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Strategies to mitigate negative effects of the rush to renewable energy

Published on September 13, 2021 by Vivek Mishra

The world is now shifting towards renewable energy, after years of depending on fossil fuels for energy generation. The race to become carbon-free has accelerated, especially after the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly, with a focus on reducing carbon emissions while meeting global energy demand. However, we believe there are areas that require attention if it is to remain sustainable.

This article highlights aspects of the industry readers may be unfamiliar with and possible solutions to areas still unclear, in line with industry standards.

Ecosystem: Environmental safety has become a major concern. Although the three major sources of renewable energy – hydropower, solar energy and wind energy – are ecofriendly in nature, when they are harnessed to generate power, they create problems for the ecosystem. These problems should be addressed before they become toxic for the industry.

  • Hydropower:

  • I. Impact: Changes in hydrological flow patterns and loss of ecological life are the biggest effects of hydropower generation, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – due to construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning – and deterioration of water quality are also major concerns.

    II. Mitigation: The flow of water released from a dam should be minimal so that hydrological flow patterns, natural habitats and ecological life can be preserved. Plans for operation, maintenance and climate engineering at power plants need to be revised to reduce the effects of GHG emissions.

  • Solar energy:

  • I. Impact: Energy generated per square meter of a solar power installation is limited. Solar plants, therefore, require substantial land area, which results in deforestation or the movement of residents. Floating solar plants impact water life as they stop sunlight from reaching animal species beneath the plant. They also reduce the formation of algae and affect the temperature of the water.

    II. Mitigation: Utility-scale solar projects could be constructed at lower-quality locations such as brownfields, deserts, abandoned mining land or existing transportation and transmission corridors.

  • Wind energy:

  • I. Impact: Wind energy threatens local species, particularly birds and bats. High-speed turbines shift air pressure, and birds are most likely to be hit by their blades. The shift in pressure may also cause birds to misread wind direction. The amount of land required to install a wind turbine depends on the size of the project. The wind turbine tower requires less space, while blade movement and energy storage systems require more.

    II. Mitigation: Technological advancements can help make wind turbines more friendly to bird and bat populations. Sensors are available to help wind farms detect birds and bats flying nearby and shut down turbines entirely. Wind turbines may also employ ultrasonic speakers that, when operating, discourage bats from flying too close to the blades. Plants could also be set up for dual land-use such as pasture land for livestock and cropland for farming.

Research and development (R&D): Environment-related discussions show the importance of R&D in the renewable energy industry. It would help advance the current technologies used for functioning. The following points illustrate the scope for R&D in the industry

    I. Wind energy and solar energy plants are generally installed far from the cities that use the electricity they generate. This results in losing power in transmission. Therefore, the industry needs to enhance transmission lines.

    II. Storage of power generated by both forms of energy (solar and wind) is one of the technological challenges. This is because the source of energy is natural and is affected by changes in weather. Therefore, storage techniques needs to be enhanced.

    III. In wind energy, active pitch control (moving blades by a few degrees each time wind direction changes, to maintain the optimum angle for maximising output for all wind speeds) must be effected to maintain energy capture at very high wind speeds.

    IV. In wind farms, vibration transmitted to the tower and blades is usually radiated as noise. To reduce this impact, quieter blades that do not compromise performance need to be developed.

    V. On- and offshore wind turbines (SWTs) need to work on converting low-speed winds as well. This could be improved by using permanent magnet generators.

    VI. PV panel waste will likely be the biggest challenge. A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems (IEA-PVPS) estimates 78m tons of waste by 2050. Therefore, waste-treatment industries need to be encouraged to clean the environment so renewable energy use could truly be sustainable.

Bidding procedure: Companies follow a bidding process for constructing projects. We highlight challenges in the process and possible solutions:

  • Aggressive bidding in a competitive environment is a potential weakness of auctions, as most of the time, companies try to secure projects at low profit margins. This delays the provision of services to the end customer. With low profit margins, the industry sees low budgets for R&D.

  • Mitigation: Policymakers should introduce performance clauses in contracts, as these would enhance the quality of service. Second, involving financial institutions at the early stage of a project would reduce risk of delay and provide a budget for extensive R&D.

Waste management: The process of renewable energy generation would improve if waste produced by the plants is reduced.

  • Solar, wind and hydropower plants produce different forms of waste. However, the waste impact is currently minimal, as this industry is still in the inception stage. Waste produced includes wind turbine blades, PV cell panels, lithium-ion battery cells, concrete and dam gates.

  • Mitigation: Best practice would be to reuse, recycle, dispose of all waste properly or prevent use. Significant allocation for R&D could also help reduce waste. Companies could implement a mechanism with the support of manufacturers to make the recycling process efficient and economical.

Closure and reclamation: Any project comes to an end, and a reclamation and closure plan is required to ensure that when the activity is completed, the plant is closed and the land is reclaimed and restored.

  • The industry is used to working, delivering and disappearing. Projects would leave behind land fit for no use, as it was fully exploited. The same could happen with the renewable energy industry. Therefore, companies should formulate policies in advance so that at the closure of a project, they would know what should follow.

Mitigation: The renewable energy industry should approve land for projects only after proper approval in line with government regulation. Companies should have qualified environmental professionals onsite during the reclamation stage.

How Acuity Knowledge Partners can help

We have a large pool of experts with diverse experience in the power and energy sectors. We can assist with a range of consulting and business research projects including idea generation, deep dives, strategic research, competitive landscaping and essential value chain support. We have dedicated renewable energy- and clean energy-focused teams that keep abreast of market trends to help clients capitalise on investment and M&A opportunities across the globe.

Sources:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) End of Life Management Report

Energy.gov

Energysage.com

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – Renewable Energy Auctions – Guide to Design

https://www.wind-energy-the-facts.org/technology-trends-and-recent-developments.html


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About the Author

Senior Associate, Business Research

Vivek has over five years of experience in delivering various market research projects by implementing secondary research, market forecasting, and data skills. He is graduated in Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from Anand Engineering College, Agra. At Acuity Knowledge Partners, he works in Mining & Metals industry, with special focus on analyzing 'Coal’ and 'Uranium' as a commodity across the globe.

Comments

Keerthi

13-Sep-2021 02:31:48 am

Very nice article


Mohit Mishra

13-Sep-2021 05:12:36 am

Definately the information you. Write in this is very beneficial and important . Need more bolgs like this .


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