Реферат: Environmental impacts of renewable energy technologies
Wind Energy 2
Solar Energy 3
Geothermal Energy 4
Air Pollution 6
Greenhouse Gases 8
Implications for Agriculture and Forestry 8
To combat global warming and the other problems associated with fossil fuels,
the world must switch to renewable energy sources like sunlight, wind, and
biomass. All renewable energy technologies are not appropriate to all
applications or locations, however. As with conventional energy production,
there are environmental issues to be considered. This paper identifies some
of the key environmental impacts associated with renewable technologies and
suggests appropriate responses to them. A study by the Union of Concerned
Scientists and three other national organizations, America's Energy Choices,
found that even when certain strict environmental standards are used for
evaluating renewable energy projects, these energy sources can provide more
than half of the US energy supply by the year 2030.
Today the situation in fuel and industrial complexes round the world is
disastrous. Current energy systems depend heavily upon fossil and nuclear
fuels. What this would mean is that we would run out of mineral resources if
we continue consuming non-renewables at the present rate, and this moment is
not far off. According to some estimates, within the next 200 years most
people, for instance, seize using their cars for lack of petrol (unless some
alternatives are used). Moreover, both fossil and nuclear fuels produce a
great amount of polluting substances when burnt. We are slowly but steadily
destroying our planet, digging it from inside and releasing the wastes into
the atmosphere, water and soil. We have to seize vandalizing the Earth and
seek some other ways to address the needs of the society some other way.
That’s why renewable sources are so important for the society. In fact, today
we have a simple choice – either to turn to nature or to destroy ourselves. I
have all reasons to reckon that most of people would like the first idea much
more, and this is why I’m going to inquire into the topic and look through
some ways of providing a sustainable future for next generations.
It is hard to imagine an energy source more benign to the environment than
wind power; it produces no air or water pollution, involves no toxic or
hazardous substances (other than those commonly found in large machines), and
poses no threat to public safety. And yet a serious obstacle facing the wind
industry is public opposition reflecting concern over the visibility and
noise of wind turbines, and their impacts on wilderness areas.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of wind power is its use of land. Most
studies assume that wind turbines will be spaced a certain distance apart and
that all of the land in between should be regarded as occupied. This leads to
some quite disturbing estimates of the land area required to produce
substantial quantities of wind power. According to one widely circulated
report from the 1970s, generating 20 percent of US electricity from windy
areas in 1975 would have required siting turbines on 18,000 square miles, or
an area about 7 percent the size of Texas.
In reality, however, the wind turbines themselves occupy only a small
fraction of this land area, and the rest can be used for other purposes or
left in its natural state. For this reason, wind power development is ideally
suited to farming areas. In Europe, farmers plant right up to the base of
turbine towers, while in California cows can be seen peacefully grazing in
their shadow. The leasing of land for wind turbines, far from interfering
with farm operations, can bring substantial benefits to landowners in the
form of increased income and land values. Perhaps the greatest potential for
wind power development is consequently in the Great Plains, where wind is
plentiful and vast stretches of farmland could support hundreds of thousands
of wind turbines.
In other settings, however, wind power development can create serious land-
use conflicts. In forested areas it may mean clearing trees and cutting
roads, a prospect that is sure to generate controversy, except possibly in
areas where heavy logging has already occurred. And near populated areas,
wind projects often run into stiff opposition from people who regard them as
unsightly and noisy, or who fear their presence may reduce property values.
In California, bird deaths from electrocution or collisions with spinning
rotors have emerged as a problem at the Altamont Pass wind "farm," where more
than 30 threatened golden eagles and 75 other raptors such as red-tailed
hawks died or were injured during a three-year period. Studies under way to
determine the cause of these deaths and find preventive measures may have an
important impact on the public image and rate of growth of the wind industry.
In appropriate areas, and with imagination, careful planning, and early
contacts between the wind industry, environmental groups, and affected
communities, siting and environmental problems should not be insurmountable.
