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.