As people are getting more cautious about the environment, the need for environment-friendly energy sources is on the boom.
The energy resources that do not pollute the environment referred to as environment friendly.
Solar, Wind, Geothermal & Nuclear energy are the few examples of eco-friendly energy sources. While fossil fuels like coal, oil & natural gas considered harmful for the environment.
In this post, I am going to share an unbiased comparison between solar energy vs nuclear energy.
I will analyze both of the energy sources based on the following aspects:
- Long Term Availability.
- Impact on the Environment.
- Cost Associated.
- Maintenance &
- Risks Associated.
Before we begin, let’s understand what nuclear & solar energy are & their working.
Every matter around us is made up of tiny atoms. These atoms comprise electrons, protons & neutrons.
The mass of an atom is concentrated at the center of the atom, known as the nucleus.
When a nucleus of a large atom is split into smaller counterparts, a huge amount of energy is released. This process is known as nuclear fission.
Similarly, if two small atomic nuclei are combined to form a bigger atom, then it is called nuclear fusion.
During both fission & fusion, an enormous amount of energy is released in the form of heat known as nuclear energy.
This energy is later used to heat water & produce steam. And, the steam thus generated is used to spin turbines to form electricity.
This is how nuclear energy works.
Let’s have a look at the pros & cons of using nuclear energy.
|1. Cheaper as compared to fossil fuels.||1. Higher initial investment.|
|2. Highly efficient.||2. Non-renewable.|
|3. Less to no pollution.||3. Nuclear accidents are big trouble.|
|4. Reliable in nature.||4. Transportation is risky.|
|5. Leads to economic growth.||5. Nuclear waste is dangerous for human health.|
Solar energy is the energy that we receive from the sun in the form of heat radiations.
PV panels are used to harness the sun’s energy. These panels convert sunlight into electricity with the help of the photovoltaic effect.
We use solar inverters to convert the electricity produced by solar panels into AC (Alternating Current).
In our last few posts, we have already discussed history, types, working & energy storage methods for solar panels.
If you want to learn more about solar energy, I suggest going through previous posts on our blog.
Let us now have a look at some pros & cons of adopting solar energy.
|1. Solar energy is renewable.||1. Initial Investment is very high.|
|2. It is eco-friendly.||2. Depend on weather conditions.|
|3. Higher ROI compared to fossil fuels.||3. Longer returns on Investment.|
|4. Sustainable in nature.||4. Lesser efficient as compared to fossil fuels.|
|5. It leads to economic growth.||5. It is location dependent.|
These are some of the top advantages & disadvantages of adopting solar energy.
I think we have talked a lot about solar & nuclear energy. Now let’s discuss our main topic, i.e. the comparison between solar energy & nuclear energy.
Solar Energy vs Nuclear Energy
Both solar energy & nuclear energy are eco-friendly sources of energy. However, to find the best one, we have to compare both of them in various aspects.
Let’s start by comparing the long term availability of solar energy vs nuclear energy.
1. Long Term Availability
Long term availability means how long the energy reserve lasts if we continue our consumption at the current rate.
If we talk about nuclear energy, then Uranium is one of the main elements that we use to generate nuclear energy.
So, we can say that as long as Uranium lasts, we will keep getting nuclear energy.
According to Phys.org, if we keep using Uranium at the current rate, then the current supply will last next 70-80 years.
However, another article from Forbes suggests that it could become completely renewable if the source of Uranium changes from mined ore to seawater.
For now, Uranium is still a non-renewable source of energy & will only be available for the next 80 years.
On the other hand, if we talk about solar energy, then it will continue to power us as long as the sun lasts.
Considering the assumption that the sun will last forever, we can say that solar energy will always be available to us.
Related: Difference between Renewable & Non-renewable Energy Sources
2. Environmental Impact
Both nuclear and solar energy are better compared to fossil fuels if we consider CO2 emissions.
Nuclear energy itself does not produce harmful gases but the construction, refining & mining require a tremendous amount of energy.
And, the use of fossil fuels in the process of mining & refining is responsible for harmful greenhouse gases. However, the amount of CO2 produced in this process is still very less.
The nuclear power plants work out around 4gm of CO2 per kWh of electricity produced. On the other hand, solar panels work out 50gm of CO2 per kWh.
Thus, nuclear energy is a clear winner if we consider Carbon emissions. Read more about how solar panels effect the environment.
Efficiency is the ability to generate the highest possible output by using the least available resources.
If we compare solar energy vs nuclear energy based on their efficiencies, then the results look like this:
- Only 11 to 15% of solar energy is converted into electricity with the help of solar panels.
- While the efficiency of nuclear energy is 91% which is far more than solar (15%), wind energy (32%) & fossil fuels(52%).
So clearly nuclear energy is winning in terms of efficiency.
The below infographic from Rafal Badri depicts how powerful nuclear energy is.
Source: Nuclear Energy Efficiency [Infographic]
4. Cost Associated
The cost of setting up a nuclear power plant is far more than that of solar power plants.
However, if we consider the amount of energy produced during their life, nuclear is no doubt superior in comparison to solar energy.
Also, the life of a nuclear power plant (50years) is twice as long as solar panels (25 years).
Overall, the cost of nuclear energy is less as compared to solar energy.
Nuclear power plants require regular maintenance for them to work properly throughout their life.
On the other hand, solar panels do not require much maintenance. You just have to periodically clean dirt from their surface.
So, less manpower is required in the maintenance of solar panels compared to the nuclear power plants.
6. Risk Associated
Risks associated with nuclear energy include nuclear wastes, radiative accidents & terrorist attacks.
Nuclear reactors produce waste that can be harmful to human health as it remains radioactive for a long time.
Also, nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl disaster (1986) make it highly risky to work with.
Solar energy, on the other hand, is not that risky & risks associated with it are very few.
An arc flash blast is one of the most common risks faced by workers during the manufacturing of solar panels.
Solar Energy vs Nuclear Energy: Infographic
The comparison between solar & nuclear energy can be better understood with the help of the below infographic.
Up to You!
Both solar energy & nuclear energy are eco-friendly & sustainable.
However, in some aspects nuclear is better compared to solar, while on other solar seems to be a better option.
Both of these energies have equal importance. If you need high efficiency and lesser emissions, then you should go for nuclear energy.
Contrary to that, if you want renewable energy sources with lesser risks associated than solar energy is the best option.
I hope you like this comparison on solar energy vs nuclear energy.
You can appreciate our efforts by sharing this post with your loved ones.
Which energy source do you think is better? – Leave a comment because your opinion matters.
4 thoughts on “Solar Energy vs Nuclear Energy: An Unbiased Comparison”
Hi Harish, thanks for an intersting study. I wonder, though, if a very important factor was excluded from your analysis!
Does the cost of nuclear include thousands of years of serious radioactivity remaining after the plant has been closed down? There is one near Bristol, UK, which was closed after 30 years or so – it now has a permanent staff of 100 people who work to ensure that the reactor remains cool, and I believe this will be the case far into the future.
So, do your calculations include these costs?
Thanks for your comment!
I have shared a bit about the lifetime maintenance in my 5th point – “Nuclear power plants require regular maintenance for them to work properly throughout their life “.
Well, I have not discussed anything about the radioactive waste. However, It is a good point to consider. Will surely include it in the next update!
The efficiency is only relevant if there is a productive cost to producing the electricity. Once a solar farm is built, there is no production cost for the solar energy. More energy can be generated by building a larger farm. There are production costs for uranium and the disposal of the waste..
You are right Margot!