Solar energy is a renewable energy source that plays a significant role in the day-to-day life of human beings. This article seeks to uncover the relationship between solar energy and ecosystem services.
The ecosystem effectively functions if there is continuous energy. Energy from the sun does just that. Materials in the ecosystem move in a cycle, with solar energy fueling the process. Solar energy facilitates the provision of heat and electricity in homes.
Is Solar Energy An Ecosystem Service?
To understand whether solar energy is an ecosystem service, its first imperative to understand what these two components are separate.
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What Is Solar energy?
According to Wikipedia, solar energy is the heat and radiant light that, through various technologies, can generate solar thermal energy, solar architecture, and electricity. Solar energy is considered renewable and is divided into two categories.
Solar energy is either active and passive. These two are differentiated by how they capture the energy or ensure conversion to solar power. The techniques of passive solar include picking materials with appropriate thermal mass or building orientation to the sun.
On the other hand, active solar utilizes techniques such as concentrated solar power and heating water with solar and photovoltaic systems.
Benefits Of Solar Energy
Since 2021, solar energy has been deemed inexpensive compared to fossil fuels. Its availability in large amounts makes it more attractive as an electricity source.
The advantages that solar energy promises are global. Not only that but having affordable and clean technologies focused on solar energy is bound to bring long-term benefits.
The International Energy Agency shared the same sentiments in 2011. It would mean countries reduced pollution, energy security, lower costs of global warming mitigation, and enhanced sustainability.
On a large scale, power plants (solar-thermal) utilize various means to concentrate the sun’s energy and use it as a heat source. In turn, the heat is used in boiling water that drives steam turbines that generate electricity. They work similarly to nuclear and power plants that ensure many people have electricity (Source).
What Is An Ecosystem Service?
Environmentalists and scientists have often spoken of ecosystem services through the decades. However, it was not until the 2000s that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment popularized this concept. Ecosystem services are the varied benefits that healthy ecosystems and the natural environment offer human beings.
The various ecosystems work collectively to offer natural crop pollination, mitigate extreme weather, and ensure human beings’ physical and mental well-being. These ecosystem services are necessary for food provision, waste decomposition, and the availability of safe drinking water.
It isn’t easy to put a monetary value on the numerous ways nature enriches the lives of human beings. The benefits of living in a healthy ecosystem are multiple. Since time immemorial, we acknowledge the offers provided to human beings by nature. Humans developed the ecosystem services to describe the tangible benefits.
What Do Experts Reveal?
A 2005 assessment by more than 1300 international experts concluded that 60% of ecosystem services that were globally assessed were being utilized unsustainably or were degraded.
Researchers also discovered that a large portion (70%) of the cultural and regulating services was declining. A large driver of such ecosystem loss is land use, climate change, over-exploitation, and pollution.
What Is The Correlation Between Solar Energy And Ecosystem Services?
All humans depend on the ecosystem for natural resources and survival food. Many of these resources are renewable as they come from the ecosystem repeatedly.
These resources are used and returned to the ecosystem in different forms of waste like rubbish, industrial effluent, and sewage. The ecosystem renews these resources through waste processing, making them available for human use again.
For the ecosystem to function in this way, continuous energy is required. Energy from the sun does just that. Materials in the ecosystem move in a cycle because of the solar energy that fuels this process. Animals are supplied with renewable natural resources.
Providing renewable natural resources is integral for ecosystem services. Such services depend on sunlight and other healthy biological communities to pass energy and materials in forms humans can use. The two emergent properties that ensure these services are derived are energy flow and material cycling.
What Are Four Examples of Ecosystem Services?
There are several ecosystem services. Each ecosystem service is beneficial to human beings, particularly when combined. However, this is not to say that the ecosystem services function simultaneously. According to a scientific body, these services are divided into four. These are provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services (Source).
Some ecosystem services benefit neighbors of the human population, such as food, aesthetic values, and fresh water. Other services impact environmental conditions, which ultimately indirectly affect human beings.