Since solar power systems generate no air pollution during operation, the
primary environmental, health, and safety issues involve how they are
manufactured, installed, and ultimately disposed of. Energy is required to
manufacture and install solar components, and any fossil fuels used for this
purpose will generate emissions. Thus, an important question is how much
fossil energy input is required for solar systems compared to the fossil
energy consumed by comparable conventional energy systems. Although this
varies depending upon the technology and climate, the energy balance is
generally favorable to solar systems in applications where they are cost
effective, and it is improving with each successive generation of technology.
According to some studies, for example, solar water heaters increase the
amount of hot water generated per unit of fossil energy invested by at least
a factor of two compared to natural gas water heating and by at least a
factor of eight compared to electric water heating.
Materials used in some solar systems can create health and safety hazards for
workers and anyone else coming into contact with them. In particular, the
manufacturing of photovoltaic cells often requires hazardous materials such
as arsenic and cadmium. Even relatively inert silicon, a major material used
in solar cells, can be hazardous to workers if it is breathed in as dust.
Workers involved in manufacturing photovoltaic modules and components must
consequently be protected from exposure to these materials. There is an
additional-probably very small-danger that hazardous fumes released from
photovoltaic modules attached to burning homes or buildings could injure fire
None of these potential hazards is much different in quality or magnitude
from the innumerable hazards people face routinely in an industrial society.
Through effective regulation, the dangers can very likely be kept at a very
The large amount of land required for utility-scale solar power plants-
approximately one square kilometer for every 20-60 megawatts (MW) generated-
poses an additional problem, especially where wildlife protection is a
concern. But this problem is not unique to solar power plants. Generating
electricity from coal actually requires as much or more land per unit of
energy delivered if the land used in strip mining is taken into account.
Solar-thermal plants (like most conventional power plants) also require
cooling water, which may be costly or scarce in desert areas.
Large central power plants are not the only option for generating energy from
sunlight, however, and are probably among the least promising. Because
sunlight is dispersed, small-scale, dispersed applications are a better match
to the resource. They can take advantage of unused space on the roofs of
homes and buildings and in urban and industrial lots. And, in solar building
designs, the structure itself acts as the collector, so there is no need for
any additional space at all.
Geothermal energy is heat contained below the earth's surface. The only type
of geothermal energy that has been widely developed is hydrothermal energy,
which consists of trapped hot water or steam. However, new technologies are
being developed to exploit hot dry rock (accessed by drilling deep into
rock), geopressured resources (pressurized brine mixed with methane), and
The various geothermal resource types differ in many respects, but they raise
a common set of environmental issues. Air and water pollution are two leading
concerns, along with the safe disposal of hazardous waste, siting, and land
subsidence. Since these resources would be exploited in a highly centralized
fashion, reducing their environmental impacts to an acceptable level should
be relatively easy. But it will always be difficult to site plants in scenic
or otherwise environmentally sensitive areas.
The method used to convert geothermal steam or hot water to electricity
directly affects the amount of waste generated. Closed-loop systems are
almost totally benign, since gases or fluids removed from the well are not
exposed to the atmosphere and are usually injected back into the ground after
giving up their heat. Although this technology is more expensive than
conventional open-loop systems, in some cases it may reduce scrubber and
solid waste disposal costs enough to provide a significant economic
Open-loop systems, on the other hand, can generate large amounts of solid
wastes as well as noxious fumes. Metals, minerals, and gases leach out into
the geothermal steam or hot water as it passes through the rocks. The large
amounts of chemicals released when geothermal fields are tapped for
commercial production can be hazardous or objectionable to people living and
At The Geysers, the largest geothermal development, steam vented at the
surface contains hydrogen sulfide (H2S)-accounting for the area's "rotten
egg" smell-as well as ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide. At hydrothermal
plants carbon dioxide is expected to make up about 10 percent of the gases
trapped in geopressured brines. For each kilowatt-hour of electricity
generated, however, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted is still only about
5 percent of the amount emitted by a coal- or oil-fired power plant.
Scrubbers reduce air emissions but produce a watery sludge high in sulfur and
vanadium, a heavy metal that can be toxic in high concentrations. Additional
sludge is generated when hydrothermal steam is condensed, causing the
dissolved solids to precipitate out. This sludge is generally high in silica
compounds, chlorides, arsenic, mercury, nickel, and other toxic heavy metals.
