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close this bookEnvironmental Handbook Volume II: Agriculture, Mining/Energy, Trade/Industry (GTZ, 1995, 736 p.)
close this folderMining and energy
close this folder43. Renewable sources of energy
View the document1. Scope
View the document2. Environmental impacts and protective measures
View the document3. Notes on the analysis and evaluation of environmental impacts
View the document4. Interaction with other sectors
View the document5. Summary assessment of environmental relevance
View the document6. References

5. Summary assessment of environmental relevance

This environmental brief summarizes the environmental consequences of renewable energy sources. Such consequences include gaseous and liquid emissions, solid wastes, noise evolution, use of sensitive materials, land consumption and other forms of impairment.

The renewable-energy utilization options involving little or no replacement or decomposition of material (solar, wind) and, hence, fewer direct consequences for the environment are deserving of preferential treatment.

The fact that long-term sustained use of renewable energy sources can fit neatly into the natural biochemical and energy cycles produces a situation in which combustion and digestion processes (wood, straw, biogas, alcohol), unlike those involving fossil fuels, add no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, because the amount emitted is offset by the incorporation of equal amounts into the regeneration of biomass. In other words, biomass enables the CO2 - neutral generation of energy.

On the other hand, again unlike fossil fuels, the continuous renewal process of biomass as an energy vehicle ties up land area, i.e., soil, that otherwise could be put to some other or additional use, e.g., for agricultural production or agroforestry.

Land consumption is unavoidable. Accordingly, valuable ecosystems must be protected - instead of simply being exploited as a renewable source of energy.

As long as the requisite facilities are properly maintained and serviced by skilled specialists, and as long as the operating personnel is well-trained, the use of renewable energy sources poses little danger of accidents.

Like most finite sources of energy, the majority of renewable energy sources can be exploited both on a large, centralized scale as well as through small, noncentralized facilities. Some renewable sources of energy (e.g., solar cells, solar collectors, biogas, wind power) are inherently suited to noncentralized forms of energy generation, particularly in connection with energy supply and development strategies for rural, village-level and regional development projects involving little or no transport costs. Such constellations help minimize energy conveyance losses and avoid such secondary environmental problems emanating from the socioeconomic ramifications of centralized development strategies as urbanization, rural-urban drift and their consequential effects; cf. environmental briefs Spatial and Regional Planning, Overall Energy Planning, Planning of Locations for Trade and Industry.