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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: Today the form of renewable energy that has the most potential to me is wind. Turbines made in the last decade have much larger blades that spin more slowly than older models, drastically reducing bird deaths. Currently turbines kill an insignificant amount of birds compared to cats, cars, or windows. They are rated at 3 MW but in practice run at about 40% efficiency. The Midwestern United States has a lot of flat empty land suitable for turbine farms. Turbines can also be deployed five or so miles offshore in neat rows for hundreds of miles. The technology is also a lot cheaper than solar, geothermal, or ocean schemes. However, if scaled up to meet a good part of our needs the bird fatalities could begin to be a problem. They are also considered an eyesore for people with beachfront property, even though they would look very small. The thing is, no solution is perfect, but wind has the potential for mass deployment and is relatively inexpensive. Of course, we should also use the other forms as much as possible to take the burden off wind. In the long run, artificial photosynthesis is the most elegant solution, solving both our energy and carbon dioxide problems. The technology has progressed fairly well already, a big breakthrough recently being Nocera's artificial leaf. However, it's still very much prohibitively expensive and will take a few decades at least to be as feasible as maybe solar is today. Nuclear power in my opinion is just hubris, mistakes are bound to happen when humans are involved. Plus, with more frequent extreme weather coming up from climate change, if there were reactors everywhere disasters like Fukushima would be common.
    • Apr 23 2013: What? Wind? The thing with the big big blades that kills birds and bats?

      Concentrated solar. Same footprint as wind, but is much much safer for wildlife. Also, because it is concentrated, you only need 4x4cm solar panel that can take 500 times its area of reflector. This makes solar cells much less impact on the environment.
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        Apr 23 2013: Wind, solar, geothermal and tidal are all interesting ways for positive portions of renewable energy. I believe we need a fundamentally new source of energy. Have you seen the benefits of Thorium energy? A really interesting short video, check it out!

        Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors in 5 minutes - Thorium Reactors
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK367T7h6ZY
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          Apr 23 2013: This form of energy sounds amazing, but I worry about its impact on life and biodiversity. We have mines everywhere, but will mining for thorium result in strip mining as like what has happened with coal? Will mining for this metal destroy the ecosystem we pull it from?
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        Apr 24 2013: For concentrated solar power, can the panels and mirrors somehow be on buildings? From what I have read on it, it seems as though right now the solar panels are lined up in fields with a mirror in the middle. Creating these fields of solar panels has an impact on biodiversity by destroying habitats and creating edge effects. By putting solar panels on buildings, the impact on biodiversity would be dramatically less.

        Here is some more info about concentrated solar power:
        http://solareis.anl.gov/guide/solar/csp/
        • Apr 24 2013: I completely understand your concerns. The problem is who is willing to pay for these systems are the people who want big ones. And yeah, I think it's rather a poor choice to put these things only 1-2 meters off the ground. You could take the propellers off windmills and just use a solar collector. No moving parts! No threat to birds or bats ! The advantage of concentrated solar is that you get hot water and need a smaller solar panel which is much cheaper that traditional non-concentrated solar.

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