Is Solar Energy Really Better Than Nuclear Energy?

With fossil fuels diminishing and climate change on the rise, the world is looking for more environmentally clean energy sources to be the new champions of our global energy war.

Stepping from the ashes of the coal giants and the other fossil fuels, the great warriors of nuclear and solar energy emerge.

Let’s explore these two titans of power in this episode

Nuclear Energy vs Solar Energy.

Nuclear energy is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom.

Releasing this energy from the atom is what gives way to usable nuclear energy.

The main way this is done is through nuclear fission. Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to split apart atoms to form smaller atoms, which, in turn, releases energy and generates heat that typically turns a turbine.

Solar energy, on the other hand, harnesses power from the sun.

We can take radiation in the form of light from the sun and convert it into electricity. This is typically done through photovoltaic, or PV, cells, which are made of semi-conductive materials like silicon.

When sunlight is absorbed by PV cells, photons of light transfer that energy to electrons, which, in turn, creates energy in the form of an electric current as the electrons flow through the material.

As such, solar energy is classified as a renewable energy source, since it is a source of energy that can theoretically regenerate and replenish itself indefinitely.

While some argue that nuclear energy should also be classified as renewable, most agree that it is, more accurately, a sustainable energy source.

This means that while nuclear power may not be seen as infinite, the rate that it is consumed

is insignificant compared to the amount of the supply. It’s like the kale of energy sources. Sure, there is only a finite amount of the stuff, but who would ever eat so much of it that the world would run out?

So how did nuclear energy all get started?

In 1954, the Russian installation APS-1 was the world’s first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for commercial use.

Today, there are around 450 nuclear power plants worldwide. The United States is home to 99 of those power plants, which is more than Russia, China, and India combined.

In 1941, the first solar cell was invented. Today, there are over 75 solar thermal power stations around the world that have a combined capacity of over 4,810 megawatts, enough to power more than 1.7 million homes during peak hours.

Nuclear power generates around 10.6% of the electricity used around the world while solar energy supplies less than 6.3%. In this regard, nuclear energy is the clear winner. But when looking at horrific accidents like the disaster in Chernobyl, Nuclear Energy’s reputation takes a turn for the worse, making it seem like an extremely dangerous form of energy.

With the fear of harmful radiation, radioactive waste, and the possible threats of nuclear reactor meltdowns, many people want to move away from nuclear energy. In reality, however, very few deaths actually occur directly or indirectly from nuclear power plants.

While the power of nuclear energy should not be underestimated, it might actually be safer than solar energy.

Based off of recent findings, solar energy appears to have a death rate of 0.44 deaths per terawatt hour.

Nuclear energy, on the other hand, appears to have a death rate of only 0.04 deaths per terawatt hour. More research would be helpful to further these findings, but if nuclear truly is safer, then this is made even more significant by the fact that nuclear power supplies a far greater amount of the world’s total energy than solar power does.

So nuclear energy seems to cost less lives, but does it cost less money?

In the United States, solar energy costs around 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, while nuclear energy costs around 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Not only is nuclear energy far cheaper in terms of operating costs at around 1/6 the price of solar, but it also doesn’t require large amounts of land either.

It would take around 45 square miles of solar photovoltaic panels to be able to produce the same amount of electricity as that of a single, multi-reactor nuclear power plant.

In all fairness, with solar panels having the ability to go on the roofs of homes and buildings, it might not take up that much extra space, but the difference between their spatial needs is still staggering.

France is a big fan of nuclear energy, with over 75% of their electricity coming from nuclear power plants.

Our friends in France make nuclear energy look very enticing since they are the world’s largest net exporter of electricity.

They also rank 2nd in total nuclear power generation at 419 billion kWh , with the United States in the lead at 798 billion kWh.

Contrarily, Germany and China have paved the way in solar energy production with over 80,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic power between them.

The United States, however, doesn’t seem to be as big of a supporter of solar power; Americans has around 25,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic power.

Both nuclear and solar energy have great potential as power sources of the future. If there’s one thing for certain, the world can always use better advancements in our energy production so that we can continue to fuel our ever-advancing society.