Renewable Energy and Wildlife

by Petros Chrysafis on October 20, 2013

Renewable energy is being perceived in a variety of ways. Some greet it as the solution that would remove our dependency from fossil fuels, other view it as a great monetary waste that so far is inefficient and wasteful. Whatever your views might be on the subject the facts are that a lot of countries are now aiming towards a fully renewable energy gain with Scotland setting an aim to accomplish this by the year 2020. So apart from the efficiency factor, engineering design and where to place the renewable energy devices, whether these would be wind turbines or a wave energy converters, another issue has started arising. How will these new machines and their placement affect wildlife? It is about time we hear the views of someone who looks things differently.

 

Wind Turbines are large fan like structures that are spun by the wind. Their movement produces energy which is used to power up stations that provide power.  These fans can be as big as 100 meters in diameter. They are often deployed at the top of hilltops or mountains or around plains. More often than not, these are deployed in the areas where wildlife is present. Although wind turbines are unlikely to harm any sort of ground animals, birds are likely to be threatened. There are not many cases of animals being hit by the blades as they are usually good at avoiding them. Most victims of wind turbines are usually birds but these accidents are not as common as people think. What seems to be the trouble is the indirect effect they have on wildlife. For example their positions could affect the routes of migratory birds. Although not much of a problem as birds may fly above it or below it, the problem seems to be landmark related and orientation wise. Birds use a combination of tools to migrate. Some of them are magnetic fields and landmarks, all of which could change if the wind turbines are placed in certain spots. Disturbance might also be an issue as the noise around it could influence wildlife. What is more of a problem is the heat given off by the machines, which could potentially cause habitat destruction, especially in countries where there is snow fall.

wind turbine and birds

The machines used to harvest wave energy or tide energy are the machines that pose a high risk in effecting ocean wildlife. Some of these machines include giant fans underwater, large cylinders deployed at the surface of the sea and stations deployed to harvest tidal energy. One of the primary concerns is cetaceans and the fact that they can be hit by the giant underwater fans or that the buzzing and magnetic waves sent will disorient them and cause them to change routes or beach. In fact it is company standard in some cases for hydro electrical machines to be shut down once a cetacean or a pinniped has been spotted around the machines.  The cylindrical wave machines will often warm up the waters around them hence changing the habitat entirely for the animals and plants living in those areas. In addition to that a lot of these machines are slowly being colonized into reefs and sometimes by invasive species, providing a refuge for species which might have a hard time adapting to that particular environment.

 

Harvesting hydro electrical energy through rivers is also a practice that could harm wildlife as in order to create dams large areas have to be flooded. These floods cause habitat destruction and the deaths or relocation of wildlife. Another example is the disturbance in the river flow that occurs. By setting up a hydroelectric station and a dam you are essentially interrupting the river’s course. Animals that could travel up and down the river are now limited and stuck in smaller ranges. This was one of the reasons why some species of river dolphins went extinct and why some others are currently threatened.

 

An unseen effect of renewable energies is the fact that they take energy out of the environment. Not many people have even considered this but the Laws of physics dictate that no new energy can be created and that no energy is lost. Instead energy is converted to something else. In our case if energy is taken from waves, then the waves are going to be weaken when the reach the shore. This may seem to have no consequences but for organisms that rely on a particular force of waves to bring in their food, to shape their habitat and to bring new oxygen the results could be disastrous. Although this particular issue is still under much scrutiny there is no doubt some sort of risk that comes with removing energy from the oceans.

 

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Zoology student who loves all animals but wolves and orca even more

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