If the whole world is shifting towards renewable energy sources, why renewable energy is bad for the environment, as some people claim?
Let’s see what types of renewable energy sources do we have and what are they.
Why are we shifting from traditionally used fossil fuels towards renewable energy technologies?
You already know that gas and fuels prices are constantly rising.
One of the main reasons is that our fossil fuel reserves are almost completely depleted and, soon, we will have to completely turn to renewable energy that’s sustainable and clean.
Fossil fuel power plants have greatly contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution, and climate change.
To stop our world from degradation, we need to find options to reduce or eliminate the release of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.
What is Renewable Energy?
People have been developing renewable energy technologies since ancient times.
Old windmills, rivers, and the sun are the earliest known types of renewable energy systems people have used.
Renewable energy resources imply that energy can be obtained directly from nature and regenerates relatively quickly.
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 unsustainable because of the damage they do to the ecosystem and a 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 renewable energy sources can do to our world.
What Are Hydro-Power Plants?
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 to generate electricity.
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 ecosystem.
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 ecosystem 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, transferring 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.
Also, most renewable energy facilities rely on hydropower.
What is Solar Power?
The sun is the oldest source of energy we know.
Sunlight plays a crucial role 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: thermal energy panels and photovoltaic solar panels.
The photovoltaic (PV) effect was discovered in 1954, but as a source of thermal energy, solar power dates back to the Egyptian era.
Nowadays, thermal-solar power plants are common in many countries.
These solar plants panels use the reflection of solar radiation on solar panels that work like mirrors to concentrate all the thermal energy in one point.
This thermal energy can be used to heat water, which feeds a steam turbine and generates electric power.
Thermal energy is also used for heating residencies.
The concentration of thermal energy is harmful to the environment and dangerous if humans and animals can access the concentration point.
Thermo-solar power plants are usually located in deserts, and they do not mean a large alteration to the ecosystem.
If you want to learn more about thermo-solar power plants and panels, click here.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells can take advantage of solar energy in a much better way, without causing any harm to the environment after solar panel installation.
Unfortunately, the production of PV cells and solar panels has a waste: chemicals and raw material residues remain in 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 into the open sea, which means great harm to the marine ecosystem.
Although they are used to generate electricity solar panels have low energy efficiency. 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 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 the sun’s radiation into the cells or when it’s nighttime.
To increase the daytime efficiency of the PV cells, you can follow these recommendations from Solarpowernerd.
What is Wind Power?
People have always used wind energy.
From the old windmills to the newest wind turbine systems, tons of engineering advances related to this renewable energy source have been applied.
Wind farms usually cover small areas; this means that no harm to the environment should come from them.
In European countries, it is common 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 wind energy systems can do to the environment is harm to the birds, if they collide with quickly rotating wind turbine blades.
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 like 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 is no proof 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.
What is Bio-Mass?
Bio-mass refers to every source of energy that comes from the floral and animal kingdom combined with certain types of the 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 bodies 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.
What Is Geothermal Energy?
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 inconvenience 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.
While there are many benefits to using renewable energy systems, the impacts of renewable energy on the environment are not completely benign.
The production of solar cells, for example, creates harmful waste as solar panels are produced using chemicals.
Nowadays, there’s a trend to keep the energy standards as clean as possible, the Smart Grids.
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.
With the depletion of fossil fuels, we don’t have many choices.
If you want to learn more about Smart Grids, check out this video.
If you want to change the world, it is recommended to adopt one of these renewable sources, especially solar energy, and, if you want to know more about it, check this article.
Also, keep in mind that renewable energy projects are growing in many countries, and all these rely on wind, water, and the sun.