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Does Renewable Energy Pollute Waterways?

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Jane Marsh's picture

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Jan 11, 2023

All energy creation causes some pollution, including renewable sources. Resource extraction, contamination and mismanagement can occur when developing power or manufacturing green technologies. The key is to rein in any ecological damage so the planet is protected during all stages of energy development.

Learn more about how renewable resources pollute waterways — and how the sector can advance to curb these side effects.

Which Renewable Energy Sources Cause Water Pollution?

Every type of renewable energy causes water pollution during production. However, some create more than others. Nuclear power has the distinction of producing the least amount of water pollution, though it still exists. Since nuclear power plants have rigorous requirements to contain radioactive elements, they also reduce excess runoff.

The worst offender is likely biomass energy, which also contributes most to air pollution. This combination is not a coincidence — keep in mind how easily air pollution can contaminate water. Burning materials like wood creates ash and other chemicals that harm waterways and damage ecosystems.

Nuclear and biomass require millions of gallons of water to power plants and irrigate fields for production. Aside from pollution potential, renewable energies could use more water than is available — potentially contributing to scarcity in certain areas.

Geothermal energy also relies on water more than other renewable sources. Plants remove water from reservoirs, which could cause pollution by compromising the ground’s strength. Though many power producers repopulate the area with wastewater, sinking and soil movement could harm other water sources.

How Do Fossil Fuels Compare?

Despite certain pollution risks, renewable energy sources are still less damaging than fossil fuels. The environment is much more damaged by pollutants like lead, nitrates and mercury. Aquatic life and human residents suffer the consequences of passive consumption and exposure to these contaminants, making health crises harsher.

Aside from coal and oil, additional liquids and debris could easily coat waterways without the proper precautions. Due to how companies extract fossil fuels with methods like drilling and explosives, the spread of pollutants happens faster than with renewable energy sources.

Renewable options like solar, hydropower and wind have fewer opportunities for polluting water. Runoff is a less frequent issue, and the byproducts of this energy creation don’t seep into waterways from the air. 

How Can Renewable Energy Pollute Waterways Less?

Renewable energy is most likely to pollute during production, so improving that process can reduce contamination risks.

For example, assembling monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels requires harmful chemicals. The production also involves a lot of water, increasing scarcity in more vulnerable locations worldwide.

One way to reduce water pollution is by adjusting management methods. Businesses can undergo process discovery to find ways to reduce water usage and optimize filtration when assembling solar panels. Using less water to produce cleaner steam is possible with the right heating methods. 

On top of reducing water pollution during production and manufacturing, renewable energies can take an additional step to minimize contamination from other sources. 

Fossil fuels exacerbate the situation in developing countries already burdened by the global waste problem. Renewable energy helps underdeveloped regions become more advanced and prosperous and cause less environmental damage, which is the aim of green power in the first place. 

Energy Consumption and Water Pollution

Renewable energy sources are kinder to the planet but still pollute water systems. There doesn’t appear to be a current solution that eliminates the issue, but the sector can perform self-analysis for continued development. That will make these sources even more eco-friendly during every step of the production process.

As the number of renewable energy sources that pollute waterways decreases with time, they’ll become an even better and more critical alternative in the global sustainability initiative.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 13, 2023

As you wrote Renewable Energy creates no water pollution while in use. Only a small amount while creating the equipment but the same can be said for fossil fuel mining, transport and in use.  QUOTE=Renewable options like solar, hydropower and wind have fewer opportunities for polluting water. Runoff is a less frequent issue, and the byproducts of this energy creation don’t seep into waterways from the air.

Jane Marsh's picture
Thank Jane for the Post!
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