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Can prioritising solar panels worsen climate change?


It seems the various political parties in the UK have conflicting opinions over which policies should be implemented. For example, Jonathon Porrit, of the Green Party has criticised Nuclear Energy because it isn't renewable like solar power. However, we must take a step back from these arguments and consider what the goal behind all these environmental improvements should be. What are we ultimately trying to achieve? Indeed, answers to this question itself will vary.

Ultimately, improving the environment and reducing global warming, and cutting all of the ill effects of sea levels rising, more extreme weather and so on is very important. This is, in my opinion at least, what we should be aiming to do, and in the most cost-effective manner possible.



With any problem involving expenditure, economics dictates that the solution lies in working out the level of pollution which is optimal for society, and in calculating the most cost effective manner of getting there. For example, a small level of emissions, if it is millions of pounds cheaper than a slightly smaller level of emissions, may well be better - in this case, it isn't worth making the push to cut pollution that tiny bit more because it means fewer hospitals, worse roads and so on.

Porrit says that we could meet all our electricity needs through renewables. However, this would take much longer than using nuclear power on a large scale, and it is roughly half the cost. That extra money could go into schools, or other valuable projects. However, we'd then have to put up with the downsides of nuclear power - primarily, dealing with toxic waste.

The question needing to be asked from an economics perspective is whether the benefits of using nuclear power instead of solar panels outweigh the disadvantages. There is no reason from this perspective of favouring the renewables sector, at least in the short to medium run.