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How Does Renewable Energy Impact Residential Water Quality?

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

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Out of all the global water sources, the United States has some of the safest water supplies. Many Americans get their water directly from the tap, which is safe for consumption and hygiene purposes. Although water quality varies depending on where it is sourced, all the water that enters the tap system must follow the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulations.

However, various contaminants can still enter the water. While sewage releases, fertilizers and naturally occurring minerals are well-known pollutants, you may not be aware of the impact renewable energy has on residential water quality.

Fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources pose a more significant threat to residential water quality by introducing the potential for greenhouse gases to enter the water system. Renewable energy is considerably less harmful to the environment and residential water quality. However, a few aspects can still harm your water supply, especially if you have well water or aren’t connected to a larger water source.

How does renewable energy impact residential water quality? This article will explore popular renewable electricity sources, along with their influence — good and bad — on residential water quality.

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is any power that can be replenished. Essentially, it is inexhaustible.

The major types of renewable energy include:

  • Nuclear: Although the material used to make nuclear energy is not renewable, the power source itself is. It comes from the energy released when the bonds holding uranium nuclei together break.
  • Hydroelectric: This power comes from the energy of moving water, which spins a generator to create electricity.
  • Solar: Solar panels change sunlight directly into electricity.
  • Wind: The wind spins wind turbines to create electricity.
  • Biomass: Biomass comes from plants and animals, which contain stored energy from the sun.
  • Geothermal: Geothermal energy uses heat from the Earth. Water and steam carry this power to the surface.

Each of these types of energy can be used repeatedly, and they will never run out. Although they are safer for the environment, some have hurt residential water quality.

Nuclear

Nuclear energy affects residential water quality in various ways. Many nuclear power plants are near bodies of water, which helps them cool down. During machine handling and ongoing maintenance, chemicals tend to build up.

Eventually, through unintentional means, the chemical pollutants are released into the water. This harms rivers, lakes, streams, ponds and groundwater sources, which can all enter residential water supplies. These chemicals are harmful enough to kill fish and other aquatic life.

Hydroelectric

Hydropower uses water to create energy. Usually, hydroelectric facilities rely on manmade reservoirs, which also supply residential areas with water. While this doesn’t affect residential water quality, it can affect the water quality within the rest of the environment.

When hydropower facilities are built, they often displace animals and relocate humans. Plus, when the turbines run, they can increase the water temperature, harming aquatic life.

Solar

Solar power, once installed, requires zero water to work. There’s less chance for contamination from solar power than there is from nonrenewable sources.

Manufacturing solar panels is a different story. One of the primary materials in solar panels is silicon. Processing it requires gallons of freshwater. Therefore, there is a higher risk of water contamination and pollution.

Wind

Wind turbines do not consume any water to create energy. This means they don’t pollute the water you use to drink, bathe, brush your teeth or wash the dishes.

However, when wind farms are erected, soil erosion could occur, which could run off into a nearby body of water and cause water quality problems.

Biomass

To create biomass, plants like trees must be harvested and then replanted. During this process, both water and soil are affected. With tree removal, there is a greater chance of erosion and surface runoff, which could impact residential water quality.

Additionally, when trees or other vegetation are replanted, chemicals and fertilizers are likely used. If not regulated, these could be harmful to water systems. To produce energy, water is necessary for biomass production as well.

Geothermal

Geothermal power plants use towers that cool heat from the Earth to be released back into the environment. That way, none of the waste heat is directly dumped into rivers or lakes.

Over the years, the amount of water used for geothermal power has greatly reduced. Typically, water used for geothermal energy is in a closed-loop system, so if any of it is contaminated, it goes directly back into the site. This renewable energy source arguably offers the most effective way to protect residential water quality.

Renewable Energy Is Mostly Safe for Water Sources

Renewable power mostly has a positive impact on residential water quality. The processes employed to harness that energy use little water, and they are well regulated to prevent contamination of residential water quality and conserve freshwater.

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