One costly method of waste disposal involves drying it as thoroughly as
possible and shipping it to licensed hazardous waste sites. Research under
way at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York points to the possibility
of treating these wastes with microbes designed to recover commercially
valuable metals while rendering the waste non-toxic.
Usually the best disposal method is to inject liquid wastes or redissolved
solids back into a porous stratum of a geothermal well. This technique is
especially important at geopressured power plants because of the sheer volume
of wastes they produce each day. Wastes must be injected well below fresh
water aquifers to make certain that there is no communication between the
usable water and waste-water strata. Leaks in the well casing at shallow
depths must also be prevented.
In addition to providing safe waste disposal, injection may also help prevent
land subsidence. At Wairakei, New Zealand, where wastes and condensates were
not injected for many years, one area has sunk 7.5 meters since 1958. Land
subsidence has not been detected at other hydrothermal plants in long-term
operation. Since geopressured brines primarily are found along the Gulf of
Mexico coast, where natural land subsidence is already a problem, even slight
settling could have major implications for flood control and hurricane
damage. So far, however, no settling has been detected at any of the three
experimental wells under study.
Most geothermal power plants will require a large amount of water for cooling
or other purposes. In places where water is in short supply, this need could
raise conflicts with other users for water resources.
The development of hydrothermal energy faces a special problem. Many
hydrothermal reservoirs are located in or near wilderness areas of great
natural beauty such as Yellowstone National Park and the Cascade Mountains.
Proposed developments in such areas have aroused intense opposition. If
hydrothermal-electric development is to expand much further in the United
States, reasonable compromises will have to be reached between environmental
groups and industry.
Biomass power, derived from the burning of plant matter, raises more serious
environmental issues than any other renewable resource except hydropower.
Combustion of biomass and biomass-derived fuels produces air pollution;
beyond this, there are concerns about the impacts of using land to grow
energy crops. How serious these impacts are will depend on how carefully the
resource is managed. The picture is further complicated because there is no
single biomass technology, but rather a wide variety of production and
conversion methods, each with different environmental impacts.
Inevitably, the combustion of biomass produces air pollutants, including
carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates such as soot and ash. The
amount of pollution emitted per unit of energy generated varies widely by
technology, with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces generally the worst
offenders. Modern, enclosed fireplaces and wood stoves pollute much less than
traditional, open fireplaces for the simple reason that they are more
efficient. Specialized pollution control devices such as electrostatic
precipitators (to remove particulates) are available, but without specific
regulation to enforce their use it is doubtful they will catch on.
Emissions from conventional biomass-fueled power plants are generally similar
to emissions from coal-fired power plants, with the notable difference that
biomass facilities produce very little sulfur dioxide or toxic metals
(cadmium, mercury, and others). The most serious problem is their particulate
emissions, which must be controlled with special devices. More advanced
technologies, such as the whole-tree burner (which has three successive
combustion stages) and the gasifier/combustion turbine combination, should
generate much lower emissions, perhaps comparable to those of power plants
fueled by natural gas.
Facilities that burn raw municipal waste present a unique pollution-control
problem. This waste often contains toxic metals, chlorinated compounds, and
plastics, which generate harmful emissions. Since this problem is much less
severe in facilities burning refuse-derived fuel (RDF)-pelletized or shredded
paper and other waste with most inorganic material removed-most waste-to-
energy plants built in the future are likely to use this fuel. Co-firing RDF
in coal-fired power plants may provide an inexpensive way to reduce coal
emissions without having to build new power plants.
Using biomass-derived methanol and ethanol as vehicle fuels, instead of
conventional gasoline, could substantially reduce some types of pollution
from automobiles. Both methanol and ethanol evaporate more slowly than
gasoline, thus helping to reduce evaporative emissions of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs), which react with heat and sunlight to generate ground-level
ozone (a component of smog). According to Environmental Protection Agency
estimates, in cars specifically designed to burn pure methanol or ethanol,
VOC emissions from the tailpipe could be reduced 85 to 95 percent, while
carbon monoxide emissions could be reduced 30 to 90 percent. However,
emissions of nitrogen oxides, a source of acid precipitation, would not
change significantly compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.
