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The sinister side of solar power generation

Feb 05,2020
Solar farms may do more environmental harm than good.

While the power they generate can be considered outstanding low-carbon energy due to how much greenhouse gas and fine dust is emitted in comparison to the burning of fossil fuels, the massive clearing of trees required to install such farms has its own environmental impact.

Researchers at the National Institute of Forest Science recently analyzed environmental benefits and losses of a solar farm, or solar photovoltaic power generation, installed on forestland in a paper titled “Study on Environmental Benefits and Losses of a Solar Photovoltaic Power Generation Project on Forestland” published by the Korean Society of Climate Change Research. In the study, it was assumed that the project was implemented on one hectare (2.5 acres) of forestland for 20 years of use.

Environmental benefits such as greenhouse gas emissions reduction and fine dust removal were estimated for the project, as were benefits such as water preservation, protection from landslides and biodiversity preservation.

Energy generated from the project was estimated to be 16,343 megawatts, valued at about 1.2 billion won ($1.02 million). The unit price of generated energy was 95 won per one kilowatt hour, but costs arising from installation and operation to produce power were not taken into consideration.

In addition, such a solar farm would emit 7,180 tons less of greenhouse gas emissions, valued at 130 million won and about 0.52 tons less of fine dust. The total estimated savings incurred by a solar farm were estimated at 241 million won.

However, retained forestland can absorb about 72 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 1.7 tons of fine dust, valued at 357 million won. An extra 277 million won can be made through environmental benefits such as water preservation, protection from landslides and biodiversity preservation, for a total of 645 million won.

The loss incurred by a solar farm is estimated at about 400 million.

The analysis of the study therefore shows that not installing a solar farm is better for the environment due to the large amount of environmental losses.

“We are not trying to criticize solar photovoltaic power generation itself,” Kim Young-hwan, a researcher at the National Institute of Forest Science, said. “We want to emphasize that it is necessary to consider not only economic values, but also environmental values.

BY KANG CHAN-SU, CHEA SARAH [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]