TED Conversations

Noel Laporte

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What form of renewable energy has or will have the lowest impact on biodiversity?

Climate change, air pollution, rising sea levels and species extinction can all be attributed to the increasing usage of non-renewable energy in the world today. Non-renewable energy reserves are diminishing and finite with an ever-increasing demand from countries around the world. Coal, natural gas and oil all have detrimental effects on the environment. These effects are both local and global, harming species throughout the world. As we consider different renewable forms of energy, can we rank their potential impacts on biodiversity?


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    Apr 23 2013: What about Geothermal energy? These power plants convert hydrothermal fluids to electricity. They use extremely hot water around 149 degrees C, that is pumped under high pressure to the generation equipment at the surface.The water is then vaporized and the vapor in turn drives turbines to generate electricity. Geothermal energy is efficient and environmentally friendly, but only meets 1% of the United States power needs.

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      Apr 23 2013: Geothermal has a lot of benefits, as you mentioned (it's sustainable and generally considered eco-friendly), but there are drawbacks as well. Some concerns include the release of greenhouse gases or water toxins and triggering earthquakes. With respect to biodiversity, there are also concerns around habitat destruction. Unfortunately, some of the potentially best places to procure power from geothermal plants are also places with high aesthetic value and biodiversity (*). On the other hand, a geothermal plant is generally estimated to use between 1-8 acres of land per megawatt, compared to 5-10 or 19 acres for nuclear and coal plants respectively. There are also measures in place to protect biodiversity during the development of geothermal power plants, such as conducting environmental impact assessments while siting, minimizing openings, directional drilling that allows compact work areas and redirecting emissions during well testing (**).

      * http://www.helium.com/items/1915429-environmental-impact-of-geothermal-energy
      ** Mutia, Thecla. BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION AND GEOTHERMAL DEVELOPMENT. Rep. Nakuru, Kenya: Geothermal Development, 2010.

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