An array of solar photovoltaic panels supplies electricity for use at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California

An array of solar panels supplies energy for necessities at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Jeremiah Handeland/Released (public domain)

Using solar energy does not produce air or water pollution and does not produce greenhouse gases, but using solar energy may have some indirect negative impacts on the environment. For example, there are some toxic materials and chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Some solar thermal systems use potentially hazardous fluids to transfer heat. U.S. environmental laws regulate the use and disposal of these types of materials.

As with any type of power plant, large solar power plants can affect the environment where they are located. Clearing land for construction and the placement of the power plant may have long-term impacts on plant and animal life by reducing habitat areas for native plants and animals. Power plants may require water for cleaning solar collectors or concentrators and may require water for cooling turbine-generators. Using ground water or surface water in some arid locations with significant solar potential may affect the ecosystem. In addition, birds and insects can be killed if they fly into a concentrated beam of sunlight created by a solar power tower.