In recent years, the world has seen a notable increase in the number of constructed and in-progress renewable energy facilities. In 2014, 64% of the global installed renewable energy capacity is hydro, 24% is wind, 8% is solar, 3% is bioenergy and 1% is geothermal (www.altenergymag.com). The facilities are indubitably geared towards the amplification of energy reserves and the reduction of the environmentally harmful effects of conventional energy generation, but are such facilities really as friendly to the environment as they are billed to be?
We have investigated some of the negative effects of renewable energy facilities towards the environment, and here is what we found:
Though hydropower facilities do not cause any direct air quality impact, their construction and operation can influence the flow of rivers, which, in turn, affects wildlife and people.
Hydro facilities can cause flooding in and around the area where they are situated. When the water stored within the dam is suddenly released, it can lead to immediate flooding of the river downstream. The flooding may result in the destruction of agricultural land and forests.
Wind energy facilities are mostly scrutinized due to their impact on birds and other species. A recent release from the National Wind Coordinating Committee reflects that collisions with wind turbines, and the change in air pressure owing to spinning turbines are responsible for a number of deaths among birds and bats.
Complaints about solar facilities are often motivated by issues in land use, water use, habitat loss and materials used in the manufacture of solar panels.
Case-in point, to build a large-scale power facility, a vast area of land is needed. Experts suggest that the use of many acres of land may result in clearing and grading of land, leading to soil compaction, erosion and alteration of drainage channels.
Solar energy systems can also negatively affect the land during the process of materials extraction, exploration, manufacturing and disposal.
Bioenergy feedstock, and the way it is harvested, may not only impact land use but also contribute to global warming emissions. For instance, human and animal waste utilized to power engines may increase harmful methane emission.
In addition, using tree or tree products to create biomass requires vast forest lands to be cleared, which causes topical changes and damages animal habitat.
Aside from being known as capital intensive, constructing geothermal facilities may cause poisonous gases to escape during the drilling of holes. Geothermal facilities are also, under extreme circumstances, known to cause earthquakes.
While renewable energy facilities bring about observed negative impacts to the environment, one cannot deny the fact that they make a considerable difference in reducing carbon emissions largely associated with conventional electricity generation, among other processes. The onus is now on the R&D sector, manufacturers, implementing agencies and governments to mitigate (or eradicate) the impact the above-mentioned harmful effects.
In Part 2 of this article, we will take a look at other alternative energy sources that can support the power demand while renewable energy technologies and infrastructure are enhanced and optimized.
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