What scientists, engineers, companies, and nations expanding their power capacities need to focus on, is implementing solutions that keep negative impacts of renewables in check.
The Dark Side of Renewable Energy: Negative Impacts of Renewables on the Environment
Pradhnya Tajne | Transparency Market Research
A notable number of countries around the world have pledged to go renewable in the next 10-20 years. On the other hand, countries notorious for their massive amounts of carbon emissions, such as China, have also pledged to drastically cut down their greenhouse emission rate. This has resulted in an accelerated focus on constructing renewable energy plants. Although the intention of these pledges is to reduce the harmful effects of carbon emissions on the planet, are such initiatives as friendly toward the environment as they are believed to be?
According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the total renewable power sector net additions recorded in 2014 reached new highs. In 2014, the global renewable power sector net additions were noted at 133 GW.
Data from a report published by IRENA shows that hydro energy led the global installed capacity by 301.8 GW, followed by wind at 115.4 GW, solar energy at 38.2 GW, bioenergy at 13.5 GW, and geothermal at 3.5 GW.
Hydro – The Giant among Renewables Leading to Giant Floods
Hydropower dominates the global renewable energy market. Hydropower does not cause any air quality impact directly; however, building and operating a hydroelectric reservoir can lead to several harmful impacts on the environment. The dams constructed for harnessing hydropower tend to greatly influence the flow of rivers, which can alter ecosystems and negatively impact wildlife and people.
The most negative impact of this giant among the renewables is the flooding of an area. When the water stored within the dam is released all at once, it can cause the river downstream to suddenly flood. This can result in the destruction of agricultural land, forest, wildlife, and land. For example, the Dhauliganga hydroelectric station in India, in 2013, led to unprecedented flash floods causing the complete submergence of the power house.
Wind - It belongs to the Birds and Bats as Well
A report from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) states that in 2014, wind energy provided 8% electricity to Europe. This figure is expected to grow to 12% by 2020. Wind has a substantial share in the global renewable energy market, and an appreciable number of wind farms are to be constructed worldwide in the coming few years. However, the wind power sector has fallen under intense scrutiny in the past few years due to its impact on birds and other species.
A recent review by the National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) found that collisions with wind turbines and air pressure changes caused by spinning turbines resulted in several bird and bat deaths. Similarly, offshore wind turbines can harm marine birds.
Solar – What about the Soil Erosion?
The sun is a tremendous source of renewable energy. Nevertheless, the adverse effects of solar power are associated with land use, water use, habitat loss, and the harmful materials used in manufacturing of solar panels.
To build a utility-scale solar power facility, a large area of land is required. This can interfere with the existing land uses. The use of many acres of land can result in clearing and grading of land, which can cause soil compaction, erosion, and alteration of drainage channels. Furthermore, solar energy systems can impact the land in the process of materials extraction, exploration, manufacturing, and disposal.
Bioenergy – It is not really Green
Some of the biomass resources used for producing electricity are crops, forest products, agricultural waste, and urban waste. The bioenergy feedstock and the way it is harvested can negatively impact land use along with global warming emissions. For example, human and animal waste used to power engines may cut down on carbon emissions, but increase harmful methane emission.
Furthermore, using tree or tree products to create bioenergy comes with its own set of problems. To collect enough lumber, substantial forest land needs to be cleared, which again causes topical changes and destroys animal habitat.
Geothermal – Heating, Electricity, and Poisonous Gases
Geothermal power plants construction call for intensive R&D efforts to identify areas that have hot rocks beneath their surface. This R&D costs a lot of money; also, to drill a hole deep enough in the earth needs a lot of finance. Besides being costly, geothermal power has many other disadvantages.
Geothermal sites contain poisonous gases that can escape when holes are being drilled in the earth’s surface. Also, geothermal energy stations, under extreme circumstances, can cause earthquakes.
This shows how renewables can negatively impact the planet. However, renewables are making a notable difference in the world as they are helping to curb carbon emissions. What scientists, engineers, companies, and nations expanding their power capacities need to focus on, is implementing solutions that keep negative impacts of renewables in check. For example, instead of building solar power stations by clearing a piece of land, homes and buildings can be equipped with individual solar panels on a large scale.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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