These conditions include regulation of natural hazards, erosion, and climate change. We can place solar energy in different categories of ecosystem services as it impacts neighbors of the human population and environmental conditions.
What Is The Main Service Among The Four?
Of the four categories, the supporting services are considered the basis of the other three, according to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report.
The ecosystem consists of living and non-things interacting and functioning as a unit. Environmental factors affecting ecosystems’ distribution and presence include water availability, climate, and soil type.
Waste from a section of the ecosystem act as/form fuel in another part. Over time, there have been stresses and disturbances raising the alarm about the ability of ecosystems to adapt and survive.
A glimpse at the four ecosystem services will shed light on their role in human survival and sustenance.
- Provisioning Services
Provisioning services are services one can extract from nature that benefit human beings; these include livestock, trees, fish, vegetables, and fruits. Other services include timber, wood fuel, oils, natural gas, and medicinal benefits.
However, it is necessary to note that overreliance on timber and wood fuel results in deforestation, causing detriment to the ecosystem.
It is common to see the trading of provisioning services in markets. However, it is common to find rural households depending on these services for survival. It means that the value of the provisioning services is more vital than what their local market price reflects.
Industries Greatly Influenced By The Ecosystem
Fisheries, agriculture, and forestry are great influencers and are equally influenced by all ecosystem services. For example, agriculture has increased food production over the years.
The world can feed 7 billion people globally. It is 17% more food per human compared to thirty years ago. The food production rate has increased faster than the population in the past two decades.
Fresh water and marine fish provide a large amount of protein to the human diet globally. Protein from aquatic life is estimated to be about 15 and 20 percent. Fish are very nutritious and great for diets lacking minerals and vitamins. They are equally a unique source of omega-3 fats.
- Regulating Services
Basic services offered by the ecosystem make life on earth livable. Plants clean and filter the air; bees pollinate flowers; bacteria decompose waste; tree roots prevent soil erosion.
The ecosystem is kept clean, functional, and sustainable. Regulating services moderate the occurrence of natural phenomena. Such services include erosion, water purification, climate regulation, carbon storage, and flood control.
Most times, regulating services are invisible; unfortunately, we take them for granted. When damaged, the losses that occur are substantial and challenging to mitigate. A good example is clearing vast land for urbanization and factory emissions.
A large part of food production depends on animal pollination, particularly bees. The absence of animal pollination would see a 90% drop in crop production. Pollination ecosystem service is made possible by habitats that are suitable for bees. These include natural grassland, forests, and hedgerows. They also need to be close to pollination-dependent crops.
- Protection From Flooding
Flooding due to heavy rainfall may happen when the rainfall intensity exceeds the capacity of soil water infiltration. When vegetation is present, this directly impacts the infiltration capacity and provides an ecosystem service.
- Regulation Of Local Climate
The urban heat island effect is mitigated when vegetation is in a city or close to it.
- Cultural Services
As human beings alter and interact with nature, the natural world has also changed humans. Nature guides the social and cultural developments we enjoy today. The positive impact nature has had on the minds of human beings can be traced back to human civilization. It is when man drew pictures of weather patterns, plants, and animals on cave walls.
Therefore, cultural services are non-material benefits that impact people’s cultural advancement and development. It includes the ecosystem’s role in global, national, and local cultures. It means spreading ideas and knowledge building, creativity that arises from interacting with nature and recreation.
Other Benefits From The Ecosystem
Other non-material benefits humans gain from the ecosystem include cultural identity, spiritual experiences, a sense of home, and aesthetic inspiration. Additionally, recreation and tourism opportunities are within this group.
Understanding cultural services is vital as people associate imperative values with nature. For example, fishing on a small scale is not just about income and food. It is also the way of life of the fisherman.
- Supporting Services
Nature provides many services, making it easy to overlook fundamental ones. Without the consistency of underlying natural processes, it would be challenging to sustain ecosystems.
These processes include nutrient cycling, water cycle, soil creation, and photosynthesis. Primary life forms, people, and entire ecosystems are sustained thanks to these processes.
