Are Renewable Energy Sources Green?Dana Colson
With the world more focused than ever on creating sustainable infrastructure and businesses, renewable energy sources have been touted as our saving grace. They are the way to prevent further damage to our planet due to climate change, yet there’s still a lot of debate over whether these energies actually live up to their expected environmental benefits.
The effects of global warming and climate change have prompted the government and non-governmental organizations to look for ways of coping with the changes in weather patterns. One way of dealing with the phenomenon is by reducing your carbon footprint and understanding the different types of energy.
Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and crude oil used for energy production are one of the leading causes of global warming. Switching to renewable and green energy sources have been proven to be one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emission.
Governments and non-government have invested heavily in new technologies that produce electricity without harming the environment. But are renewable energy sources really green?
The U.S. government and the European Union have been at the forefront of promoting the adoption of renewable energy. The severe effects of global warming are informed by the need to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of renewable energy in residential and commercial premises, especially in developing countries.
The first thing to note about the energy sector in the renewable energy market is that it’s produced from self-replenishing natural sources. Thus, they cannot be depleted like fossil fuels such as coal. Environmental impact assessments from the industrial revolution up to today’s green technologies show that they are planet friendly since they don’t pollute the environment like oil production.
Is Hydropower Really Green
The most widely used form of renewable energy is hydropower. Contrary to popular belief, hydropower is not 100% green as it destroys the ecosystems the power generators are constructed on. One of the adverse effects of hydropower plants is that they interfere with vegetation and wildlife.
Large tracts of land are cleared to pave the way for the construction of the plants. As a result, wildlife is displaced, and the natural water flow is disrupted. The U.S. government and other renowned energy agencies, such as the International Energy Agency, advocate for the use of hydropower.
However, they don’t describe it as green energy. Instead, they prefer to use the term “clean energy” because they are aware of the adverse effects it has on the environment.
This example proves that not all forms of renewable energy are green or clean. Concisely, clean energy refers to forms of energy that don’t harm the planet through the emission of carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gasses known to cause global warming and climate change.
In a recent debate in Europe on whether wood should be considered a renewable energy source, experts argued that wood is renewable as it can be replenished by planting new trees to replace the harvested trees. However, this argument is skewed as the burning of wood results in severe air pollution due to CO2 emissions.
Is Solar Energy Green?
Solar energy, or solar radiation, is the second largest form of renewable energy in the world.
It entails using solar panels to convert solar rays into electricity usable for everyday activities such as running machines. Like hydropower, one of the main concerns is extensive land use.
Large pieces of land are cleared during the construction of large solar panel plants. The forests are cleared to create space for solar panels, thus interrupting not only the vegetation but wildlife, as they cannot freely move in open spaces.
Notably, wind and solar power plants require more land than those that rely on fossil fuels to produce electricity. This aspect hinders their adoption in countries that don’t have large tracts of unused land.
The Bottom Line on Renewable Energy
Most countries don’t consider the total life cycle of an energy source when doing an environmental impact assessment of renewable energy projects. For example, most of the solar panels used here in the United States are manufactured in China.
Even though these solar panels help us to produce solar energy, they are manufactured in plants whose primary source of electricity is coal. Consequently, they are shipped into the country in large ships. Note that maritime shipping is ranked among the most notorious environment-polluting industries in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The pallets used to ship the solar panels are usually imported from countries in Southeast Asia and Vietnam. Forests are cleared, and the timber is used to make the pallets, thus damaging the environment. An increase in demand for solar panels will result in more trees being cut down. More ocean and air pollution will occur as ships transport the panels from China to the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world.
Energy Considered Green
For any energy to be considered green, it should meet the following three requirements, namely;
- It’s 100% renewable: The energy should be produced by harnessing a self-replenishing natural resource. Solar and wind turbines to generate electricity are examples of naturally replenishing natural resources.
- Zero Emissions: Green energy sources should not release greenhouse gases such as CO2 into the atmosphere during production. Electricity from harnessing wind and sun releases little or no pollutants into the atmosphere.
- Low Risk: Once the solar or wind plants are set up, they will continue to generate electricity as long as the sun shines and the wind blows. They pose little or no danger to the environment.
- Low Maintenance: Extensive maintenance often results in pollution, especially if replaced parts are not renewable. The traditional energy sources required a lot of maintenance that resulted in pollution during the spare parts manufacturing. Coal and other fossil fuels were usually used to manufacture these parts, thus negatively impacting the environment.
Green energy is the future, but there is a need for governments to do extensive environmental impact assessments to determine the feasibility of projects before implementation. The environmental impacts of wind, solar, and hydropower plants can be mitigated through proper planning and implementation of new technologies.