What are the health and environmental impacts of renewable energy?

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Main topic: Science
Other topics: Climate change
Short answer:
  • Lower environmental impacts, specifically from air pollution and GHGs.
  • Health benefits such as a reduction in premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma exacerbations, and hospitalizations due to cardiovascular or respiratory difficulties.

Renewable energy sources can help in combating the environmental impacts associated with the usage of fossil fuels and coal, particularly by reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases[edit]

The various types of renewable sources of energy and their environmental impact are as follows:

Solar energy[edit]

The sun is a great way to make clean, long-lasting electricity without polluting the air or contributing to global warming. The land use and habitat loss, water use, and use of dangerous materials in manufacturing that could be caused by solar power can vary a lot depending on the technology, which falls into two broad categories: photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP). The size of the system, which can range from small rooftop PV arrays to large utility-scale PV and CSP projects, also has a big effect on how much damage it does to the environment. Depending on where they are, larger utility-scale solar facilities can cause land degradation and the loss of habitat. But the effects of utility-scale solar systems on the land can be kept to a minimum by putting them in less desirable places like brownfields, old mining land, or transportation and transmission corridors. Smaller solar PV arrays that can be built on homes or businesses also have a small impact on land use. A number of dangerous materials are used in the process of making PV cells. Most of these are used to clean and purify the surface of the semiconductor. Hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and acetone are some of these chemicals. They are similar to those used in the semiconductor industry as a whole. Most estimates for concentrating solar power are between 0.08 and 0.2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. In both cases, this is a lot less than the natural gas (0.6-2 lbs of CO2E/kWh) and coal (1.4-3.6 lbs of CO2E/kWh) lifecycle emission rates.[1][2]


Wind turbines don't pollute the air or water (except in very rare cases), and they don't need water to stay cool. Wind turbines may also cut down on the amount of electricity made from fossil fuels. This means that less pollution and carbon dioxide will be released into the air. Modern wind turbines can be very big, and they may change the way the landscape looks. Some wind turbines have also caught fire, and some have leaked lubricating fluids, but this doesn't happen very often. Some people don't like how wind turbine blades sound when they move in the wind. Some wind projects and types of wind turbines kill birds and bats. Some species may lose more members of their population because of these deaths and other things that humans do. Most land-based wind power projects need service roads, which adds to the damage to the environment. Making the metals and other materials used to make wind turbine parts has an effect on the environment, and fossil fuels may have been used to make the materials. Most of the materials used to make wind turbines can be used again or recycled, but most turbine blades can't be recycled because of how they are made. Using a thermoplastic resin system, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) came up with a way to make wind turbine blades.[3] These thermoplastic resins make it possible to make wind turbine blades in a way that saves energy and allows them to be recycled when they reach the end of their useful lives.[4]


Energy crops, agricultural wastes, waste materials, and forest biomass are the principal non-food sources of biomass. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that is produced whenever either fossil fuels or biomass are burned. However, the plants that are the source of biomass for energy capture approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) through photosynthesis while they are developing as is emitted when biomass is burned, which means that biomass has the potential to be a carbon-neutral source of energy. Methane emissions, which are produced when plant matter decomposes without the presence of oxygen, can be reduced using biomass energy. If the resources are managed in a sustainable manner, it has a limitless capacity for regeneration.[5]


Hydropower is a clean way to get electricity that doesn't run out. Hydropower can be made without burning fossil fuels, and since the water cycle is always happening naturally, we will never run out of hydropower. Using it to make a lot of power, on the other hand, could hurt the environment. For large storage or pumped storage hydropower plants to be built, river systems have to be blocked, rerouted, or changed in some way. When you stop a river's natural flow, you also stop fish from getting to important places where they migrate. Many types of fish need inland rivers to reproduce. When dams stop the flow of a river, fish can't get to their breeding grounds. Most of the time, damming rivers reduces the flow of water and sediment to dangerous levels, which hurts wildlife in the area. Low water flow and low nutrient flow can cause animals to lose their homes and water that is good for them. Large hydropower plants often change the landscape around them, especially where rivers are dammed to make reservoirs. Creating reservoirs to make electricity in storage and pumped storage hydropower systems often causes upstream flooding that destroys wildlife habitats, scenic areas, and good farming land. In some cases, people have to leave their homes because of flooding. Even though spinning turbines with water don't directly use fossil fuels or release greenhouse gases, recent studies have shown that reservoirs made by damming rivers add a lot of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This is because dead plants and other organic matter that gets stuck in the reservoirs break down and let gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the water.[6]


