contributes significantly to preserving our’ water reserves. 

Solar Electricity Promotes Biodiversity

Picture of the forest

For homeowners in Oregon and Washington, embracing residential solar power contributes to the vibrancy and diversity of our local ecosystems. Integrating solar panels into a home does more than lower carbon footprints and reduce energy bills; it can play a significant role in supporting wildlife. Although there are many benefits to hydropower, it does disrupt habitat and has a significant impact on aquatic ecosystems.

By installing solar panels at home, you help lower the demand for natural gas, which in turn means less disruption of ecosystems due to extraction processes like fracking and drilling. These activities can lead to habitat loss, contamination of water sources, and other ecological disturbances that affect biodiversity.

Plus, rooftop solar installations use already-developed space without additional land disturbance. This approach supports biodiversity by preserving natural habitats that would otherwise be at risk for development, whether for new energy infrastructure or other uses. Home rooftops are an underutilized asset, and harnessing them for solar power generation means there’s less pressure on undeveloped land that wildlife depends on.

Renewable Energy Creates Sustainable Jobs & Economic Opportunities

The solar power industry catalyzes local economic growth and job creation in Oregon and Washington communities. As the demand for solar installation, maintenance, and equipment rises, so does the need for skilled labor, leading to a surge in employment opportunities close to home. This expansion benefits local economies as these jobs tend to be well-paying and can’t be outsourced, keeping the economic benefits within our communities. 

In addition, there are also economic opportunities from manufacturing solar equipment in the Pacific Northwest. For example, Silfab is a leading North American manufacturer of high-efficiency solar panels, known for its advanced technology and commitment to quality. It has manufacturing plants in Bellingham and Burlington, Washington. These solar panel manufacturing jobs helps strengthen the economic bases of these Washington cities by diversifying their economies, which used to rely heavily on logging and timber processing. 

Also, home solar power helps stabilize household energy costs over the long term, shielding communities from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. Lower energy costs can translate into increased disposable income for residents, which can be spent within the local economy, stimulating further growth.

Would you like to install Silfab solar panels on your home from a locally-owned solar installation company? Contact Smart Solar Energy to get started.

Environmental Impact of Solar Energy

The environmental impact of solar power is largely positive, especially when compared to traditional fossil fuels, but solar energy does have some downsides. Potential environmental impacts are associated with the use of land (which causes habitat loss), water, and hazardous materials in manufacturing. For instance, solar panel manufacturing involves the use of hazardous materials, which requires responsible handling to avoid harm to the environment or human health.

Importance of Solar Panel Recycling

The U.S. Department of Energy supports efforts to address end-of-life issues of solar technologies, including recycling materials used in manufacturing PV cells and panels. Several states have enacted laws to encourage the recycling of PV panels, mitigating some of the environmental concerns related to waste.

In 2017, the Washington Legislature passed Senate Bill 5939, which includes the Photovoltaic Module Stewardship and Takeback Program. This law requires solar panel manufacturers to participate in a take-back program to recycle them at the end of their useful life.

Minimizing Land Use for Solar Panels

Farm

Land use for solar energy development can also affect the natural environment. A study referenced by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates that solar energy development could require as much as 5.7 million acres of land in the contiguous U.S. by 2035. 

For this reason, rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses are especially environmentally friendly. Rooftop solar systems are a better option for preventing habitat loss or taking up valuable farmland, as they utilize existing urban spaces. This is one of the reasons we are so passionate about residential and commercial solar power at Smart Solar Energy.

Despite these challenges, the environmental benefits of shifting towards solar energy—such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and decreasing air pollution—are significant. It’s important for ongoing and future solar projects to continue improving in efficiency and environmental friendliness through effective design and recycling efforts.

