Environmental Effects of the Production of Electricity by Various Energy Sources

Peoples relationships with nature have always been complicated. Despite the fact that at present, the effects of various industries on environment have finally been discovered and that the ones that pose the greatest threat to nature have been labeled as harmful, the process of environmental destruction is still going on, mostly because the alternative sources of energy are either too costly or too inefficient.

Being one of the most popular energy sources, natural gas can still be considered a more useful energy source than coal, the production of which poses a considerable threat to the environment, often causes accidents at the mining sites, and leads to the emission of greenhouse gas.

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The use of natural gas as the source for electricity production has a relatively long history. First used in the U.S. to light the streets of Baltimore in 1816, natural gas has been serving the purpose of providing electricity since then.

The first well was dug in 1859 by Colonel Edwin Dake. William Hart, as known as the father of natural gas, improved Dakes construction by building his own well in 1821 and starting a Fredonia gas Light Company. At present, however, the use of natural gas as a source for electricity generation seems to have shrunken for numerous reasons. It is important to stress that at present, there are several basic locations of gas energy based electricity production plants. The key ones can be seen on the map below:

Figure 1. U.S.

U.S. power plant infrastructure map.
U.S. power plant infrastructure. 2013. Web.

As the map shows, the key current locations of the U.S. electricity plants powered by gas are especially common along the east bank of Mississippi. The given choice is largely predetermined by the fact that a gas power plant requires considerable amounts of water for cooling and condensation purposes.

According to the chart provided by the USA, the drops in natural gas consumption can be explained by the rise in prices for gas, as the figure below shows. In 1891, the first pipeline construction was built, which led to creating a pipeline infrastructure. However, it was not until 60s that natural gas was finally used as the basic means to power electricity plants.

Figure 2. in the electric power sector in the first quarter (20072013) billion cubic feet per day

Natural gas consumed in the electric power sector in the first quarter (20072013) billion cubic feet per day.
Natural gas consumed in the electric power sector in the first quarter (20072013) billion cubic feet per day 2013. Web.

When it comes to defining the key construction and operation effects of power plants that use natural gas as the key resource, one must mention that the given plants have the following characteristics:


Gas engines: 1 to 20 MW;
Control systems;
SCADA systems;
Tank farm;
Pump house;
Synchronous alterations;
and many other elements that provide an accurate and impeccable performance.

Speaking of the effects of a power plant that is run on natural gas, it is necessary to point out that the effects on the environment are drastic, as a rule, seeing how the use of gas contributes to the emission of CO2 and, thus, to the destruction of the ozone layer. Apart from the ozone layer issues, the fact that the water used for the temperature regulation issues becomes polluted very quickly as well, thus, leading to the death of numerous local endemics.

Apart from natural gas, the owners of power plants have another source of energy at their disposal; also defined as non-renewable, the given source is much more common, yet also much more harmful than natural gas. Coal, the production of which has been in existence since the early XVIII century, can be viewed as an alternative to a more expensive, rare and hard to obtain gas. To compare the effects of the two sources, the following parameters must be used:

Coal Natural gas
Carbon emission rates 1,786 pounds of CO2 per mW/h 1,000 pounds of CO2 per mW/h (Bernstein & Einperin, 2013, September 19)
Accidents The amounts of CO2 emitted by power plants run on coal go through the roof. The use of natural gas leads to lesser amounts of CO2 being emitted.
Operation In electricity plants powered by coal, the latter is fired in order to obtain energy. Burning natural gas with the help of turbines is a traditional way in which natural gas power plants work.
Construction It is remarkable that the construction of a power plant that runs on coal involves certain risks associated with the escalating steel prices (Schlissel, Smith & Wilson, 2008).
In addition, high probability of accidents to workers should be mentioned.

A is traditionally constructed in accordance with one of three models, i.e., simple-cycle, combined-cycle and .
Mining Needless to say, the effects of coal mining have been notoriously well known for quite a while. Coal mining has a huge negative effect on environment due to radiation issues, as well as on workers health due to inhaling coal particles and numerous mining accidents, such as gas explosions and cave-ins. Fracturing of the Marcellus Shale can lead to drastic effects, most of which concern the introduction of toxic and potentially deadly elements into the water. Fracturing, however, can be substituted by the GIST technology, which will help obtain gas from waste water (Shale-gas drilling contaminating drinking water, 2011, December 15).
Finally, it is necessary to consider an alternative source of energy. Since solar energy powered devices are not going to become a standard element of the household in the observable future, the opportunities offered by such source of energy as coal should be brought up. Indeed, this is a very powerful source and, more to the point, a very common one.

Therefore, when making the choice between coal and natural gas as the means to generate energy for power plants, one must admit that natural gas, though being a comparatively more expensive source, has fewer disadvantages, leads to a lesser amount of negative outcomes and affects the environment to a lesser degree than coal, which is why it must be used more widely.

Even though natural gas admittedly wins in comparison to such resource as coal, it is still clear that using natural gas as an energy source has negative effects on environment, not to mention the fact that natural gas is a exhaustible resource and, therefore, will have to be substituted with a more suitable alternative sooner or later.

That being said, it is necessary to consider other energy sources, such as solar or wind power. Once taking the issues regarding the safety of nature, its species and its non-renewable resources, one can possibly contribute to building a better and safer future.

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