The concept of solar farms is a good one but a crucial query people have is about co-existing with one. Due to the enormous advantages, it offers on both, personal and environmental levels, the solar power business is experiencing rapid growth and development. With this, comes a legitimate interest in how it might affect your neighborhood, especially if you reside nearby. Do you also wonder about the negative effects of solar farms or what are the health risks living near solar farms? Let us see if you need to worry or not!
What are Solar Farms or Solar Parks?
A solar farm is a sizeable group of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that gathers solar energy, transforms it into electricity, and then sends that electricity to the power grid for distribution and use by consumers. They can be of any size and form and are typically mounted to the ground rather than on rooftops. However, there might be potential health risks of living near a solar farm which we will be discussing in this article.
What are the Health Risks of Living Near Solar Farms?
Despite the fact that solar farms are generally safe, many people are worried about the health risks while living near solar farms. They are often worried about high-tension power lines and transformers that generate electromagnetic radiation. Moreover, a solar park takes up a lot of space and is frequently regarded as ugly-looking. Yet, these should not be the reasons to decide against them just yet.
Myth Busted! No Cancer-Causing Electromagnetic Radiation from Solar Farms
According to Noah Kittner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, there is no proof that solar panels are causing cancer. In reality, says Dr. Kittner, solar farms and panels may be a smart way to lower the risk of lung cancer in general. They frequently serve to balance out other electricity-generating sources that could add to air pollution, which could result in lung cancer.
Electromagnetic fields produced by solar panels and transmitted to the electricity grid are incredibly weak i.e. way below the acceptable limits and 1000s times lesser than the dangerous levels. The World Health Organization also states that despite significant research, there is no proof that low-level electromagnetic field exposure is harmful to human health (WHO).
Similar findings were also published by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks SCENIHR in 2015 that no evident adverse health effects were seen if exposure remains below the levels recommended by the EU legislation.
What are the Negative Effects of Solar Farms?
In terms of human health, you can breathe a sigh of relief that solar parks will not affect you or your loved ones adversely. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection has set parameters based on the study of electromagnetic radiations from LT & HT grid lines. You can read the Summary of biological effects and epidemiological studies (up to 100 kHz Power Lines) here.
Having said that, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs right, if we weren’t listing other forms of negative effects they may entail. So read the same below to make an informed decision.
1. Loss of Land
In order to produce electricity at utility size, all solar energy facilities require comparatively large areas for solar radiation collection.
- The existing field uses like grazing, managing wild horses and burros, military purposes, and mining could be hampered by solar facilities.
- The use of adjacent specifically designated areas, such as wilderness areas, areas of serious environmental concern, or special recreation management areas, could be impacted by solar facilities.
However, land disturbance can be avoided with proper design choices.
2. Impact on Soil, Water, and Air
Large-scale solar facility construction necessitates clearing and grading, which can result in changing drainage channels. It may thus cause soil compaction, increased runoff, and erosion.
- Conventional Steam Plants, which frequently use water for cooling, are usually used to generate electricity in a parabolic trough and central tower systems. Any increase in water demand can put a burden on the available water supplies in arid environments. Surface or groundwater may become contaminated if chemicals used at solar plants, such as dust suppressants, dielectric fluids, and herbicides, are used or spilled there.
- Particulate matter produced during solar facility construction and operation has the potential to be a major pollutant, especially in any nearby Class I areas as defined by regulations for Preventing Significant Deterioration.
These negative effects can be lessened through the use of proper engineering techniques.
3. Ecological Impact
Large-scale land clearing for use as solar power plants has the potential to negatively impact local vegetation and wildlife in a variety of ways, including habitat loss, disruption of rainfall and drainage, or direct interaction that results in harm or death. When the affected species are listed as sensitive, uncommon, threatened, or endangered, the effects are exacerbated.
Environmental justice issues may arise if minorities or low-income populations are disproportionately affected by such relocation.
4. Aesthetic Issues
Solar energy facilities may be perceived as visually unappealing due to their size and abundance of large, geometric and highly reflective surfaces. However, being visible does not always equate to being intrusive. By their very nature, aesthetic problems are very individualized. Making the right location choices can help to protect the aesthetics of the overall landscape of the region.
On the positive side, the development of solar farms could result in new job possibilities. In-flux of workers might bring in better accommodations and last-mile connectivity too.
Recommended: Top 10 Solar Energy Myths Busted
Do Solar Farms Leak Toxic Chemicals?
Still, confused about the health risks of living near solar farms? Let us address another one of your concerns. Although sealed under normal working conditions, photovoltaic panels may contain hazardous materials like Lead and Cadmium. Toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di)selenide, copper indium gallium (di)selenide, hexafluoroethane, polyvinyl fluoride, and even, Silicon tetrachloride as a by-product during solar panel manufacturing. Therefore, if panels were damaged or disposed of improperly after decommissioning, the environment could become contaminated as they decompose.
