All electricity generation has some kind of impact on the environment. It’s about everything from local environmental impact to global warming.
Environmental cost before electricity is generated
Everything that is built requires energy. The production of the building material concrete causes carbon dioxide emissions and a power plant construction requires transport fueled by fossil fuels. It is usually expected that solar cells and wind power that generate renewable electricity have paid their “energy debt” from the manufacturing process in 6-24 months.
Power plants powered by fossil fuels increase their environmental debt during their lifetime as they emit carbon dioxide and pollution. In addition, the continuous extraction of coal, gas and oil that is needed draws large amounts of energy, as does transportation to the power plants around the world. Mining around coal mining causes environmental problems such as large wounds in the landscape. Nuclear power does not emit any carbon dioxide or pollution during operation, but is dependent on environmentally harmful uranium mining.
Impact of electricity production on the local environment
All power plants affect the local environment around them. This effect occurs in part directly because they take up space on the ground and thus displace animal and plant life, but also indirectly depending on the type of power.
Hydroelectric power stations affect the entire ecological system in the water system used. Many rivers are rebuilt to resemble a long line of lakes instead of rushing streams. This is negative for the plants and animals that have adapted to the life of the river.
The wind turbine’s spinning rotor blade kills birds and bats. People are also disturbed by the fact that they let and change the landscape.
Nuclear power plants use water as cooling and release it into sea bays. There, the temperature increases and the marine life changes.
Power plants fired with fossil fuels emit particles and toxic substances in the form of carbon and sulfur compounds. Such local pollution has caused and continues to cause great suffering to people nearby in the form of, for example, respiratory problems and cancer. This also affects wildlife and plant life.
Many Chinese cities are often embedded in air pollution consisting of coal-fired power plant particles. China burns more coal than the rest of the world together.
International environmental impact of electricity generation
In the 1960s, researchers discovered that the soils were acidifying and that this process had begun to change the environment and knock out wildlife in entire lake systems. The cause was emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide from the power plants in Europe, which were powered by coal and oil. Emissions were transformed into, among other things, sulfuric acid in the air, causing acid rain.
Acidification became a major regional environmental problem.
Burned uranium from nuclear power plants accounts for a special type of environmental impact. The fuel is radioactive for 100,000 years, and this radioactivity must not come out because it is harmful to cells in both plants and animals. The uranium is therefore stored in tight containers. But how to safely store these containers for thousands of generations? In 50,000 years, they may be opened by people who think it is a treasure.
The global environmental impact of electricity production
The climate crisis
The so-called greenhouse effect has been known for over 100 years. The term was coined in the 1890s, in which he predicted that the increasing combustion of coal and oil would make the climate on earth warmer. The background is that the carbon dioxide formed during combustion retains heat radiation that would otherwise have left the earth.
In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers began to make calculations that showed that the greenhouse effect was a fact and that the climate could be altered by the large fossil fuel supply. In the nuclear power debate, those who advocated more nuclear power referred to this research, but the public opinion was then more concerned about the risks of nuclear power than future climate change.
With increasing temperatures, we risk:
- Rising sea levels and coastal cities submerged.
- A rampant greenhouse effect due to melting permafrost.
- More storms and more drought which, for example, make food production more difficult.
- Large streams of refugees searching for areas not affected.
Subsequently, awareness of the risks of the greenhouse effect has gradually increased. In 1997, a large part of the world’s countries agreed that carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced. The so-called Kyoto Protocol would make this possible, among other things, through emissions trading.
In the 2010s, carbon dioxide emissions in Europe and North America decreased, but they also increased sharply in Asia and Africa, so the fact is that emissions are increasing and researchers have meanwhile become increasingly agree that climate change is a fact.
Electricity production is a key
Electricity production in the world accounts for three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, more renewable electricity or electricity generation that generates less carbon dioxide is central to counteracting further global environmental impact through warming.
The remaining carbon dioxide emissions are mainly responsible for the transport sector, but these too can be reduced by more fossil-free electricity generation. One key to adjusting the vehicle fleet is electricity. Then it is required that the electricity that charges the batteries does not contribute to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The energy demand is increasing
The earth has now entered a new geological age that scientists call the anthropocene (after the Greek word for man, anthroposis). This is because we humans have affected the globe to such an extent that the conditions for life are changing. The climate is warmer, natural environments give way to cities and cultivated land and species die out at a high rate.
To return is difficult in many ways. Quantities of people in Asia and Africa want the same prosperity as in the West and therefore increase the environmental impact, as well as fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions.
On a basic level, it is about energy. Man needs energy to survive and build his communities. More and more people and more advanced societies require more and more energy.
Some believe that the way forward is for people to reduce their energy use by refraining from expanding their communities. Others believe that man must establish himself in space to gain more energy before the earth is destroyed. Everyone agrees that technology development is important in order for more energy to be extracted from the renewable energy types.