How electricity production affects the environment

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Today, electric power has become a basic and essential need. Turning on a lamp, connecting the mobile charger and even opening the hot water tap, are acts that we carry out so frequently that we hardly think about them or the electricity consumption they imply, much less their environmental impact.

If you have been bitten by the curiosity bug and you want to know how electricity production affects the environment Keep reading this Green Ecologist article and we will explain it to you.

How to obtain electrical energy

Electric energy is the form of energy produced by the movement and collision of particles with different potentials, called electrons, whose interaction allows the generation of the electric current that we know as electricity.

It is obtained from transformation of other types of energy by using alternators or generators. So that, depending on the type of primary energy used to produce electrical energy, we can classify electricity generating plants into:

  • Thermoelectric: uses the heat that is given off from the burning of fossil fuels, for example, oil, coal and natural gas.
  • Hydroelectric: to generate electricity the potential energy of the water stored in the reservoirs is used.
  • Wind: wind energy uses the wind to obtain mechanical energy by moving the blades of wind mills.
  • Photovoltaic: uses solar radiation captured through solar panels.
  • Tidal wave: electricity is generated by taking advantage of the movement of the tides.

Environmental impact of electrical energy

Now that we understand the natural systems and activities that are involved in generating electricity, we can understand the damaging effects it causes on the environment. Each of these electricity generating plants has a different effect on the environment. Here we explain what the environmental impact of electric power:

  • Consumption of natural resources: the destruction of the ecosystem for the exploitation of deposits implies the erosion of the soil, the loss of vegetation and biodiversity and the contamination of waters and soils.
  • Emissions and discharges: the burning of fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions (CO₂, CH₄, N₂O), sulfur oxides, nitrogen and particles that, together with discharges of different composition, negatively alter the environment. To this should be added the damage caused by the use of water dedicated to cooling the power plants, which returns to the environment with a temperature higher than that found naturally, producing an increase in temperature and considerable effects on the aquatic flora and fauna.
  • Residuous generation: such as, for example, the ashes produced in combustion plants. However, radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is of special importance, due to its dangerousness, capacity for contamination and difficult treatment.
  • Noise: the works for the installation and use of heavy machinery for the maintenance of the power plants are a source of noise pollution.
  • Visual impact: any power station causes a greater and lesser impact on the landscape, to which is added that of the power lines that occupy kilometers in length, necessary to transport electrical energy.

What harm does electricity do to the environment?

Until now, we have talked about the environmental impact at a local or regional level, however, other more relevant effects are added to them due to their global scope. Do you know what damage electricity does to the environment? We will explain it to you below:

  • Climate change: the emission of greenhouse gases causes the atmosphere to retain more heat than necessary and thus an increase in global temperature. This increase in the planet's temperature leads to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, raising the sea level and causing floods. In addition to more aggressive climatic phenomena, acidification of the oceans, modifications in the habitat and loss of biodiversity, among others.
  • Degradation of the ozone layer: some gases and particles emitted such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) cause the breakdown of ozone molecules, causing the reduction of this layer and with it its ability to retain ultraviolet radiation. The excess radiation that reaches the earth can cause diseases such as skin cancer and cataracts and interfere with the photosynthesis process of plants.
  • Acid rain: the emission of sulfur and nitrogen oxides react with the water in the atmosphere, forming sulfuric acid and nitric acid respectively, which are washed away by rain and fog, causing the acidity of the waters, the deterioration of the ecosystem and even the death of living beings. In the following Green Ecologist article we explain what acid rain is: definition, causes and consequences.

If you want to read more articles similar to How electricity production affects the environment, we recommend that you enter our Pollution category.

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