Environmental impact of electricity production

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Environmental Impact of Electricity Production

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Environmental impact of electricity production
Part A

Electricity plays a major role in human lives in many parts of the world. In developed nations, for instance, people’s daily routines heavily rely on the use of electricity, whether it is at home, at local shopping centre or in school. As I prepared tea a week ago, I remembered that our history teacher back in elementary school level taught us that early man relied on fire for luxuries of cooking, heat and light. I started wondering about the difficulties the early man encountered while preparing fire. I realized that electricity has made life easy. Today, I can have instant power for use in cooking, heating and lighting by just turning on a knob, pushing a button or flicking a switch. From the time when I wake up in the morning until evening when I go back to bed, my life is dependent on electricity. I came to realize how electricity has profoundly influenced our lifestyles. I was impressed to note that all machines that we use, such as microwaves, stoves, sandwich makers, toasters, food processors, electric jugs, computers, freezers, televisions, DVD players, lamps, videos, PlayStations, dishwashers, video recorders, X-Boxes, clothes dryers and washing machines run on electricity. However, as I continued pondering about the issue, I realized that users of electricity are hardly aware of the negative effects that it has on the environment.

In the past, I have read various resources discussing issues related to global warming. I have noted that there is broad agreement worldwide that there has been constant change in climate which is attributed to human activities, including activities that lead to emissions into the atmosphere (Longhurst & Brebbia, 2012). This has led to the development of plans and establishment of campaigns worldwide aimed at reducing emissions that pollute the environment. In most cases, campaign efforts focus on promoting the use of more advanced technology options that lead to emission of lower levels of emissions. For example, they encourage production or use of cars that emit low levels of carbon emissions. They discourage the consumption of fossil fuels and promote the use of renewable energy technologies with far lower or near-zero emissions such as wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and waste-to-energy sources (Longhurst & Brebbia, 2012). However, I realized that the majority of users of electricity are not aware of the negative effects it has on the environment. This is because they only focus on consumption. For instance, it became clear to me just a week ago that production of electricity is one of the activities that highly contribute to environmental pollution (Tagare, 2011). Lack of awareness explains the fact that most people in many societies do not include electricity production in the list of activities that harm the environment. This awareness influenced me to seek to know more about the negative effects of electricity production on the environment.

As I read through various resources on issues related to environmental protection, I realized that many plants that produce electricity use fossil fuels that have a huge negative impact on the environment. For instance, plants using coal to produce electricity release carbon emissions that pollute environment. Nuclear plants that generate electricity produce radioactive wastes that have a negative impact on health and they currently lack any repository. Renewable energy facilities can also have negative effects on the environment, especially when they involve hazardous wastes. In this regard, I intend to carry out a research examining the negative effects that electricity production has on the environment. To achieve this, I will evaluate different studies and resources that have paid attention to the issue.

Part B/Discussion

After carrying a detailed research, I realized that electricity generation is a major indirect contributor of environmental pollution. Precisely, I found that almost all forms of electricity production contribute in varying degrees to environmental production. Currently, electricity is generated through technologies that utilize natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear energy, hydroelectricity, municipal solid waste and non-hydroelectric renewable energy (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). As I was carrying out my research, I realized that electricity production is the main industrial source of emissions in most parts of the world. In United States, for instance, electricity generation plants using fossil fuels generate 40% of the nation’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions, 23% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 67% of sulfur dioxide emissions. As noted by United States Environmental Protection Agency (2013), the air emissions generated during electricity production vary depending on the technology used.

One of the methods used to produce electricity is through burning of natural gas. I learned that generation of electricity through burning fossil fuels leads to emission of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxides to the atmosphere (Machol & Rizk, 2013). Methane may also be released to the atmosphere when natural gas is not completely burned and when there are losses or leaks during transportation. However, lower levels of emissions are produced when burning natural gas than when burning oil and coal. As Machol and Rizk (2013) explain, electricity generating plants that burn coal and oil release carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury compounds to the atmosphere. Electricity generating plants utilizing coal as raw material in the US generate 2,249 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 6 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides and 13 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide. On the other hand, electricity generation using oil releases 12 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, 1672 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide and 4 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). I learned that production of electricity by nuclear plants does not lead to release of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides to the atmosphere. However, these emissions are released during mining and transportation of raw materials used by the power plants, such as uranium. I confirmed that nuclear power plants release radioactive wastes that have a negative impact on health (Bilek, 2008).

I learned that electricity is also produced through burning of municipal solid waste. Although the waste includes renewable resources, the process of burning the wastes leads to significant emissions to the atmosphere. To gain a clear understanding of the issue, I explored a study carried out by Machol and Rizk (2013). Machol and Rizk (2013) found that the process of burning municipal solid wastes produces carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and lower quantities of hazardous air pollutants, such as dioxins and mercury compounds. I realized that although many electricity consumers are not aware of it, burning of municipal solid wastes to produce electricity is one of the processes that have a significant impact on the environment. In the US, for instance, the average rates of emissions released by plants that burn municipal solid wastes to produce electricity are 5.4 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides, 0.8 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide and 2988 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013).

Before carrying out the research, I believed that hydropower generation cannot lead to emission of air pollutants. However, I learned from a study carried out by Villemeur and Vinella (2011) that the vegetation that grows along riverbed when a dam is built to facilitate production.............


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