Environmental impacts of renewable energy technologies

Today the situation in fuel and industrial complexes round the world is disastrous. Current energy systems depend heavily upon fossil

Environmental impacts of renewable energy technologies



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Wind Energy2

Solar Energy3

Geothermal Energy4


Air Pollution6

Greenhouse Gases8

Implications for Agriculture and Forestry8






To combat global warming and the other problems associated with fossil fuels, the world must switch to renewable energy sources like sunlight, wind, and biomass. All renewable energy technologies are not appropriate to all applications or locations, however. As with conventional energy production, there are environmental issues to be considered. This paper identifies some of the key environmental impacts associated with renewable technologies and suggests appropriate responses to them. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and three other national organizations, America's Energy Choices, found that even when certain strict environmental standards are used for evaluating renewable energy projects, these energy sources can provide more than half of the US energy supply by the year 2030.

Today the situation in fuel and industrial complexes round the world is disastrous. Current energy systems depend heavily upon fossil and nuclear fuels. What this would mean is that we would run out of mineral resources if we continue consuming non-renewables at the present rate, and this moment is not far off. According to some estimates, within the next 200 years most people, for instance, seize using their cars for lack of petrol (unless some alternatives are used). Moreover, both fossil and nuclear fuels produce a great amount of polluting substances when burnt. We are slowly but steadily destroying our planet, digging it from inside and releasing the wastes into the atmosphere, water and soil. We have to seize vandalizing the Earth and seek some other ways to address the needs of the society some other way. Thats why renewable sources are so important for the society. In fact, today we have a simple choice either to turn to nature or to destroy ourselves. I have all reasons to reckon that most of people would like the first idea much more, and this is why Im going to inquire into the topic and look through some ways of providing a sustainable future for next generations.


Wind Energy

It is hard to imagine an energy source more benign to the environment than wind power; it produces no air or water pollution, involves no toxic or hazardous substances (other than those commonly found in large machines), and poses no threat to public safety. And yet a serious obstacle facing the wind industry is public opposition reflecting concern over the visibility and noise of wind turbines, and their impacts on wilderness areas.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of wind power is its use of land. Most studies assume that wind turbines will be spaced a certain distance apart and that all of the land in between should be regarded as occupied. This leads to some quite disturbing estimates of the land area required to produce substantial quantities of wind power. According to one widely circulated report from the 1970s, generating 20 percent of US electricity from windy areas in 1975 would have required siting turbines on 18,000 square miles, or an area about 7 percent the size of Texas.

In reality, however, the wind turbines themselves occupy only a small fraction of this land area, and the rest can be used for other purposes or left in its natural state. For this reason, wind power development is ideally suited to farming areas. In Europe, farmers plant right up to the base of turbine towers, while in California cows can be seen peacefully grazing in their shadow. The leasing of land for wind turbines, far from interfering with farm operations, can bring substantial benefits to landowners in the form of increased income and land values. Perhaps the greatest potential for wind power development is consequently in the Great Plains, where wind is plentiful and vast stretches of farmland could support hundreds of thousands of wind turbines.

In other settings, however, wind power development can create serious land-use conflicts. In forested areas it may mean clearing trees and cutting roads, a prospect that is sure to generate controversy, except possibly in areas where heavy logging has already occurred. And near populated areas, wind projects often run into stiff opposition from people who regard them as unsightly and noisy, or who fear their presence may reduce property values.

In California, bird deaths from electrocution or collisions with spinning rotors have emerged as a problem at the Altamont Pass wind "farm," where more than 30 threatened golden eagles and 75 other raptors such as red-tailed hawks died or were injured during a three-year period. Studies under way to determine the cause of these deaths and find preventive measures may have an important impact on the public image and rate of growth of the wind industry. In appropriate areas, and with imagination, careful planning, and early contacts between the wind industry, environmental groups, and affected communities, siting and environmental problems should not be insurmountable.

Solar Energy

Since solar power systems generate no air pollution during operation, the primary environmental, health, and safety issues involve how they are manufactured, installed, and ultimately disposed of. Energy is required to manufacture and install solar components, and any fossil fuels used for this purpose will generate emissions. Thus, an important question is how much fossil energy input is required for solar systems compared to the fossil energy consumed by comparable conventional energy systems. Although this varies depending upon the technology and climate, the energy balance is generally favorable to solar systems in applications where they are cost effective, and it is improving with each successive generation of technology. According to some studies, for example, solar water heaters increase the amount of hot water generated per unit of fossil energy invested by at least a factor of two compared to natural gas water heating and by at least a factor of eight compared to electric water heating.

Materials used in some solar systems can create health and safety hazards for workers and anyone else coming into contact with them. In particular, the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells often requires hazardous materials such as arsenic and cadmium. Even relatively inert silicon, a major material used in solar cells, can be hazardous to workers if it is breathed in as dust. Workers involved in manufacturing photovoltaic modules and components must consequently be protected from exposure to these materials. There is an additional-probably very small-danger that hazardous fumes released from photovoltaic modules attached to burning homes or buildings could injure fire fighters.

None of these potential hazards is much different in quality or magnitude from the innumerable hazards people face routinely in an industrial society. Through effective regulation, the dangers can very likely be kept at a very low level.

The large amount of land required for utility-scale solar power plants-approximately one square kilometer for every 20-60 megawatts (MW) generated-poses an additional problem, especially where wildlife protection is a concern. But this problem is not unique to solar power plants. Generating electricity from coal actually requires as much or more land per unit of energy delivered if the land used in strip mining is taken into account. Solar-thermal plants (like most conventional power plants) also require cooling water, which may be costly or scarce in desert areas.

Large central power plants are not the only option for generating energy from sunlight, however, and are probably among the least promising. Because sunlight is dispersed, small-scale, dispersed applications are a better match to the resource. They can take advantage of unused space on the roofs of homes and buildings and in urban and industrial lots. And, in solar building designs, the structure itself acts as the collector, so there is no need for any additional space at all.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is heat contained below the earth's surface. The only type of geothermal energy that has been widely developed is hydrothermal energy, which consists of trapped hot water or steam. However, new technologies are being developed to exploit hot dry rock (accessed by drilling deep into rock), geopressured resources (pressurized brine mixed with methane), and magma.

The various geothermal resource types differ in many respects, but they raise a common set of environmental issues. Air and water pollution are two leading concerns, along with the safe disposal of hazardous waste, siting, and land subsidence. Since these resources would be exploited in a highly centralized fashion, reducing their environmental impacts to an acceptable level should be relatively easy. But it will always be difficult to site plants in scenic or otherwise environmentally sensitive areas.

The method used to convert geothermal steam or hot water to electricity directly affects the amount of waste generated. Closed-loop systems are almost totally benign, since gases or fluids removed from the well are not exposed to the atmosphere and are usually injected back into the ground after giving up their heat. Although this technology is more expensive than conventional open-loop systems, in some cases

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