Solar panels and electric car batteries are just some inventions that were meant to make the world more eco-friendly. Yet, as technology continues to improve, scientists are realizing that there are downsides to these discoveries. So, what is the dark side of renewable energy, and how can we fix it?
Types of Renewable Energy
Solar power is the type of renewable energy that most people think of first. Yet, there are many other types, including hydro, wind, bioenergy, and geothermal.
All these types of renewable energy have strong benefits, but each one has its downsides too. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used, but instead, we need to prepare for the complications that the future may bring.
What is the Dark Side of Renewable Energy?
There are a few reasons why renewable energy could have negative impacts. Overall, the positive aspects of renewable energy overshadow the dark side of it. Yet, it’s important to be aware of the downsides so we can better prepare for the future.
Materials Will Eventually Clog Landfills
Renewable energy products like solar panels and electric car batteries don’t last forever. Over time, they’ll be replaced with new technology, meaning they’ll need to be discarded somewhere. Many solar panels will likely end up in landfills.
Even though these materials can last about 30 years, it’s expected that there will be 315,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in landfills by 2050. These eco-friendly inventions could eventually clog landfills with hazardous materials.
Hydropower Can Lead to Floods
Hydropower is a method of getting energy from flowing water, and it’s the most common renewable energy source. Large hydropower systems use dams to store water, but it can have negative impacts on the environment. If the dam water ends up being released all at once, it could cause floods that destroy forests, wildlife, and buildings. While these flash floods are rare, they’re a risk to consider.
Intermittency Will Negatively Affect Renewable Energy
Solar panels are excellent sources of energy when the sun shines, but not as much during cloudy days. Thus, renewable energy can’t be produced at all times. The intermittency causes us to rely on gas-fired power plants during times when renewable energy isn’t efficient enough. This could stall the planet from reaching its climate goals due to the lack of solar power plants being created.
Wind Power Could Be Harming Animals
Wind power is becoming more popular, and it has many positive effects on our planet. Yet, it’s responsible for the deaths of many flying animals. Wind turbines could injure or kill birds and bats that are flying past.
Excessive Amounts of Land Are Needed
The biggest dark side of renewable energy is likely the amount of space it requires. Each solar farm can produce about 357,000 kWh per acre, but the United States’ electricity uses around 4,000 billion kWh each year. So, that country would need to use 11 million acres to get all of our electricity from solar panels. That space is larger than some of the small states.
In addition to those statistics, it’s suspected that the country’s need for electricity will only increase as time goes on. The same is true for most countries around the world. Our use of electricity may double by 2050, requiring the land needed for renewable energy to expand even further.
Bioenergy Isn’t As Green As Expected
Bioenergy is made from organic materials, but it has more downsides than we once thought. The way it’s harvested could be contributing to global warming. That’s because while it can cut down carbon emissions, it may also increase dangerous methane emissions.
In some cases, tree products are used, which creates additional issues. To gather enough trees to make this renewable energy effective, large portions of forests will need to be removed, which would destroy the habitats of many animals.
How Can We Solve Renewable Energy Issues?
Of course, it’s important to not let the downsides of an idea overshadow the good ones, especially when it comes to making our planet a better place. Luckily, there are solutions for the dark sides discussed.
New Recycling Methods May Arise
Luckily, most people won’t be in a hurry to replace their solar panels before 30 years. So, by the time the majority of solar panels are discarded, there will likely be safer ways to dispose of them than putting them in landfills. Researchers are already working on ways to recycle the glass and other items used to make solar panels.
The goal is to work toward a “circular economy,” where materials are reused over and over again instead of discarded. It doesn’t just apply to everyday waste, but also to large waste that could become a problem in the future. If enough research is discovered, renewable energy products won’t negatively impact our planet when they’re done being used.
More Renewable Energy Sources Are Appearing
Technology is constantly improving, and not just in ways of recycling. Intermittency may be a problem with current forms of renewable energy, but researchers are working on ways to improve it. Products like batteries for homes and businesses can help people still get energy even at times when solar panels aren’t as effective. These planned improvements are designed to be both cost-efficient and eco-friendly, allowing renewable energy to be abundant in the future.
Not All Solar Panels Need to Take Up Extra Land
Solar panels don’t have to take over new land to be effective. Many of these renewable energy products are already found on roofs of existing structures. It’s estimated that there are about 8 billion square meters on United States rooftops that would be ideal for solar panels. Most countries have more suitable rooftop space than we realize. Thus, the increased use of land isn’t as serious of an issue as some might anticipate.
As for needing more electricity by 2050, there are ways to combat that too. New houses and vehicles can be built with ways to collect solar energy, making the energy intake not as drastic. Like all the other dark sides of renewable energy, improvements in environmentally-friendly technology can make the future look brighter. If we start slowly improving renewable energy methods today, we will be on track to have a safe circular economy in the long run.
Most Renewable Energy is Better Than The Alternative
Renewable energy is meant to improve our environment, but every type seems to also harm nature in some way. Yet, when you look at the bigger picture, most renewable energy methods are less destructive to our planet than alternatives. So, focusing on the least harmful energy production in the present is a great start, and as technology advances, we can reassess the type of energy we use.
Keep Practicing Proper Waste Management
There is a dark side to renewable energy, but that doesn’t mean we should stop using it. Renewable energy does so many amazing things for our planet, and those positives outweigh most of the problems that could arise. Yet, we need to acknowledge these flaws so better energy options can become prevalent in the future.
Waste management is essential to keeping our planet safe, especially when it comes to removing hazardous materials. If you have any questions about waste management, Hayward Environmental Consulting is here to help! Contact us today to learn about the services we offer.