Although there were enough warnings to address serious environmental issues of fossil fuel generation, it received no attention by the concerned players until this pandemic. Ever since the pandemic broke out and the world coming to practically standstill, there has been growing recognition among the same who had brushed aside environmental issues earlier, to address them on urgent basis especially, the climate change.
Renewable energy both solar and wind were at a snail pace trying to make inroads into the energy sector with their contribution. But, pandemic perhaps opened up flood gates for them and they are now being recognized as a strong contender to address climate change issues.
In the meantime, renewables have undergone tremendous transformation in terms of technological advancements, cost effectiveness and flexibility. What I intend presenting below is a summary of the renewable potential in terms of environmental aspects and grade them on priority.
Wind energy is of three types – utility scale; offshore and distributed and presents certain advantages in being a clean fuel source, cost effective, creates jobs and is sustainable. Wind being a clean source produces no air or water pollution; being free reduced operational cost (almost nil). Mass production and technological advancement are making turbines cheaper and many governments off tax incentives to promote wind energy development.
Despite these major advantages, there are a few limitations as well – wind is inconsistent (one needs minimum velocity to turn the blades), turbines involves high capital investment and are a visual impact, believed to reduce bird population due to noise disturbances, turbines could be a safety hazard. Requires large land area.
The adverse environmental impacts include reducing, fragmenting or degrading habitat for wildlife, fish and plants. Spinning blades are a threat to birds and bats.
Similar to wind, solar also does not use water and release harmful gases and it is estimated that two decades of solar energy saves approximately 320,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. Undoubtedly, it is abundant and free.
However, they remove species within the habitat and renders habitat to less livable for plants and wildlife that have adapted to specific conditions. Solar initial cost is high, expensive storage and location & sun availability is perhaps the main concern. Solar panels modify the land use pattern, water use and more importantly uses hazardous materials in manufacturing. There is further a big difference in Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP).
Decentralised – electricity generation at home:
Smaller power generation plants and storage units (micro-renewables, heating and cooling) that get grid connected fall under the Decentralised category. They generate less harmful emission, decreases transmission loss and can be built on residential areas.
While initial installation costs are higher, there are economic benefits in the long, reduces carbon emissions and secured energy.
Renewable (all three) has been a competitor to centralised power generation in significant savings through lower cost and efficient use of resources. Not only does this meet customer’s energy requirement but often may generate additional revenue as well through selling excess capacity to the grid.
In addition to what has been mentioned under each category, tremendous technological advancement has taken place both in the solar and wind sector. They have tried to consciously introduce noise free wind turbines and there has been a greater emphasis on the offshore windmills recently. With the increased efficiency, land requirement (unit) will automatically reduce. With the increased demand, capital cost investment hopefully should be affordable. Wind turbine material has undergone tremendous change and lighter material may promote operation with lower wind velocities.
Solar and wind have the greatest advantage in limiting global carbon dioxide level. Efforts on land reduction and reduced disturbance to the habitat disturbance need serious attention.
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