Full-scale electrification would require the construction of new generation capacity, like hydropower, that would entail irreparable damage to the environment.

Electrification yields major environmental benefits but, like all decarbonisation strategies, it also involves investment activity that might seem to compromise environmental objectives. In reality, these impacts are, however, far lower than many realise.

While electrification yields clear environmental benefits, the sector’s activities also impact the environment. For example, renewable power generation has a comparatively high land-use impact given its need for space. However, wind parks are often built on land that is already and will continue to be used for agriculture and when plants are decommissioned, no lasting impacts on the landscape remain. The same is true for solar installations, which also benefit from the ability to fully recycle 90% of panels. A majority of negative impacts associated with hydropower can be alleviated through integrated planning, restoration and mitigation measures, and fish protection facilities and downstream fishways, minimum flows and debris and sediment management can all be implemented to minimise the ecological impacts of plants.

In general, the environmental impacts of new renewable generation can be contained through careful site selection, the intelligent use of environmental impact assessments and by including key stakeholders into the planning process. Solutions to minimise their impact exist, are further being researched and are, without a doubt, less harmful than the continued use of fossil fuels.

References:

Peter Berrill et al., “Environmental Impacts of High Penetration Renewable Energy Scenarios for Europe,” Environmental Research Letters 11, no. 1 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/1/014012.

Government of New South Wales, “The Wind Energy Fact Sheet,” 2010.

Garvin Heath et al., “Life Cycle Inventory of Current Photovoltaic Module Recycling Processes in Europe Life Cycle Inventory of Current Photovoltaic Module Recycling Processes in Europe,” 2017.

Arcadis and Ingenieurbüro Floecksmühle, “Hydropower Generation in the Context of the EU WFD Contract N ° 070307 / 2010 / 574390 EC DG Environment Project Number 11418 | Version 5”, 2011.

European Commission, “Science for Environment Policy Future Brief : Wind & Solar Energy and Nature Conservation,” European, no. 9 (2014), https://doi.org/10.2779/54142.