/Environmental Impact of Electricity Generation

Environmental Impact of Electricity Generation

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When we deal with Electric Cars, we must focus on the environmental impact of electricity generation, since electricity is the main source been used by those cars. Electricity is generated by many methods, each of those methods has different impact on the environment:

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel used in electricity plants are Coal, Oil and Natural Gas, and they in general have the highest negative effect on the environment, as the combustion process produces airborne hazardous pollutants,particularly SOX, NOX , CO, CO2 , and hydrocarbons, that spread over a wide area. Carbon monoxide, CO, carbon dioxide, CO2, and the hydrocarbons are the “greenhouse gases,” believed to be responsible for global warming.  SOX and NOX produce acid when released into the atmosphere, leading to the production of acid rain. Such power plants also produce noise, dispose solid waste, and have a visual impact (in simple words, they are ugly).

Air pollution by fossil fuels is estimated as follows:

Fuel TypeCONOXSO2CO2
Coal0.113.549.261090
Oil0.192.025.08781
Gas0.202.320.004490

 

Nuclear Electricity Generation

Nuclear electricity plants are creating a huge ongoing negative environmental impact since such plants need to dispose nuclear waste which must be stored safely for thousands of years in order not to severely damage the environment. When shutting down a nuclear plant the entire reactor is a high level radioactive waste that must be disposed. The current method of deactivating a nuclear plant is to completely remove and dispose of all radioactive components, to bury the reactor in concrete, or just to shut the plant down and restrict access until the radioactivity dies out. An accident at a nuclear plant would release a massive amount of radioactive pollution which is most likely to result in loss of life, extinguishing a large area of land which would become unlivable for many years.

SUKUISO, Japan (March 18, 2011) An aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

 

Solar Power

Solar power generation has probably got the lowest negative impact on the environment comparing to all other methods of generating electricity. Solar plants however require massive area of land which must be clean of any ecosystems. Solar plants also change the way light is absorbed by Earth’s surface and they produce a lot of heat. Solar cells are made of monocrystalline silicon which requires the mining of silicon. Mining is an industry which damages the environment and changes the eco system.

Wind

The advantage of generating power from wind is that it is naturally generated from wind which is naturally created by Earth’s rotation around itself. Wind turbines however have some negative impact on the environment as they produce visual pollution and noise, they also require fairly big area of land or sea and free volume air-space which influence birds and other animals. Most wind turbines include a diesel generator to regulate the turbine speed when there is not enough wind.

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm

 

Hydro power

Generation of electricity by hydropower can have both negative and positive effects on the environment. Hydropower, like wind power, is made of generated resource as it hooks the natural water cycle (the hydrological cycle) of planet Earth. However, hydropower is based on collecting and controlling of water what requires building water dams. In some setups, a dam may help with flood control, flow regulation, or the reservoir may provide recreational opportunities. At other sites, the dam may have adverse effects on the hydrological cycle, water quality of the stream, fish migration, and may cause the destruction of landscapes and ecosystems. Building new high-head dams requires the displacement and compensation of populations. Dam failures can lead to accidents with catastrophic floods.

Hoover dam from air
Hoover dam from air

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