Energy Use in Oregon

Bonneville Dam

Oregon is a leader in using renewable energy in the United States, with hydropower making up the largest portion of the electricity mix. Although this is good news for a stable climate, hydropower does have detrimental environmental impacts, such as habitat disruption and alterations to natural water flow, which affect fish migration and ecosystems. Hydroelectric dams in Oregon are impacting numerous rivers, including the Columbia, Snake, Deschutes, Umpqua, Clackamas, Rogue, Willamette, McKenzie, Santiam, and Owyhee Rivers.

Oregon has made significant strides in boosting renewable energy adoption and phasing out coal. The last coal-fired power plant in Oregon closed in 2020, which is excellent news for a stable climate and clean air. Oregon has also committed to transitioning 100% of its electricity generation to clean, renewable sources by 2040. Homeowners can help advance this goal by installing solar panels on their homes whenever possible or otherwise joining a community solar farm. 

Solar Energy Use in Oregon

Oregon has enough installed solar energy capacity to power over 223,000 homes, and over 4% of the state’s electricity comes from solar power. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), this has created over 4,000 solar jobs, and 21 solar manufacturers are located in Oregon. Therefore, the growth of solar energy is also creating jobs and helping the economy of the Pacific Northwest.

In particular, there is a thriving residential solar energy market in Oregon because many homeowners are dedicated to benefitting the environment while saving money on energy bills. In both 2022 and 2023, more than 100 megawatts (MW) of residential solar energy capacity was installed in Oregon. Across the United States, there are more than 36,000 MW of installed residential solar energy capacity. This shows the tremendous impact that individual actions can make. 

If you want to install solar panels on your home or business, contact Smart Solar Energy today. We install only quality solar energy equipment and offer exceptional warranties to protect your investment.

Energy Use in Washington

TransAlta Power Plan

Washington generates a lot of renewable energy, particularly from hydroelectric dams. Although hydropower remains a significant component of Washington’s energy portfolio, providing a reliable and renewable energy source, it does have significant environmental impacts on habitats and aquatic ecosystems due to dam construction and operation. The state’s hydropower infrastructure affects various river systems, including the Columbia, Pend Oreille, Snake, and Snake Rivers.

In addition to hydropower, Washington also relies on natural gas power plants for electricity generation and has one coal power plant located in Lewis County, which is scheduled to close in 2025. Coal power is detrimental to the environment as it releases significant amounts of greenhouse gasses and pollutants, contributing to climate change, air pollution, and acid rain. In addition, Washington has one nuclear power plant in Richland.

Washington has made remarkable progress in increasing renewable energy adoption and reducing reliance on coal. The state has committed to transitioning to 100% clean and renewable energy sources for electricity generation by 2045. Homeowners play a significant role in advancing this renewable energy goal by installing solar panels on their homes.

Solar Energy Use in Washington

Washington State has made significant progress in solar energy adoption, with enough installed solar energy capacity to power over 70,000 homes. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Washington has installed 682 MW of solar capacity, ranking 33rd nationally. The solar energy sector in Washington has created over 4,000 jobs, boosting the state’s economy.

With a focus on residential solar energy, homeowners in Washington have been actively adopting solar panels to both benefit the environment and save on energy costs. In particular, 2022 and 2023 have been especially strong years for home solar system installations, with over 80 MW of new capacity installed in both years. 

Slowing Climate Change with Solar Power

By harnessing solar energy in the Pacific Northwest, you contribute to a cleaner and greener future but also lower your electricity bills for decades and boost your home’s value. If you drive an electric vehicle, you can charge it with clean solar energy that you produce from the free energy falling on your roof.

With various state solar incentives, tax credits, and net metering programs, you can make a wise financial investment that pays for itself in the long run, adding value to your home and providing long-term energy security. Embracing solar power for your home offers a practical and cost-effective solution for meeting your energy needs in an environmentally friendly way.

The Smart Solar Energy team is dedicated to making it easy to power your home or business with solar power. We use some of the best solar panels, inverters, and batteries available, and our solar installers are extremely knowledgeable. Contact us today for a free solar energy audit for your home.

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