Which Is Better Solar Power Or Fossil Fuels?

Which is better solar power or fossil fuels?

Solar power and fossil fuels are two main sources of energy that have different costs, impacts on the environment, and benefits. This article will compare and contrast solar power and fossil fuels on factors like pollution, job growth, public health, accessibility, and reliability to determine which energy source is better overall.

The main thesis is that while fossil fuels have powered society for decades, solar power is a cleaner, renewable energy source that is quickly becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels. Solar power reduces pollution and environmental damage while creating domestic jobs and improving public health through reduced emissions. While reliability and accessibility are still challenges for solar power, continued advancements are expanding access and making solar more scalable and dependable.


The upfront costs of installing solar panels can seem high compared to the ongoing costs of fossil fuels. However, over the lifespan of a solar system, solar becomes cheaper than fossil fuels.

According to the Smart Cities Dive, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for solar photovoltaics ranges from $72-86/MWh, while coal ranges from $66-150/MWh and natural gas combined cycle ranges from $61-87/MWh [1]. This shows solar is cost competitive and often cheaper than fossil fuels.

While solar has high upfront capital costs for installation, once installed the “fuel” costs are zero. Fossil fuels have lower upfront costs for power plants but have ongoing fuel expenses. Over a project lifetime of 20-30 years, solar has a lower LCOE than fossil fuels.


When comparing solar energy and fossil fuels in terms of pollution and environmental impact, solar energy is the clear winner. Fossil fuels release large amounts of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned to produce energy. According to the World Resources Institute, fossil fuels typically emit around 1,000g of CO2 per kWh over their lifetime [1].

In contrast, solar energy produces virtually no emissions or pollution when generating electricity. One study estimates that renewable energy sources like solar typically emit around 50g or less of CO2 emissions per kWh over their lifetime [1]. The emissions from solar come from manufacturing and installing the panels, not from energy generation.

By displacing fossil fuel energy sources, solar power reduces greenhouse gas concentrations and mitigates the effects of climate change [2]. Widespread adoption of solar energy could significantly curb air pollution and related health issues caused by burning fossil fuels.

Energy Independence

One of the biggest benefits of solar power is achieving energy independence through reliance on a domestic energy source rather than imported fossil fuels (https://www.solar.com/learn/gain-energy-independence/). The US currently imports around 7-8 million barrels of oil per day, but solar provides a way to produce energy locally without relying on other countries (https://www.ecowatch.com/energy-independence-solar.html). With enough installed solar capacity, homes and businesses can generate their own electricity and eliminate dependence on foreign oil imports. Energy independence also provides greater resilience against global energy price shocks and oil supply disruptions. Solar supports national security by reducing funding for hostile regimes that control fossil fuel reserves and keeping energy dollars in the local economy.

Job Creation

The solar power industry creates more long-term jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Solar jobs have grown over 10 times faster than the overall job market in the United States. The solar industry employs over 250,000 people in the US, compared to fewer than 150,000 jobs in the coal industry. Jobs in solar and other renewables also tend to provide better pay and more comprehensive benefits compared to fossil fuel jobs. The renewable energy sector will continue to be a major source of new job creation as more homes and businesses adopt solar power.

Fossil fuel jobs, on the other hand, are declining over the long run. Employment in coal mining has dropped over 60% in the last few decades due to automation and an overall decline in coal production. Jobs related to natural gas and oil drilling tend to be temporary or boom-and-bust in nature as wells are exhausted. By expanding solar power, we can create stable, long-term employment opportunities that support American workers and their families.

Land Usage

Solar farms require significant amounts of land in order to generate electricity at scale. A typical 1 megawatt solar farm needs around 5-10 acres of land. Fossil fuel extraction like drilling and fracking also uses substantial land, but the footprint per unit of energy produced is generally smaller than solar.

