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The land use impact of wind power facilities varies substantially depending on the site: wind turbines placed in flat areas typically use more land than those located in hilly areas. However, wind turbines do not occupy all of this land; they must be spaced approximately 5 to 10 rotor diameters apart (a rotor diameter is the diameter of the wind turbine blades). Thus, the turbines themselves and the surrounding infrastructure (including roads and transmission lines) occupy a small portion of the total area of a wind facility.
The impact of wind turbines on wildlife, most notably on birds and bats, has been widely document and studied. A recent National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) review of peer-reviewed research found evidence of bird and bat deaths from collisions with wind turbines and due to changes in air pressure caused by the spinning turbines, as well as from habitat disruption. The NWCC concluded that these impacts are relatively low and do not pose a threat to species populations
Sound and visual impact are the two main public health and community concerns associated with operating wind turbines. Most of the sound generated by wind turbines is aerodynamic, caused by the movement of turbine blades through the air. There is also mechanical sound generated by the turbine itself. Overall sound levels depend on turbine design and wind speed.
There is no water impact associated with the operation of wind turbines. As in all manufacturing processes, some water is used to manufacture steel and cement for wind turbines.
While there are no global warming emissions associated with operating wind turbines, there are emissions associated with other stages of a wind turbine’s life-cycle, including materials production, materials transportation, on-site construction and assembly, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning and dismantlement.
Depending on their location, larger utility-scale solar facilities can raise concerns about land degradation and habitat loss. Total land area requirements varies depending on the technology, the topography of the site, and the intensity of the solar resource. Estimates for utility-scale PV systems range from 3.5 to 10 acres per megawatt, while estimates for CSP facilities are between 4 and 16.5 acres per megawatt.
Solar PV cells do not use water for generating electricity. However, as in all manufacturing processes, some water is used to manufacture solar PV components.
Concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP), like all thermal electric plants, require water for cooling. Water use depends on the plant design, plant location, and the type of cooling system.
The PV cell manufacturing process includes a number of hazardous materials, most of which are used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface. These chemicals, similar to those used in the general semiconductor industry, include hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and acetone. The amount and type of chemicals used depends on the type of cell, the amount of cleaning that is needed, and the size of silicon wafer. Workers also face risks associated with inhaling silicon dust. Thus, PV manufactures must follow U.S. laws to ensure that workers are not harmed by exposure to these chemicals and that manufacturing waste products are disposed of properly.
While there are no global warming emissions associated with generating electricity from solar energy, there are emissions associated with other stages of the solar life-cycle, including manufacturing, materials transportation, installation, maintenance, and decommissioning and dismantlement. Most estimates of life-cycle emissions for photovoltaic systems are between 0.07 and 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour.
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