Some studies have indicated that the use of fuel alcohol increases emissions
of formaldehyde and other aldehydes, compounds identified as potential
carcinogens. Others counter that these results consider only tailpipe
emissions, whereas VOCs, another significant pathway of aldehyde formation,
are much lower in alcohol-burning vehicles. On balance, methanol vehicles
would therefore decrease ozone levels. Overall, however, alcohol-fueled cars
will not solve air pollution problems in dense urban areas, where electric
cars or fuel cells represent better solutions.
A major benefit of substituting biomass for fossil fuels is that, if done in
a sustainable fashion, it would greatly reduce emissions of greenhouses
gases. The amount of carbon dioxide released when biomass is burned is very
nearly the same as the amount required to replenish the plants grown to
produce the biomass. Thus, in a sustainable fuel cycle, there would be no net
emissions of carbon dioxide, although some fossil-fuel inputs may be required
for planting, harvesting, transporting, and processing biomass. Yet, if
efficient cultivation and conversion processes are used, the resulting
emissions should be small (around 20 percent of the emissions created by
fossil fuels alone). And if the energy needed to produce and process biomass
came from renewable sources in the first place, the net contribution to
global warming would be zero.
Similarly, if biomass wastes such as crop residues or municipal solid wastes
are used for energy, there should be few or no net greenhouse gas emissions.
There would even be a slight greenhouse benefit in some cases, since, when
landfill wastes are not burned, the potent greenhouse gas methane may be
released by anaerobic decay.
One surprising side effect of growing trees and other plants for energy is
that it could benefit soil quality and farm economies. Energy crops could
provide a steady supplemental income for farmers in off-seasons or allow them
to work unused land without requiring much additional equipment. Moreover,
energy crops could be used to stabilize cropland or rangeland prone to
erosion and flooding. Trees would be grown for several years before being
harvested, and their roots and leaf litter could help stabilize the soil. The
planting of coppicing, or self-regenerating, varieties would minimize the
need for disruptive tilling and planting. Perennial grasses harvested like
hay could play a similar role; soil losses with a crop such as switchgrass,
for example, would be negligible compared to annual crops such as corn.
If improperly managed, however, energy farming could have harmful
environmental impacts. Although energy crops could be grown with less
pesticide and fertilizer than conventional food crops, large-scale energy
farming could nevertheless lead to increases in chemical use simply because
more land would be under cultivation. It could also affect biodiversity
through the destruction of species habitats, especially if forests are more
intensively managed. If agricultural or forestry wastes and residues were
used for fuel, then soils could be depleted of organic content and nutrients
unless care was taken to leave enough wastes behind. These concerns point up
the need for regulation and monitoring of energy crop development and waste
Energy farms may present a perfect opportunity to promote low-impact
sustainable agriculture, or, as it is sometimes called, organic farming. A
relatively new federal effort for food crops emphasizes crop rotation,
integrated pest management, and sound soil husbandry to increase profits and
improve long-term productivity. These methods could be adapted to energy
farming. Nitrogen-fixing crops could be used to provide natural fertilizer,
while crop diversity and use of pest parasites and predators could reduce
pesticide use. Though such practices may not produce as high a yield as more
intensive methods, this penalty could be offset by reduced energy and
Increasing the amount of forest wood harvested for energy could have both
positive and negative effects. On one hand, it could provide an incentive for
the forest-products industry to manage its resources more efficiently, and
thus improve forest health. But it could also provide an excuse, under the
"green" mantle, to exploit forests in an unsustainable fashion.
Unfortunately, commercial forests have not always been soundly managed, and
many people view with alarm the prospect of increased wood cutting. Their
concerns can be met by tighter government controls on forestry practices and
by following the principles of "excellent" forestry. If such principles are
applied, it should be possible to extract energy from forests indefinitely.
The development of hydropower has become increasingly problematic in the
United States. The construction of large dams has virtually ceased because
most suitable undeveloped sites are under federal environmental protection.