The environment is almost never hurt by direct-use applications or geothermal heat pumps. In fact, they can help the environment by cutting down on the use of energy sources that may be bad for the planet. Geothermal power plants don't burn fuel to make electricity, but they may give off small amounts of sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Geothermal power plants have about 99% less carbon dioxide and 97% less sulphur compounds that cause acid rain than fossil fuel power plants of the same size. Scrubbers are used to get rid of the hydrogen sulphide that naturally occurs in geothermal reservoirs. Most geothermal power plants put the geothermal steam and water they use back into the earth. This helps to renew the geothermal resource and cut down on the amount of pollution from geothermal power plants.[7]

Tidal Power[edit]

One of the main reasons for making electricity from tidal streams is to fight climate change by reducing CO2 emissions. This is because tidal streams are a 100% renewable, 100% reliable, and 100% predictable source of energy. When compared to diesel, every kWh of power generated by "tidal" saves 1,000g of CO2 per kWh. Tidal power projects have had trouble getting started because there aren't enough places to put them. When a tidal barrage is put in, the shoreline of a bay may change, which could hurt an ecosystem that depends on tidal flats. There's no way around the fact that tide power has one of the most expensive start-up costs. First, putting in a tidal system is hard in terms of technology. Manufacturers have to compete with the moving ocean, and the equipment and technical knowledge needed to build the system are usually very expensive, especially when compared to a wind or solar farm.[8]

Reduction in the number of premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma exacerbations, and hospitalizations due to cardiovascular or respiratory difficulties are some of the major benefits of using renewable sources of energy[edit]

Renewable Energy sources use things available in the environment to make power. These sources of energy are the wind, the sun, and the waves. One of the most important health benefits is that our air and atmosphere would no longer be polluted by greenhouse gases and other pollutants that come from fossil fuel plants or from burning fossil fuels in transportation. The use of clean energy sources will also foster health benefits in women, who are otherwise more widely affected by fossil fuels such as LPG, and kerosene being used for cooking. Not only would pollution in the air goes down but so would pollution in our water. Because wind and solar energy don't need much water to work, water use and pollution would go down. This would mean that there would be more water for drinking and more resources for industries like agriculture. When fossil fuels are burned to make electricity, they combine with oxygen to make a dangerous greenhouse gas called nitrogen oxide, or NOx. It gas can cause smog and acid rain, and it also reacts chemically to make ground-level ozone, which is a harmful air pollutant. Stratospheric ozone also called the ozone layer, protects us from the sun's dangerous UV rays, whereas its depletion due to excessive emission of GHG causes diseases such as skin cancer. Therefore, by reducing the GHG emission the risk of skin diseases will also be combated.[9]


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  2. "8.7. Environmental Impact of Renewable Energy | EME 807: Technologies for Sustainability Systems". www.e-education.psu.edu. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  3. Nations, United. "Renewable energy – powering a safer future". United Nations. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  4. "Environmental Impacts of Renewable Energy Technologies | Union of Concerned Scientists". www.ucsusa.org. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  5. US EPA, OAR (10 August 2015). "Learn about Energy and its Impact on the Environment". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  6. Luderer, Gunnar; Pehl, Michaja; Arvesen, Anders; Gibon, Thomas; Bodirsky, Benjamin L.; de Boer, Harmen Sytze; Fricko, Oliver; Hejazi, Mohamad; Humpenöder, Florian; Iyer, Gokul; Mima, Silvana; Mouratiadou, Ioanna; Pietzcker, Robert C.; Popp, Alexander; van den Berg, Maarten; van Vuuren, Detlef; Hertwich, Edgar G. (19 November 2019). "Environmental co-benefits and adverse side-effects of alternative power sector decarbonization strategies". Nature Communications. p. 5229. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13067-8. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  7. Kumar, Mahesh (21 January 2020). "Social, Economic, and Environmental Impacts of Renewable Energy Resources". www.intechopen.com. IntechOpen. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  8. Innovations, ADEC. "Environmental Impacts of Renewable Energy Sources - ADEC ESG". www.adecesg.com. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  9. Buonocore, Jonathan J; Hughes, Ethan J; Michanowicz, Drew R; Heo, Jinhyok; Allen, Joseph G; Williams, Augusta (1 November 2019). "Climate and health benefits of increasing renewable energy deployment in the United States*". Environmental Research Letters. p. 114010. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ab49bc. Retrieved 20 October 2022.