Guest blog – Renewable Energy and its impact on nature. by Leo Fisher

Leo Fisher is a freelancer and environmental enthusiast specialising in green and renewable energy as well as other topics. Having recently graduated with a Masters in History from the University of Leeds he has been fortunate enough to have travelled and worked in conservation in Ecuador and Vietnam.  He writes:

 

When it comes to drafting a plan for greener energy, there is no argument that using renewable sources is better for the environment than burning fossil fuels. However, everything comes at a price, and this is especially true of renewable energy production methods that can collide with the way the environment works.

One of the most discussed sources of power when it comes to environmental impact is wind energy. Lauded for its minimal effect on surrounding areas, wind energy has become a reliable solution for meeting the ever-growing electricity demands of our population. However, because of their size, wind turbines take up large areas of otherwise undisturbed land, and some complain that turbines along the coast or out to sea disrupt the natural beauty of the landscape.

Even yet, visual pollution is not the most serious environmental impact from wind turbines. When placed in areas rich with wildlife, their spinning parts have the potential to injure or kill birds that come into contact with them. In spite of these effects, however, which are relatively small-scale when compared to amount of energy produced by turbines and also the even more damaging effects of fossil fuels, the wind energy programme in the UK continues to grow.

Another popular source of green energy is solar power, which helps to provide electricity to millions of homes and businesses throughout the UK. This is perhaps the most accessible form of renewable energy since homeowners can choose to have their own solar power systems, cutting down on the need for power generated through the burning of fossil fuels or eliminating it altogether.

While solar power may be clean to produce, the systems that generate it often are not. The primary environmental concern is that the parts of a solar power system are made using unclean electricity, which contributes to carbon emissions. Also, the human price for producing solar panels is high; exposure to substances such as arsenic and silicon dust can be harmful. However, being aware of these potential hazards opens the conversation to find healthier solutions.

Geothermal energy is also a hot-button issue, particularly when it comes to the contrast between open-loop and closed-loop systems. Most geothermal energy comes from hot water or stream extracted from the earth’s surface. When this energy is produced via a closed-loop system, most of the harmful gases and mineral material involved never interact with the environment, making this kind of production the preferred way to produce energy. However, when an open-loop system is employed, there is always the potential for pollution of the air and the water supply, which can greatly affect the condition of surrounding wildlife.

Lastly, concerned scientists have also debated the benefits of deriving power from biomass. The fact that it involves burning plant matter for energy translates into more gases being released into the atmosphere. While not as harmful as carbon dioxide, atmospheric carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides could have serious consequences for animal life in surrounding areas. However, it has also been pointed out that growing plants for biomass power has several advantages, including reclaiming land for green space and enriching the soil in which it is grown.

Overall, the setbacks of renewable energy are far outpaced by its benefits. In addition, most of these concerns can be limited to specific areas, which in comparison to the global consequences of greenhouse gases, still makes renewable energy a better investment in our future.

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5 Replies to “Guest blog – Renewable Energy and its impact on nature. by Leo Fisher”

  1. Unfortunately the old adage about free lunches and their non-existence is true about energy: we don't have any way of producing useful energy in the sorts of quantities in which we use it that is without some kind of environmental impact (although some forms are obviously more damaging than others). This is why the first element of any strategy to address energy concerns has to be to try and reduce the amount we need in the first place. Although strides forward have been made, it is still the case that we are incredibly wasteful with energy and it is easy to spot all manner of situations where energy is being burned to no useful effect - from the light left on in the kids bedroom to wasteful use of industrial machinery.
    We will still need to grapple with the issues Leo raises, but given that there really seems to be no completely environmentally neutral way of generating usable energy it behoves us to make sure that every kilowatt-hour that we do use really counts.

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  2. A very interesting and well-balanced account of the subject, which raised issues surrounding solar energy that I wasn't aware of. I note that Leo has made no mention of another form of renewable energy, which has the potential for very large impacts on the natural environment - tidal power. While I think most of us who work in or are are passionate about nature conservation would say that the adverse impacts of an extreme example like the Severn Barrage are an unacceptable price to pay for renewable energy, are there circumstances where tidal energy, or wave energy for that matter, might make a contribution to future energy requirements with less impact on the natural world?

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  3. Hi Mark/Leo,

    I should start by explaining that I have only read a little about wind power and almost nothing at all on the other sources or renewable energy.

    Taking into account all the other issues mentioned I would like to see some more information on the pollution caused by manufacturing the components for the turbines as detailed in this artcile. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html

    I am also concerned that whilst other countries are turning their backs on this type of renewable energy we march on regardless with our investment, despite many people expressing their unease with the suitability of wind farms.

    Are we paying inflated energy costs to subsidise something which might ultimately not be fit for purpose?

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  4. "Are we paying inflated energy costs to subsidise something which might ultimately not be fit for purpose?"

    Yes. Although I would strike "might ultimately not be", and replace with "is not".

    None of the "lauded" alternatives, even in a mix, guarantees that the lights stay on, or the Tube runs on time, or at all. The Sun goes down, wind abates, and tides ebb. The reserve has to be provided from fossil, hydro- or nuclear capacity, and it has to be available 24/7.

    Instead of subsidising alternative energy generation we should have subsidised initiatives for reducing domestic demand - like we did after the oil crisis in the '70s - and be less squeamish about incineration, centralised anaerobic digesters, and CHP for utilising the enormous amounts of wastes we inevitably produce.

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  5. With large organisations now putting their pension funds in wind due to the money given by the government who will be able to cut the subsidies? The BBC is one of them and dare I say the RSPB could be another!

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