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Solar Power vs Coal Power

Jan 25, 2024

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To be fair, comparing a ton of burnt coal to a solar panel is like comparing a litre of petrol to a horse.

You should rather compare a litre of petrol to a bale of hay or a kilogram of oats.

A solar panel is part of an electricity-generating plant and is, in fact, sometimes referred to as a “solar plant”.

Coal is a fuel that powers a coal-fired power plant, so let’s look at some similarities and differences.

A coal-fired power plant requires a substantial amount of steel to construct, as well as a lot of support infrastructure to keep it operational. Apart from the long cables and large transformers needed to transmit power, it also requires support from at least five coal mines per power plant, along with roads, trucks, and rail infrastructure to transport vast amounts of coal from the mines to the power plant. Let’s compare apples with apples here just for interest sake; surely, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point this out.

Flagship Solar specialises in rooftop residential and commercial solar power plants. As such, we leverage the existing infrastructure needed to provide grid power to buildings. So, all things being equal here, we are not going to construct new buildings, take up extra land, or build new power distribution networks. We are going to use what would have been there already, with or without our direct involvement. Therefore, the use of steel in these projects is minimal, amounting to an amount that one person can carry in one hand. The carbon footprint of that is not even as much as a single wheelbarrow of concrete to make one railway sleeper for a coal train’s tracks.

When we cover a residential or commercial building’s sun-facing roof in solar panels, we often reduce the energy requirements for air conditioning by up to 20% before even turning on the solar system. This is because the solar panels provide shade over the roof with a gap for ventilation, leading to a drop in energy usage over just two years that is enough to offset the carbon footprint of manufacturing the solar panels and all the solar equipment before even turning it on. We are at carbon zero now, or let’s just give the haters the benefit of the doubt; after just 20% of the life of a Flagship Solar system, we have offset the carbon footprint by at least once, in the worst-case scenario, before even turning it on. The coal-fired power plant has served nobody anything but a very, very large carbon footprint in steel, concrete, truck, and railroad infrastructure before it has been turned on.

Now it is time to fuel the two monsters. Well, the solar is easy. The fuel for your Flagship Solar system is delivered to your home or business every morning before you even get to work or get up in the morning. Nothing is as reliable as the sun; we literally set our clocks by it. It warms our world, makes our plants and food grow, and when the sun shines on your face, it makes you happy. And it is free, free like the polluted air you breathe, thanks to the coal-fired power plant.

To get fuel to a coal-fired power plant, first, you need to transport a diesel tanker ship from the Gulf of Arabia to the harbor. Then, a diesel tanker truck transports diesel to the coal mine, which fuels diesel bulldozers, diggers, loaders, and dump trucks to excavate and move the coal to the crusher plant. There, it is processed with more diesel machines and loaded onto trucks or railcars to be transported to the power plant. By the time that coal gets to the power plant, its carbon footprint is much greater than a solar panel’s carbon footprint, even before the coal is burned… and then it gets burned.

Yes, we know how solar panels are made using petcoke to reduce silicon dioxide into silicon crystals. But that is comparable to using petcoke to reduce iron dioxide into steel. And there is a lot more steel per megawatt in coal plants throughout the supply chain than in the construction of rooftop solar systems, even before the fuel is delivered to be burned.

Moreover, it is worth noting that solar panel manufacturers are moving away from petroleum coke reduction and shifting towards electric by renewables and hydrogen gas reduction, which is carbon zero.
At Flagship Solar, our offices and workshops are 100% off-grid solar-powered, and all our supplier warehouses are solar off-grid powered. So, if you ever had any doubt, then now there should no longer be any doubt. Flagship Solar systems are as clean as a whistle.