Supporting services also include the provision of living spaces for animals and plants. Semi-natural grasslands host various unique species that are adapted to open habitats. Practices that encourage sustainable grassland management are essential in keeping the ecosystems alive.
Fresh water and marine ecosystems are vital homes for aquatic species. Pressures that aquatic ecosystems face include pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction.
Why Is Solar Energy Important In Ecosystems?
With an understanding of ecosystem services and the immense value they provide to the ecosystem, it’s easier to comprehend the vital role played by solar energy.
- Regulating Services And Solar Energy
Wood is undoubtedly an ecosystem service and is considered the first energy source human beings utilize. It remains a vital renewable source of 6% of the primary energy supply globally. Over two billion people depend on wood for heating and cooking.
It is affordable and domestically available, with most of its users residing in developing countries. Wood fuel is attained from various sources, which include forests, trees away from forests, and other wooded areas.
When facing economic difficulties, conflict, or natural disasters, societies tend to turn back to wood fuel. However, with climate change and concerns about energy security, finding alternative energy sources has become necessary. One of these alternative sources is solar energy. Solar energy has played a significant role in climate regulation.
- Provisioning Services And Solar Energy
One of the essential provisioning services is crops and food. Thanks to the sun, the earth is bathed in radiated energy; these radiation waves occur along various electromagnetic spectrums. These include visible light, microwaves, and radio waves.
Solar energy is being used to power businesses, offices, and homes. Green plants and trees have been utilizing this energy for millions of years.
Plants use radiant energy to break and make chemical bonds, providing the energy required for survival and growth. The light that reaches leaves fuels plant growth. Human beings consume plants and vegetables thanks to this growth.
- Cultural Services And Solar Energy
One of the services provided by the ecosystem is cultural services. These include recreation, outdoor sports, and ecotourism. In its natural form, the sun plays a vital part in outdoor activities as it ensures a favorable environment. Participating in outdoor activities would be strained if there was a storm.
Also, ecotourism advocates for sustainable recreational experiences. Visiting ecotourism facilities exposes tourists to a sustainable lifestyle they can emulate in workspaces and homes.
What Do Statistics Reveal?
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a dual relationship exists between global warming and traditional tourism. Tourism is categorized as both a victim and a contributor. According to scientific research, 5% of CO2 emissions globally can be linked to tourism. It is through accommodation, transportation, tourist destinations, and other travel services.
Sustainable tourism becomes the responsibility of all to safeguard resources and the environment. Looking at energy and its sources is one criterion that addresses this issue.
Ecotourism Kenya, for example, expects the indication, monitoring, and conservation of energy sources. Further, it encourages the use of innovative measures and renewable energy sources.
Investing in renewable energy in the country is also a legal requirement. According to the 2012 regulation, premises located in jurisdictions where hot water capacity exceeds 100 liters per day are expected to install solar heating systems.
Solar panels ensure electricity requirements, water heating, and swimming pool maintenance. Not only does solar energy combat the emission of Co2, but it also facilitates the appreciation of lodging amenities such as swimming pools.
- Supporting Services And Solar Energy
One of the supporting services offered by solar energy is primary production. Primary production means organic compounds are synthesized from aqueous or atmospheric carbon dioxide. It occurs through photosynthesis which uses sunlight as its energy source. All life forms on earth depend on primary production either indirectly or directly.
While hydropower is an excellent source of renewable energy and electricity, there are ways in which it leads to the detriment of ecosystem services. Installing hydropower plants in aquatic environments leads to the disruption of normal aquatic life.
One of the supporting services of the ecosystem is the provision of living spaces for animals. Building such plants could displace fish and other aquatic animals. However, solar panels are usually on the top of homes and other stations with solar energy, avoiding the intrusion of natural habitats.
One way or another, ecosystem services enhance the life of human beings on earth. Solar energy plays a large in the provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services. To continue receiving the best of what ecosystem services offer, humans need to be conscious of how they relate to the environment.