Renewable energy sources have been all the buzz over the past decade. They refer to those sources which are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed. Solar energy, sourced from sun rays, hydro energy, sourced from moving water, and wind power, sourced from winds are the most common forms of renewable energy seen throughout the world.
India’s transition from non-renewable sources has been steady, but not easy, given that in 2021, India still received around 80% of its energy from fuels such as coal and oil. However, given this, it is surprising that India has managed to stand third globally for total renewable power capacity additions, and first for being the fastest in the same category. and has observed a 396% increase in its installed renewable energy capacity over the last decade or so.
In 2022, India installed a record volume of solar power sources, and by establishing a stunning 10 gigawatt of solar capacity, brought the country’s cumulative installed solar capacity to 60 gigawatts. Between 2014 and 2021, the country observed a 15-fold increase in its solar capacity. Most of the solar energy plants in the country are spread around the hot and dry climatic regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan, and the Bhadla Solar Park, the largest solar park in the world, lies in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. India also plans to expand these solar power installations with coastal areas, such as offshore areas near the state of Tamil Nadu.
India’s potential for wind energy installation is massive, standing at more than 200 gigawatts, as of May 2022. However, the total installed capacity of wind energy lies at a mere 41 gigawatts, only around 20% of the actual, exploitable capacity. Wind plants tend to be spread over coastal areas, and the state of Tamil Nadu boasts the highest annual wind output and also houses the Muppandal Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in India, and the third largest of its nature in the world.
However, what may seem like a leap in environmental conservation and slowing global warming is paradoxical. On the surface, solar power and wind energy seem like they could do no harm, and it may look like these renewable energy sources are a dream come true for nations and individuals who wish to lessen their carbon footprint. Although that is partially true, deeper research into these resources sheds new light on what we think is the ideal way to help our environment.
With regard to solar energy, a primary cause of concern is with regards to land usage. The installation of large-scale solar facilities can cause land degradation as well as habitat loss. It is also important to note that land used for the installation of these facilities cannot be used for other purposes, therefore drastically decreasing the availability of already scarce usable land. It also brings about questions from activists all over the country. Many feel as though the land used for solar plants could be used for alternate purposes, such as ecological conservation.
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaics, are the most common device used to convert energy from the sun into electrical energy. In 2022, governments of various states commissioned floating photovoltaic projects. For renewable energy enthusiasts, this was a matter of excitement, given that it would enable the country to reach its target of deriving 500 gigawatts of energy from renewable sources by 2030 quicker, however, ecologists did not share the same enthusiasm. Photovoltaics, according to them, set off a chain reaction that disrupts aquatic habitats and as a result, aquatic organisms. A similar fear has been shared by scientists in the state of Rajasthan, where at least 7 critically endangered Great Indian Bustards have died since May 2017 after coming into contact with high-power transmission lines.
Solar panels in rural areas are also reliant on lead batteries, and given that the recycling of these batteries is poorly regulated in India, it leads to the toxic substance being released back into the environment, which defeats the environmental-safe claim of solar panels.
The issues regarding wind energy are mainly highlighted by the suffering caused in the Western Ghats, comprising the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat. The almost unbelievably large Muppandal wind farm has not only helped the state boost its renewable energy levels but has also led to a loss in traditional job opportunities for the people in the region, who once used the vast lands to carry out agricultural practices. Those practicing agriculture in the region also find that their crops do not yield as they used to, and find that natural winds have a different impact on their produce.
A study conducted in Maharashtra also showed how the implementation of wind turbines has changed the region’s ecology. Areas with wind turbines recorded a higher concentration of fan-throated lizards, the species chosen for the study. This leads to higher competition for food and has also resulted in a color change in the lizards, given the lesser availability of their traditional diet in the area – beetles. The lizards were also tested for stress hormones, and those living near wind turbines recorded a lesser amount of the same, given that predatory raptor birds were sighted four times less in areas around wind turbines.
Wind farms, naturally, pose a threat to airborne species, like birds and bats. Often at times standing in their migratory path, the turbines have led to a disruption in migration patterns and have caused an above-average death rate, with various reports of airborne creatures meeting their unfortunate fate due to the rotor blade of wind turbines.
Although renewable energy at a glance does seem like the most viable and sustainable option for governments, corporations, and households to switch out their consumption and do their part for the environment, it is important to look into the potential negative side of these sources. Of course, the adverse effects do not take away from the immense positive impacts of renewable energy, however, it is crucial for us to push for better planning, to ensure that everyone can enjoy a lower carbon footprint with a lower ecological opportunity cost.
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