In the face of climate change, renewable power has been the focus to reduce carbon footprint. At first glance, it seems to be a clean, non-environmentally damaging solution. However, much of the upstream activity to set up the infrastructure is actually quite nefarious. In this article, we will evaluate some adverse impacts of renewable energy on the environment.
It is true that hydropower does not emit air pollutants. But the dams constructed for hydropower disrupt the natural river flow and alter the habitats of species. Not only do they impede fish swimming upriver, they stop those moving downstream. Fish migration is thus inhibited, driving population decline in species that depend on such movement.
Researchers mapped the impacts of 40,000 current and 3,700 planned hydropower dams on the habitats of 10,000 fish species. Results revealed that the dams imposed severe danger to the survival of these species. For instance, dams have already caused mass extinction of salmonids in North America.
Wind turbines are lethal to birds and bats according to data from 16 and 12 countries respectively. It was found that a total of 362 bird and 31 bat species were affected by turbines.
A greater number of small turbines (lower turbine capacity) resulted in higher predicted mortality rates than a smaller number of large turbines (higher turbine capacity).
To build solar power facilities, large pieces of land are needed. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for a solar power plant to provide electricity for 1,000 homes, it would require 32 acres of land. With the NREL’s estimate, all the United States’ energy requirements could be met where 18,734,500 acres were used for solar plants, which is equivalent to 0.8% of the entire area of the United States.
Thus, the environmental impacts of solar panels include habitat loss first, but also water use in the case of concentrating solar thermal plants, along with the use of hazardous materials that can be dangerous if not disposed of correctly.
This article was written by Jennie Wong.
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Impacts of current and future large dams on the geographic range connectivity of freshwater fish worldwide, from: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/117/7/3648.full.pdf
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Land-Use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States, from: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/56290.pdf
Bird and bat species’ global vulnerability to collision mortality at wind farms revealed through a trait-based assessment, from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0829