Drilling pads for oil and gas wells are usually 1-5 acres in size. The pads are connected by pipelines and access roads, so the total surface disturbance can add up in oil and gas fields. However, horizontal drilling allows multiple wellbores to be directed from a single pad, concentrating infrastructure and minimizing land usage.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves injecting fluid at high pressure into shale rock formations to release oil and gas. Fracking wells can extract fossil fuels from a much wider area underground compared to vertical drilling, so fewer well pads and access roads are needed.

In summary, both solar farms and fossil fuel extraction require land, but fracking combined with horizontal drilling may have a smaller surface footprint per unit of energy produced. Solar farms can also utilize marginal lands like deserts to minimize conflicts over land use.

Public Health

Fossil fuels like coal and natural gas release harmful pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses and increased cancer rates. Burning fossil fuels releases particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, particulate matter pollution from fossil fuel combustion contributes to an estimated 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S. alone. Long-term exposure is linked to increased risk of respiratory diseases like asthma and lung cancer (Clean Energy & Health – C-CHANGE).

In contrast, renewable energy sources like solar and wind do not release air pollutants that harm human health. Switching to clean renewable energy could prevent up to 3 million premature deaths annually worldwide by reducing air pollution, according to Our World In Data (What are the safest and cleanest sources of energy?). Clean energy improves public health by reducing hazardous emissions from fossil fuel combustion that contribute to respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.


One of the key differences between solar power and fossil fuels is the decentralized nature of solar energy compared to the centralized power plants needed for fossil fuels [1]. Solar panels can be installed on individual homes and businesses, allowing them to generate their own electricity. This decentralized model provides energy independence and removes reliance on centralized power grids. Fossil fuel plants, on the other hand, require massive infrastructure with power lines stretching across cities and countries. Their centralized nature leads to vulnerabilities, as damage to power plants or grid infrastructure can cause widespread outages.

The decentralized nature of solar also makes it more accessible to rural and remote areas. Fossil fuel plants require connection to major grid infrastructure which may not reach isolated communities. Solar panels can provide power locally in areas beyond the grid. Overall, the decentralized and distributed nature of solar energy gives it an accessibility advantage over centralized fossil fuel plants.


One key difference between solar and fossil fuels is the reliability of each energy source. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas can be extracted and burned whenever needed, making them very reliable sources of energy [1]. Power plants that run on fossil fuels have a constant supply of fuel and can generate electricity 24/7, rain or shine. The existing infrastructure for extracting, transporting and storing fossil fuels also contributes to their reliability.

In contrast, solar power is dependent on the sun shining and is weather-dependent. Solar panels do not generate electricity at night or on cloudy days, which can make solar an intermittent energy source. Battery storage systems can help mitigate this issue by storing excess solar energy for use when the sun isn’t shining. However, adding storage increases costs. The variability of solar energy production can make it more challenging to integrate into the existing electric grid compared to the more stable electricity output from fossil fuel plants [2].

Overall, fossil fuels offer more reliable, consistent energy output than solar power. However, continued improvements in energy storage technology may help increase the reliability of solar electricity in the future.


In summary, while both solar power and fossil fuels have their advantages and disadvantages, the evidence suggests that solar power is generally the better option when all factors are considered. Solar power is renewable, clean, and becoming increasingly cost-competitive over time. While fossil fuels currently remain cheaper and more reliable, they come with significant environmental and health costs that solar avoids. From a sustainability and climate change perspective, transitioning to solar power should be an urgent priority despite the initial costs involved.

Therefore, it is recommended that policy makers incentivize solar adoption through subsidies, tax credits, and other mechanisms to make it more affordable for both utilities and consumers. Regulations on fossil fuel emissions should also be strengthened to reflect their true costs. Individuals should be encouraged to install solar panels on their homes. And utilities should invest more heavily in large-scale solar farms to meet increasing electricity demand through clean energy. With the right policies and investments today, solar power holds great promise for providing abundant clean energy in the future while mitigating climate change.

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