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5 Ways Solar Power Can Protect Our Oceans

Take a deep breath. Let it out. Now, take another one.

Half of the oxygen you just pulled into your bloodstream through your lungs came from the ocean. Specifically from Phytoplankton, microscopic marine algae floating on the surface of the water that produces more than half of the world’s oxygen. These little buggers are very, very important. Without them, life on Earth would not exist

And we’re killing them off. 

Over the last 200 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (see also ‘when humans started burning things to make energy and other things’), the ocean has become approximately 30% more acidic due to the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

About one-third of the CO2 we generate is absorbed by the ocean each year, and 90% of the heat we generate as a species has been absorbed by the ocean in the last 50 years. 

When water and CO2 come into contact, they undergo a chemical reaction that creates carbonic acid. Over time, this process makes the ocean more acidic. Because of acidification, plastic pollution, herbicide runoff, and other factors, phytoplankton numbers are declining in many parts of the world

Imagine you have a backyard garden that you depend on for half of your food. Now imagine that every day, you dump herbicide, acid, and plastic into it. 

What do you think will happen to your food supply? That’s what we’re now doing to the ocean, which we depend on for half of our breathable air. We’re also polluting that breathable air with CO2. 

We know now that everything is connected. The earth’s air and oceans don’t respect international borders or care who’s polluting them. Anything we put into one ends up in the other, across the board. Since the ocean is a ‘carbon sink,’ it will always absorb more carbon than it releases

So, Where Do We Go From Here? 

The world needs electricity. Every year, from here on out, we’re projected to consume record amounts. That need isn’t going away. What we need now are wide-scale electricity-generating renewable resources that don’t pollute. The economic tides are shifting towards solar! Last year, the U.S. installed more solar than all other power sources — 53% of all new power-generating assets. 

Exact Solar has been building high-quality solar systems in southeast PA and New Jersey for 19 years. We’ve worked with this technology since before there were tax rebates and incentives, and we fully believe in its power to lower emissions worldwide as it’s deployed worldwide. Every year we’ve been in business, we’ve watched the price of solar come down, and the public interest in it goes up. 

This year, we’re proud to announce that we’ll be joining forces with World Ocean Day as a sponsor! The connection between solar energy, which is largely land-based, and helping the ocean is not immediately obvious. However, we firmly believe everything is connected and that investment in one renewable resource ripples across the whole world.

So we went digging to find exactly how clean power from the sun can help us keep one of our most precious resources clean. What follows are five compelling reasons why solar does far more for the planet than just generating clean power from the sun. 

Solar Reduces Carbon Emissions

Solar panels generate clean, renewable energy by converting sunlight into electricity. Nothing needs to be burned for solar panels to produce electricity. They just sit there and turn sunlight into electricity, often for decades per panel. 

Their widespread use decreases carbon emissions, which is critical because carbon dioxide contributes to ocean warming and acidification. An acre of solar panels sequesters more carbon per year than an acre of trees (which, to be very clear, does NOT mean we should go around cutting down trees and replacing them with solar power plants). 

The less carbon we put out, the less the ocean warms and acidifies. This protects coral reefs and endangered habitats and helps prevent Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs)

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions also helps to mitigate harmful climate effects like changes in sea temperature, sea level rise, and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

Solar Can Provide Clean Energy for Water Treatment 

Solar energy can power desalination plants in space-limited coastal communities to offer more reliable access to potable water. As solar power costs go down, It’s also becoming standard practice to build localized solar-powered water treatment facilities in impoverished communities that maintain water quality and availability. 

UNICEF has deployed thousands of solar water treatment facilities in impoverished communities without a reliable power grid. Those communities now don’t depend on diesel filtration for water filtration, meaning fewer pollutants enter the surrounding ocean. 

Even if those communities aren’t coastal, most toxic pollutants that enter local water tables eventually make their way to the sea. Cleaner water on land means healthier ocean environments and less pollution in the ocean. 

Solar Provides Power Support for Remote Marine Areas 

Solar can power remote sensors and provide energy for research stations in remote locations. 

Solar panels can be used to power data collection points floating in the middle of the ocean. This method doesn’t require researchers to harm the local environment with electric infrastructure. 

Several research vessels powered by solar and other renewable sources have been sent out to gather data (and prove a point) in the past. These boats don’t consume any fuel and, therefore, don’t spew exhaust onto the ocean’s surface or leak oil into the water. 

Solar-powered boats present the same challenge as electric vehicles (energy storage over vast distances), but as infrastructure evolves, so will our ability to power these vehicles.  

Solar Can Shift Economic Forces Away from Fossil Fuels

Offshore oil and gas operations are known for their environmental risks, particularly oil spills and the routine discharge of drilling byproducts into the ocean. These spills are disastrous for marine ecosystems, coating marine life in oil and disrupting the food chain.

There are thousands of oil spills in U.S. waters every year, with more than 150 large enough that the U.S. Office of Response and Restoration must respond. 

Solar has never spilled toxic waste into the ocean, which is more than can be said for the fossil fuel industry. Investing in solar energy drives economic trends away from sectors that directly harm the oceans through extraction methods like offshore oil and gas extraction. 

New oil deposits are often located through seismic blasting, which involves using air guns or other devices to send shock waves across the ocean floor in search of oil and gas deposits and can be particularly harmful to marine life. 

As we shift to renewable power, the demand and need for practices like this will decrease. 

Solar Can Reduce Water Usage in Energy Production

In 2017 (the last year the EIA posted publicly available data), Thermoelectric power plants consumed 52.8 trillion gallons of water for cooling in the U.S. alone. 

Plants that use fossil fuels or nuclear energy require huge amounts of water for cooling. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, power plants are among the largest water users in the United States

Runoff from coal-fired power plants can contain harmful substances like heavy metals that contaminate water bodies and affect aquatic life. By reducing reliance on these power sources and increasing the use of clean solar energy, we can decrease the incidence of water pollution, leading to cleaner oceans, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

In contrast, solar power plants do not require water for electricity generation (besides the occasional cleaning). 

Floating solar power plants placed in strategic reservoirs can generate power and hamper water evaporation rates, helping fight droughts in water-insecure communities! Covering just 10% of the total area of the world’s hydropower reservoirs with floating solar panels could produce as much power as all of the fossil-fuel plants currently in operation worldwide

Making It Right 

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve made key mistakes as a species, but that doesn’t mean we’re beyond hope. 

The connection between solar power and the world’s oceans is not obvious at first glance, but as scientists are telling us more and more, everything is connected

Fired up and excited to do more? Us, too. 

Anyone who wants to help the ocean toward recovery can join Exact Solar in celebrating ocean conservation with World Ocean Day on June 8th! 

World Ocean Day works with the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council year-round to empower a global network of 2,000+ organizations from 150 countries to get more involved in ocean and climate action. We highly recommend checking out their site and, if you’re feeling motivated, using their resources to plan a local event

Ready to make a huge difference in your world? Talk to a reputable local installer and see if your home is right for solar. 

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