Jul 9, 2019 in Economics

Environment effects are inherent outcome associated with the production of electricity and use of energy. According to Dr. John J Berger, a renowned environmental consultant and author, renewable energy sources have lesser environmental impacts when compared to non-renewable sources, which evidently drives the movement towards the use of renewable sources. Renewable resources are those that regenerate naturally such as biomass, water, sun and wind among others. An important feature associated with the renewable sources of energy is their natural replenishment. In addition, when used in a sustainable manner, renewable energy sources cannot be depleted at the existing consumption levels. Cothran Helen, an author of environmental issues, argues that all energy resources have an effect on the environment; nevertheless, the extent and type of environmental effects differ significantly from renewable sources and between the various renewable sources. In essence, the use of renewable energy does not mitigate environmental impacts entirely. It is imperative to have an understanding of the relative environmental effects associated with the renewable energy sources in order to develop a sound energy policy. This essay claims that, notwithstanding the potential of renewable energy resources in mitigating climate change, it is essential to have an understanding of their environment effects in order to develop an effective environmental policy for the transition towards clean renewable energy.

Wind Power

Wind energy is one of most sustainable and cleanest sources of electricity since it has no greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it does not generate toxic pollution. Other characteristics of wind energy that makes it a feasible substitute for fossil energy include affordability, inexhaustibility, and abundance. Regardless of its huge potential, the generation of wind energy has diverse effects on the environment including public health, land use, and habitat and wild life, which have to be acknowledged and alleviated.

 

According to Kelly Ingrid, an environmental author, the primary public health issue involving wind energy is sound pollution that stems from operating wind turbines. The motion of the turbine blades as well as the mechanical sound produced by the turbine poses significant sound pollution. People residing nearby wind facilities often protest the vibration and sound emanating from the wind turbines. Kline David, an environmental author, also cites aviation safety around installations of wind turbines. Some people also argue that wind turbines affects the aesthetic associated with the natural landscape. It is imperative to note that these public health concerns associated with wind turbines can be addressed through public dialogue with the community. Moreover, proper turbine design can help in lessening the sound pollution through the use of sound-absorbing materials and reducing blade imperfections. Even after the community consents to the installation of a wind turbine, it is vital to consider their effects on land use. 

 

The effects on land use associated with wind turbines depend on the site. Specifically, installing wind turbines on flat areas require more land then when set up on hilly areas. This land is not entirely covered by wind turbines. Instead, the wind turbines and associated infrastructure often takes up a small fraction of the land having a wind facility. Passero Barbara, an environmental writer, estimates that wind facilities in the US take about 30-141 acres for each megawatt produced. The remaining land in the wind facility can be utilized for various purposes including grazing livestock, hiking trails and constructing highways among others. Conversely, wind facilities can be set up on underutilized industrial land as a means of reducing concerns associated with land use. Overall, efficient site planning can be helpful in reducing the land use effects related to wind energy. The probable effects of wind energy on habitat and wildlife is also a key for issue for consideration. 

 

There is no doubt that wind turbines affect wildlife, especially birds. In this respect, bird deaths have been reported due to collisions with spinning turbines and air pressure changes. However, these effects are significantly low to threaten the population of birds.

Overall, it is evident that the environment impacts associated with wind energy are relatively low. In addition, they can be addressed through public dialogue with the community affected, and proper planning and ensuring that installations of wind facilities in proper locations such as hilly areas and underutilized industrial lands in order to lessen the concerns associated with land use. Owing to the fact that the wind energy is yet to be developed on a large scale as a substitute of fossil energy, it is worth exploring the environmental effects solar energy as a supplement to wind energy.

Solar Energy

Just as wind power, solar energy offers a vast potential for the generation of sustainable and clean electricity in a manner that is devoid of GHG releases and toxic pollutions to the environment. The likely environmental effects involving the production and use solar energy include habitat damage, land use, and the utilization of harmful constituents in the course of manufacturing. The use of harmful components is determined by the technology used, which can be either concentrating solar thermal plants or solar photovoltaic cells.

 

The land use concerns of solar energy depend on the locality and the size of the solar facilities. Moreover, the land requirements for such installations are influenced by the technology used, the topographical orientation of the location, and concentration of solar. According to Dell Ronald and Rand James, the utility scale photovoltaic require about 3.5-10 acres for each megawatt whereas for the concentrated solar plants is about 4-16.5 acres for each megawatt. Contrary to wind facilities, the land hosting solar facilities cannot be used for agricultural or other productive purposes. Nevertheless, the land use effects associated with utility sola facilities can be lessened by establishing such facilities in low-quality areas like mining wastelands or underutilized commercial lands. Moreover, smaller scale solar systems can be installed in commercial buildings and homes to lessen the land use effect. Although land use concerns in solar energy are insignificant, the solar cells contain hazardous materials that pose serious environmental and health concerns. 

