What is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy was first used centuries ago by humans to produce movement and make things easier for humans.
Old windmills, which were used to grind many types of crops, rivers, wood logs, and food, are the earliest known types of renewable energy used by humans.
Renewable means that energy can be obtained directly from nature and regenerates faster than fossil fuels.
Being renewable doesn’t necessarily mean that energy is obtained using eco-friendly methods nor that it’s sustainable.
Many sources of renewable energy are considered unsustainable because of the damage they do to the eco-system and the large amount of capital needed to ‘harvest’ them efficiently.
A comparison between renewable and sustainable energy can be found here.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the environmental damage that can be done by renewable energy.
Storing large quantities of water in a dam, huge water drops, and the flow of water from a river are the most popular sources of hydro-power.
The Water Cycle is responsible for the availability of this renewable energy.
After investigating how it works, it can be deduced that hydro-power is highly dependent on the energy received from the sun.
Water vaporized by the sun’s radiation condensates at specific pressure and temperature as it ascends to the atmosphere.
After condensation, water precipitates back to earth and refills the dam, rivers, and other water storage.
The principal disadvantage related to hydroelectric power plants is that they require high investment amounts to build the power central.
At the building phase, land movement provokes considerable damage to the eco-system.
Besides the high cost of the power plant, you have to consider the values of the transmission and the distribution system needed by electric power destined for human consumption.
Since these power plants are usually located far from populated zones, long transmission lines are required.
The damage done to the Eco-system comes from an extensive amount of territory required to enhance efficiency.
Most times, the land where water is going to be stored does not come entirely from nature and needs to be prepared.
Preparation of the land includes deforestation, building a way for rivers so that they can fill the dam, transfer people to other zones, and many other procedures needed to ensure the availability of the most significant amount possible of territory.
An excellent example of the damage that can be done to an eco-system is the “Three Gorges Hydro-power Central” located at the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.
This power plant was finished in 2012 and had 32 water turbines installed, and two generators ran by fossil fuels that power the auxiliary systems of the plant.
To complete this fantastic engineering project, 1.5 million inhabitants had to be moved from their homes.
The destruction of more than 1.200 villages, antique scenery, significant architectural and archeological zones, and the deforestation of more than 800km2 are proof of the damage done to the Eco-system by this kind of renewable source.
Despite the previous fact, the amount of energy generated and the zero-emissions condition make hydroelectric power plant a great choice, especially if the water storage is natural and appropriately located.
The sun is the oldest source of energy known by humanity.
It’s used in many natural processes like photosynthesis in plants and the water cycle, which enables the use of hydro-power complexes.
There are two ways to exploit solar energy: Thermo-solar panels and Photo-Voltaic panels.
Humans learned to use Photo-Voltaic (PV) solar energy in 1954, but as a source of thermal energy, solar power dates back to the Egyptian era.
Nowadays, thermo-solar power plants are used in many countries.
Thermo-solar panels working principle consists of the reflection of solar radiation incident on the panels which work like mirrors to concentrate all the thermal energy in one point.
All of this thermal energy can be used to heat water, which feeds a steam turbine and to generate electric power.
Many power facilities work, as described in the last paragraph.
For residential purposes, thermal energy is used for heating.
The concentration of thermal energy is harmful to the environment and dangerous if the concentration point is accessible by humans and animals.
Thermo-solar power plants are usually located in deserts, and they do not mean a large alteration to the Eco-system.
If you want to learn more about thermo-solar power plants and panels, click here.
The PV method to take advantage of solar energy is way better, and it means no harm to the environment after installed.
Unfortunately, the production of PV cells and panels means the waste of chemicals and raw material residues to the environment.
Many countries have imposed laws against the waste of raw materials used to produce PV cells.
On the other hand, some countries are learning to recycle these materials, but some others still waste these chemicals to open sea, which means great harm to marine Eco-system.
Besides its clean energy production after installed, solar PV energy efficiency is low. It ranges from 20% for commercial cells to 50% for expensive industrial purposes.
If you ever wondered how many PV cells are needed to power a house, check this out.
Another disadvantage related to PV cells is the availability of the energy and the need to install expensive battery banks.
Battery banks are used to make up for those times of the day when the clouds reduce the incidence of sun’s radiation into the cells or when its night-time.
To increase the day-time efficiency of the PV cells, you can follow these recommendations from Solarpowernerd.
The wind has been a source of energy for centuries.
From the old windmills to the newest wind turbine systems, tons of engineering advances related to this renewable energy source have been applied.
A wind power park usually covers small areas; this means that no harm to the environment should be considered by land destruction should be considered.
It’s common In European countries to locate wind turbines far from each other and interconnected by power distribution lines, which lessen the amount of land used.