To some extent, the slack has been taken up by a revival of small-scale
development. But small-scale hydro development has not met early
expectations. As of 1988, small hydropower plants made up only one-tenth of
total hydropower capacity.
Declining fossil-fuel prices and reductions in renewable energy tax credits
are only partly responsible for the slowdown in hydropower development. Just
as significant have been public opposition to new development and
Environmental regulations affect existing projects as well as new ones. For
example, a series of large facilities on the Columbia River in Washington
will probably be forced to reduce their peak output by 1,000 MW to save an
endangered species of salmon. Salmon numbers have declined rapidly because
the young are forced to make a long and arduous trip downstream through
several power plants, risking death from turbine blades at each stage. To
ease this trip, hydropower plants may be required to divert water around
their turbines at those times of the year when the fish attempt the trip. And
in New England and the Northwest, there is a growing popular movement to
dismantle small hydropower plants in an attempt to restore native trout and
That environmental concerns would constrain hydropower development in the
United States is perhaps ironic, since these plants produce no air pollution
or greenhouse gases. Yet, as the salmon example makes clear, they affect the
environment. The impact of very large dams is so great that there is almost
no chance that any more will be built in the United States, although large
projects continue to be pursued in Canada (the largest at James Bay in
Quebec) and in many developing countries. The reservoirs created by such
projects frequently inundate large areas of forest, farmland, wildlife
habitats, scenic areas, and even towns. In addition, the dams can cause
radical changes in river ecosystems both upstream and downstream.
Small hydropower plants using reservoirs can cause similar types of damage,
though obviously on a smaller scale. Some of the impacts on fish can be
mitigated by installing "ladders" or other devices to allow fish to migrate
over dams, and by maintaining minimum river-flow rates; screens can also be
installed to keep fish away from turbine blades. In one case, flashing
underwater lights placed in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania direct
night-migrating American shad around turbines at a hydroelectric station. As
environmental regulations have become more stringent, developing cost-
effective mitigation measures such as these is essential.
Despite these efforts, however, hydropower is almost certainly approaching
the limit of its potential in the United States. Although existing hydro
facilities can be upgraded with more efficient turbines, other plants can be
refurbished, and some new small plants can be added, the total capacity and
annual generation from hydro will probably not increase by more than 10 to 20
percent and may decline over the long term because of increased demand on
water resources for agriculture and drinking water, declining rainfall
(perhaps caused by global warming), and efforts to protect or restore
endangered fish and wildlife.
So, no single solution can meet our society's future energy needs. The
solution instead will come from the family of diverse energy technologies
that do not deplete our natural resources or destroy our environment. That’s
the final decision that the nature imposes. Today mankind’s survival directly
depends upon how quickly we can renew the polluting fuel an energy complex we
have now with sound and environmentally friendly technologies.
Certainly, alternative sources of energy have their own drawbacks, just like
everything in the world, but, in fact, they seem minor in comparison with the
hazards posed by conventional sources. Moreover, if talking about the dangers
posed by new energy technologies, there is a trend of localization. Really,
these have almost no negative global effect, such as air pollution.
Moreover, even the minor effects posed by geothermal plants or solar cells
can be overseen and prevented if the appropriate measures are taken. So, when
using alternatives, we operate a universal tool that can be tuned to suit
every purpose. They reduce the terrible impact the human being has had on the
environment for the years of his existense, thus drawing nature and
technology closer than ever before for the last 2 centuries.
1. "Biomass fuel." DISCovering Science. Gale Research, 1996. Reproduced
in Student Resource Center College Edition. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale
Group. September, 1999;
2. "Alternative energy sources." U*X*L Science; U*X*L, 1998;
3. Duffield, Wendell A., John H. Sass, and Michael L. Sorey, 1994,
Tapping the Earth’s Natural Heat: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1125;
4. Cool Energy: Renewable Solutions to Environmental Problems, by Michael
Brower, MIT Press, 1992;
5. Powerful Solutions: Seven Ways to Switch America to Renewable
Electricity, UCS, 1999;