Renewable Energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass—provides substantial benefits for our climate, our health, and our economy.
All energy sources have some impact on our environment. Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—do substantially more harm than renewable energy sources by most measures, including air and water pollution, damage to public health, wildlife and habitat loss, water use, land use, and global warming emissions.
However, renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydro-power also have environmental impacts, some of which are significant.
The exact type and intensity of environmental impacts varies depending on the specific technology used, the geographic location, and a number of other factors. By understanding the current and potential environmental issues associated with each renewable energy source, we can takes steps to effectively avoid or minimize these impacts as they become a larger portion of our electric supply.
Environmental Impacts of Wind Power
Wind power generates electricity without toxic pollution or global warming emissions, but it does have some environmental impacts that should be recognized and mitigated.
Harnessing power from the wind is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways to generate electricity as it produces no toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Wind is also abundant, inexhaustible, and affordable, which makes it a viable and large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.
Despite its vast potential, there are a variety of environmental impacts associated with wind power generation that should be recognized and mitigated. They include land use issues and challenges to wildlife and habitat.
Environmental Impact of Solar Power
The potential environmental impacts associated with solar power depend on the technology, which includes two broad categories: photovoltaic solar cells and concentrating solar thermal plants.
Like wind power, the sun provides a tremendous resource for generating clean and sustainable electricity.
The environmental impacts associated with solar power can include land use and habitat loss, water use, and the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing, though the types of impacts vary greatly depending on the scale of the system and the technology used—photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP).
Environmental Impact of Geothermal Energy
The most widely developed type of geothermal power plant (known as hydrothermal plants) are located near geologic “hot spots” where hot molten rock is close to the earth’s crust and produces hot water.
In other regions enhanced geothermal systems (or hot dry rock geothermal), which involve drilling into the earth’s surface to reach deeper geothermal resources, can allow broader access to geothermal energy.
Geothermal plants also differ in terms of the technology they use to convert the resource to electricity (direct steam, flash, or binary) and the type of cooling technology they use (water-cooled and air-cooled). Environmental impacts differ depending on the conversion and cooling technology used.
Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power
Hydroelectric power includes both massive hydroelectric dams and small run-of-the-river plants, both of which have associated environmental impacts.
Hydroelectric power includes both massive hydroelectric dams and small run-of-the-river plants. Large-scale hydroelectric dams continue to be built in many parts of the world,but it is unlikely that new facilities will be added to the existing Africa fleet in the future.
Instead, the future of hydroelectric power in Africa will likely involve increased capacity at current dams and new run-of-the-river projects. There are environmental impacts at both types of plants.
Environmental impacts of Hydro-kinetic energy
Hydrokinetic energy includes wave and tidal power and encompasses an array of energy technologies, many of which are still in the experimental stages or in the early stages of deployment.
Hydrokinetic energy, which includes wave and tidal power, encompasses an array of energy technologies, many of which still in the experimental stages or in the early stages of deployment. While actual impacts of large-scale operations have not been observed, a range of potential impacts can be projected.
Despite these environmental impacts, renewable energy technologies compare extremely favorably to fossil fuels, and remain a core part of the solution of climate change.