The most significant damage done to the environment could be the chances of bird impacts on the blades, but it’sn’t a common issue.
The noise done by wind turbines was a big problem, but engineering advances have come up with a “perfect” turbine with deficient noise levels.
Anyways, most of the wind turbines installed around the world are using old technology, and this has affected the surroundings of the wind power facilities.
Animals and not only birds but every kind of animal that used to live near to an old wind turbine have migrated due to the excessive amount of noise generated by it.
Transportation of these vast pieces of engineering is another issue.
To reach the places where these turbines need to be installed, roads have to be paved.
Maybe it may seem as something harmless, but the paving of the roads gives access to many people to remote places, and if there are no restrictions, the wildlife species located there might be endangered.
Also, road paving means killing all the vegetation in the way.
There are no proofs of the damage done by raw material waste related to the production of wind turbines since most of those materials are recycled.
These environmental harms are minimal compared with the ones done by other sources of energy considered renewable.
Wind power is considered the cleaner source of renewable energy, and the only disadvantage related to its use is its low availability.
Wind power is mostly used as a part of smart grids.
Bio-mass refers to every source of energy that comes from floral and animal kingdom combined with certain types of human waste like garbage.
Food is the most important and the oldest known source of renewable energy used by humans. It’s used by our body to do everything we can.
Bio-mass includes wood logs and the biofuel obtained by processing crops.
Earlier it was thought that bio-fuels were clean sources of energy, but recent researches show that there’s a little amount of CO2 produced after burning fuels obtained by bio-mass.
The CO2 emissions from biofuels are low, but they’re a reality.
National Geographic offers some facts about the environment, greenhouse gas production, and its relation to biofuels.
One surprising fact that supports the use of biofuels is the emission levels, which are so low that the plants needed to absorb CO2 to produce biofuels.
The last paragraph means that CO2 production is neutralized in the course of bio-fuel production.
Another case to be considered is that of the production of crops needed to obtain the bio-fuels.
The most used bio-fuel crops worldwide are sugar cane and corn.
There’s a small problem related to using these human consumable crops for bio-fuel production.
If there are no proper regulations, humans might suffer the consequences of consuming products that were modified to enhance biofuel production.
Another issue comes from the excessive use of soil that reduces the availability of the land.
An advantage is that biofuels are produced from waste too.
All the waste, which cannot be recycled, can be used to produce fuel and, even though the production rate is not high enough, it can make up for part of the production that could be obtained from crops.
Geothermal energy is obtained by harnessing heat from the earth’s interior.
Earth’s center has a temperature of about 6.000°C, and it’s transmitted to other zones closer to the surface by radiation, convection, and conduction, which are the three heat transfer processes.
Humans have been able to reach zones with temperatures ranging from 150 to 600 Celsius.
The inconvenient related to the extraction and use of this kind of energy is the amount of land needed to build the facilities.
Geo-thermal facilities are mostly located in zones with tons of vegetation and wildlife, and they need as much space as they can take.
Massive constructions and drilling operations tend to damage the land, and, in addition, the subsoil is highly affected.
Transportation of large machinery causes intense damage to the environment, and water located underground is used as a heat source, and this process damages the soil.
After installation, full operation of the Geothermal complex is immaculate; there are no emissions of Greenhouse gases.
Besides the damage done to the soil and the Eco-system, no harm is done to the environment after full operation of the plant
Nowadays, engineers are adopting more “Eco-friendly” ways to install this kind of industry, but the damage that has been done already will be hardly repaired.
The Geysers is a complex located in the United States.
You can learn more about Geothermal power plants and their related processes by clicking here.
For the ones that took the time needed to reach this part of the article, it must be clear now that the term renewable has nothing to do with eco-friendly.
Nowadays, there’s a trend to keep the energy standards as clean as possible, the Smart Grids.
Many countries have adopted this trend, and they’re now using renewable energies in the most efficient way it could be done.
The proposal of Smart Grids takes the best from each of these renewable energies and combines them with the fantastic power production of the “old ways” to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
If you want to learn more about Smart Grids, check out this video.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this article, and it made you question these 21st-century sources of energy.
We’re not claiming that renewable sources are wrong, but not everything is as good as it seems, and the environment will always pay the price for energy consumption.
If you want to change the world, its recommended to adopt one of these renewable sources, especially solar energy, and, if you want to know more about it, check this article.
Another way to make your part and take care of the environment is by consuming less energy.
If an energy-saving plan was adopted by every citizen of a medium-sized urban center one third or more of the CO2 generation could be reduced.
Now you know that renewable energies are not as clean as you thought, you can try to consume less energy to save the planet.