This week started with Earth Day and I'm dedicating today's blog to the topic of Clean Energy. I'll give you fair warning: it's a long blog with a lot of facts and statistics and a bias by the author.
Power generation is the leading cause of air pollution and global warming emissions.
According to the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory: coal’s carbon footprint (980g CO2 /kw) is almost 90 times larger than that of wind energy (11g CO2/ kw) and the footprint of natural gas (465g CO2 /kw) is more than 40 times larger. Even when you take the entire lifecycle from raw materials extraction, manufacturing and transportation of the wind turbines and their operations into account, they are still one of the top clean high-yield energy sources available today.
One megawatt of wind power means 2,600 fewer tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and saves 1293 million gallons of water.
On January 1, 2018, 100% of the electricity generated on that single day in Germany came from renewable sources, 85% of which came from wind power. Energy from renewable sources comprise approximately 36% of the power generation in Germany on an annual basis.
Thus, Germany has already reached its ambitious goal to achieve a 30% mix of renewable energy before 2020 and has been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels.
So how could politicians of the German Green party (the so-called environment party) possibly oppose installing more wind turbines here in southern Germany?
They site the numbers of birds and insects which are killed by the rotating blades. The fact is, domestic cats which people keep as pets are the biggest killer of birds by far (over 1 billion). What are the Greens thinking? That electricity comes out of a socket in the wall?
Every form of power generation has an environmental impact and most alternatives are much worse for the environment than wind power:
- Nuclear power: has a low CO2 impact but an enormous risk to the environment because of the risk of disaster (Chernobyl, Fukashima) as well as that there is no safe place to store the used rods which will be radioactive forever. The extraction of uranium from just the Atlas mine in Utah left millions of tons of rock radioactive and contaminated rock leaches into the Colorado River today.
- Coal-fired and natural gas power: Climate change due to greenhouse gases, affecting everyone on the planet. Damage to the environment in the extraction of the coal. In a region western of Germany, just last year, ancient forests were being destroyed to make way for strip mining. Legal action has since stopped it however much damage has already been done.
- Photovoltaic: A great deal of electricity is needed to heat up the furnances (2750 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact) to melt the quartzite gravel or crushed quartz to produce pure silicon. Still more energy is required to coat it for use in the solar panels. Photovoltaic currently requires raw materials which are considered "critical" because they cannot be recycled and they are becoming more difficult to extract to meet the volume demands.
- Hydropower has a low CO2 score, however, the dams can significantly alter the environment and they’re only effective if you've got enough water. The Hoover Dam in the US is drying up threatening the power supply to millions of prople. The summer of 2018 was so hot that the Rhine River had dried up and, if the drought had continued, the nuclear power plants would have been in danger because there wouldn't be enough water for cooling.
When I consider the alternatives, yes, it's terrible that birds and insects are killed, however, let's be glad it's not human lives and there's no chance of contaminating or destroying the environment where people live.
In conclusion, wind power is not perfect and cannot be the sole source of energy for power generation, but there is no reason to fight it, if you want to have Clean Energy.
1293 million gallons of water: http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/economic_development/2009/ma_wind_benefits_factsheet.pdf