Renewable Energy sources supply about 13 percent of the nation's electricity. Of that amount, solar power provides less than one percent. Hydropower provides the lions share at over 60 percent. However, this source of energy carries enormous environmental costs, paving the way for alternatives such as wind and solar power.

On the surface, solar energy is a good solution. It produces no greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a viable option for reduction of the impacts of global warming. However, use of this alternative fuel source is not without environmental costs.

Solar Potential.

While sunlight is available everywhere, the greatest potential for solar power is in the southwestern United States, including the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and California.

This is true because of the seasonal changes and amount of cloud-free days. There is another factor that helps determine their potential.

Some parts of the country, particularly in the northern latitudes, do not receive sunlight at the same angle. This fact lowers their potential for solar power. In fact, individuals living in areas above 35-degree latitude cannot even receive enough sunlight for vitamin D production in their bodies, let alone to provide solar energy.

Conflict with Water Demands.

The area for the greatest solar energy potential shares another characteristic that directly impacts its implementation. These states also experiencing drought from a moderate to extreme intensity level. This situation comes into play with solar energy facilities that require steam to produce electricity.

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The water usage to run steam turbines can draw upon already strained resources, placing these areas under further stress from drought-like conditions. Since 1950, the nation's population has increased over 150 percent, resulting in a 207 percent increase in water usage.

Adding solar power on top of that figure can lead to serious environmental consequences. If present trends continue unabated, over 60 percent of the global population may experience water shortages. These facts make areas like the southwestern United States especially vulnerable.

Other Environmental Concerns

Other factors cloud the environmental benefits of solar energy. While clean from an emissions perspective, there is still some generation of solid waste that requires proper disposal, explains the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This is also the case with other alternative energy sources, such as biofuels. Waste generation, therefore, must be considered as part of the implementation. A new solution should not add to existing environmental problems if it is to be truly viable.

Standalone Solution

Perhaps the best solution with solar energy is not wide-scale development, but rather an emphasis on standalone installations. Emerging technology has made residential installation more affordable than in previous years so homeowners can see a return on their investment.

A standalone solution eliminates the concerns of water usage and disposal while providing a clean source of energy. Several major companies have embraced green energy as ways to reduce operation costs as well as a means to build public support. It represents an alternative that benefits the business, the environment, and the consumer.

No matter what the source of energy, there will always be environmental costs whether it comes from a wood-burning fireplace in your home or electricity from a coal-powered energy facility. The soundest solutions minimize the environmental risks while providing minimizing the contribution to global warming. The field of standalone solutions may offer the best green choice.