Professor of Environmental Studies Dustin Mulvaney at San Jose State University claims that glass constitutes about 90% of the majority of solar modules. But because of impurities, it often cannot be recovered as float glass. Plastics, lead, cadmium, and antimony are some common contaminants in glass that cause problems.
A long-term impact of decommissioned solar components is leeching landfills. At the end of 2016, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) calculated that there were approximately 250,000 metric tons of solar panel waste worldwide. By 2050, 78 million metric tons could be added to this number, according to their forecast.
Cross-Reference: Solar Panels Produce Tons of Toxic Waste -Literally
To sum up, the answer to your query – do solar farms leak toxic chemicals is that it’s highly unlikely. Since they are self-contained, the risk is minimal. Yet, some serious thought needs to be put into proper disposal and better yet, recycling of solar components.
Do Solar Farms Pollute Water?
People also worry about potentially dangerous and spill-risky substances like oils or liquid salts, hydraulic fluids, coolants, and lubricants leeching out. Although solar energy is clean and has no negative environmental effects, the manufacturing, setting up, and transportation might cause air and water pollution. This can prove to be a serious health risk living near a solar farm.
One major concern with using solar panels that contain Cadmium is the possibility of a fire discharging cadmium. This would either wash away with the water used to put out the fire or become airborne. Either way, it would be poisonous if ingested. Additionally, the heat transfer fluid used by CSP plants may accidentally enter groundwater in the event of a catastrophic plumbing failure.
Given the care taken with sealing, a catastrophic failure of such a level seems a little improbable. Few studies state that glass-encapsulated panels capture 99.5% of the cadmium present in the glass during a conflagration. Fortunately, hazardous material effects can be reduced with sound planning from the get-go and periodical maintenance thereafter.
Do Solar Farms Damage or Poison Soil?
During the construction of the solar farm, it is necessary to level the soil and eliminate some vegetation. If you are concerned that solar farms will have an adverse effect on your land, you shouldn’t and here’s why:
- The most prevalent element on earth, silicon, makes up the majority of solar panels. This is known to be essential to the development of flora and fauna. Hence, it shouldn’t pose a problem ideally.
- The frames that connect the panels together and secure the system to the earth are made of extremely robust and corrosion-resistant aluminum. It is infrequently released into the soil by a photovoltaic system, thus making farms near solar panels safe.
Also Read: What is the Gap Between Two Solar Panels?
Do Solar Farms Radiate Heat?
Yes, solar farms do radiate heat. Certain studies have found that large-scale solar power plants raise local temperatures. This creates a solar heat island effect. It is similar to that created by industrial or urban areas, however, on a much smaller level.
How Far Away from Solar Farm Is Safe to Live?
While there may be drawbacks to residing close to a solar farm, such as local habitat disruption, decreased farmlands, poor aesthetics, and possible electromagnetic radiation, solar energy is widely regarded as the safest form of energy. The reason is the argument that almost all forms of solar or renewable energy have little potential to pollute water, air, and soil nearby. Yet, in light of the major personal, economic, and environmental advantages they offer, the concerns are wilfully overlooked or rebutted by research.
As explained at the very beginning of the blog, the electromagnetic fields produced by solar panels and transmitted to the electric grid are incredibly weak to cause serious health effects. However, as a precaution, authorities advise relocating at least 2 kilometers, which is roughly 1.2 miles from a solar field as you would be extremely unlikely to suffer any problems at this distance.
Interestingly, case studies conducted at Copper Mountain Solar Facility in Nevada and Topaz Solar Farm, in California hinted at no adverse effects on human health or safety withing 1.5 to 0.5 mile radius of the said farms, respectively.
Tips for Ensuring Resident Safety
So, are there any health risks living near solar farms? There may or may not be any serious effects but there certainly are positive effects on the environment. However, having unhappy or worse, unhealthy residents as neighbors wouldn’t be ideal. It is important to note here that there are no set universal parameters or guidelines in place.
- Therefore, a thorough investigation into the impact of a solar park on the lives of those residing nearby becomes necessary. These can range from the not-so-pretty visuals or noise pollution to more serious convenience & transportation-related matters.
- To determine how near to solar farms you or others can live without suffering any negative effects, you should read scientific journals or research papers focussing on the same. You can learn more about the correlation between electromagnetic fields and cancer on the National Cancer Institute website.
- Thus, making sure to follow the guidelines laid down by national, state, or district authorities is a must. This matter can be discussed and clarified only by the Zonal Authorities which would help determine a safe distance between a solar farm and people housing, schools, hospitals, etc.
- In addition, they would be able to guide you about land-use planning and zoning regulations applicable in your region.
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