 

With respect to hazardous materials, the manufacturing of solar systems involves using harmful materials that are often used in cleaning and purifying the surface of the semiconductor. Some of those chemicals include acetone, hydrogen fluoride, nitric acid, sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. The quantity and type of the hazardous materials vary in accordance to the type of the solar cell, the silicon wafer size, and the extent of cleaning needed. There is also additional risk of manufacturing workers being exposed to these hazardous components. These impacts can be mitigated through ensuring that manufacturers adhere to the laws to guarantee worker safety and proper disposal of these materials. If these materials are handled and disposed improperly, the health and environmental impact is significant. 

 

Regarding water use, David Haugen and Susan Musser points out that water is not used in the process of electricity generation by solar cells; nevertheless, all the manufacturing processes for the solar components entails the use of water. Just like the thermal plants, concentrating solar plants needed water for the purpose of cooling. The quantity of water used is determined by the site, the cooling system used, and the site of the plant. It is important to note that majority of the regions having the highest solar intensity often have dry climate; therefore, it is imperative for the water tradeoff to be taken into consideration.

 

It is evident that the environmental effects associated with solar power can be managed sustainably through proper disposal and handling, compliance with laws and effective location planning to lessen land use. Nevertheless, solar energy alone cannot satisfy the energy needs, which poses the need to consider other viable renewable resources like hydroelectric power.

Hydroelectric Energy

Hydroelectric energy is also an important renewable resource that has the potential of helping to mitigate the climate change posed by the use of fossil energy. However, it has a number of environmental impacts that must be taken into consideration prior to its development including land use and wildlife effects. 

 

As regards land use, the reservoir size needed by a hydroelectric plant varies in accordance to the land topography and the hydroelectric generators size. In flat areas, hydroelectric plants need more land when compared to plants set up in canyons or hilly areas whereby reservoirs are capable of holding larger volumes of water. Flooding is a potential significant environmental impact for hydroelectric reservoirs since it is capable of destroying forest, scenic landscapes, lands used for agriculture and wildlife habitations. An example is the Three Gorges Dam found in China, whereby communities have been forced to relocate in order to create land for the construction of reservoirs.

 

Several uses exist for dammed reservoirs including controlling floods, recreational purposes and irrigation purposes; therefore, not all impacts on wildlife can be linked directly to hydroelectric power. Nonetheless, hydroelectric establishments pose a significant effect on aquatic ecosystems such as the injuring and killing of fish by the spinning turbines. Nevertheless, these impacts can be lessened using in-take screens and using fish ladders. Moreover, the wildlife impacts can extend to downstream waters. Water found in the reservoir is often more stagnant when compared to water in a river. This implies that larger quantities of sediments exceeding normal levels will settle in reservoirs resulting in excessive aquatic weeds and algae that are detrimental to plant- and animal life in the river. Moreover, the rate of evaporation in dammed reservoirs is higher than moving rivers, contributing to water loss. These impacts can be managed using sustainable practices such as releasing water periodically to reduce downstream effects and installation of aerating turbines.

Biomass

Just like other renewable resources, biomass affects the environment in terms of land use, air emissions and water use. In fact, the use of biomass has raised similar environmental concerns as those associated with fossil fuel plants; nevertheless, the feedstock used in biomass plants can be produced sustainably, which is not the case with fossil fuels.

 

The Land use impacts depend on the type of feedstock used, which can be either an energy crop grown with the specific aim of electricity generation, or waste streams. For the case of waste streams, land use impacts are marginal. Nevertheless, improper collection of waste streams can result in land degradation. It is also important to enough crop residues for soil carbon storage, curbing erosion, and preserving the soil nutrients. The land use effects of energy crops related to land use change and reduced production of food, especially in large scale growing of energy crops. Nonetheless, sustainable agricultural practices can be used in freeing up land for energy crops to reduce food displacement.

 

The burning of biomass has an effect on the quality of air since it releases nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide although these emissions are less when compared to fossil energy. Nitrogen oxide emissions can cause smog that increases the risk for bronchitis, asthma among other respiratory infections. It also results in acid rain and high amounts of particulate matter in the environment. 

Counterargument

Those opposed to the use of renewable sources cite the large land areas needed for setting up the facilities. They maintain that large land areas are required for large scale production of energy. In addition, those opposed to the transition towards clean renewable energy argue that the raw materials for the development of these energy sources are not universally available. For instance, water, wind, water and solar intensity vary in various regions, which implies the need for additional infrastructure for energy transportation. Opponents also cite that large scale production of renewable energy at a faster rate is impossible because of the new technologies and limitations posed by other factors such as weather. However, it is important to note that, with proper location planning, these issues can be addressed to ensure large scale production of renewable energy. Moreover, the environment effects of renewable sources are insignificant and can be managed using sustainable practices to replenish these sources. 

Conclusion

From the discussion, it is evident that the environmental effects of renewable energy sources such as land use, water use, and wildlife impacts among others are relatively low. In addition, these effects can be mitigated using proper site planning for efficient energy production. Renewable energy sources have no global warming emissions, which makes them pivotal in the mitigation of climate change. Nevertheless, it is important to have an understanding of these insignificant environment effects of renewable energy sources in order to come up with effect steps to lessen these effects as the use of renewable resources increase.

 

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