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What is the most ecological way to extract energy? I like science

What is the most ecological way to extract energy?  I like science

Some believe that nuclear energy is the greenest way to get energy. X, in turn, others say is the most dangerous way to get energy. Someone must be wrong, and in this article I want to check who.

I have already prepared some material about nuclear power and reactors, but the topic is very broad, so this time I decided to approach it in a slightly atypical way. In this episode, I won’t talk much about what goes on inside the reactor, but I will compare the different ways to get power.

Humanity is consuming more and more energy and this trend is unlikely to change. And it probably doesn’t need to, as long as we produce energy in a way that has the least possible impact on the natural environment. Here we come to the idea of ​​this topic. Which of the known methods of producing energy is the greenest?

Energy extraction cost and CO2 emissions2

Green energy is renewable energy. This is the saying and it is related to it. Or maybe green is the least polluting thing? I come from Silesia and live here, so I can see with my own eyes the effects of mining, processing and the use of coal. I have no doubt that burning fossil fuels is very harmful to the environment and has a significant impact on human health and life. What about other energy sources?

Let me start with the fact that there is no perfect source of energy. We are able to use and obtain energy efficiently and at a relatively low cost from traditional non-renewable sources, such as oil or coal, and coal-burning energy currently forms the basis of Poland’s energy sector.

Here’s the first problem – how do you calculate the costs? The cost of conventional energy does not include the costs of massive environmental damage. It is covered from the state budget, that is, from our pockets. When you calculate everything, it turns out that cheap energy from coal is a waste.

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And this is not the only parameter. Another is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the whole process2. I did not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide2 During production, but throughout the entire process, including, for example, the extraction of fuel or the construction of a power plant. How are these costs presented?

The production of 1 kWh of electricity in a coal-fired power plant results in about 820 grams of carbon dioxide2. In a gas power plant, about half of that, that is, 490 g. This difference mainly results from the different chemical composition of these fuels and differences in the same energy production process, but also from different extraction technology and different specificity for transporting this fuel.

So the coal-fired power plant is about 820 grams, and the gas-fired power plant is about 490 grams. Solar and hydro power plants do not exceed 50 grams of carbon dioxide2 Per 1 kWh, nuclear power plants and wind farms have this indicator at the level of 12 grams of carbon dioxide2.

Where did CO2 With windmills running? Well, windmills have to be built and installed, and for that you need a lot of concrete, steel and other materials. Although the mill does not emit carbon dioxide during the process itself2then looking at the whole process, including construction, 1 kWh equals 12 grams of CO22.

The same is the case with nuclear power plants. In other words, By producing electricity by wind turbine or nuclear power plant, we emit several tens of less carbon dioxide2 from fossil fuel production. So if we want to significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted2 When producing electricity, we must invest in nuclear energy and renewable energy sources.

Compound capacity utilization factor

Another parameter is the so-called compound capacity utilization factor. I already explain what it is. The fact that we are going to install a windmill with an installed capacity of 1 megawatt, for example, does not mean that it will generate that much power. If the wind was blowing at the optimum speed all the time, it would be, but the wind sometimes blows, sometimes not as strong, and sometimes weaker.

It is similar to photovoltaic panels. It works when the sun is shining, but even then it has optimal conditions for a small part of the day, because most of the sun’s rays do not fall on it at the optimum angle.

Converting all this, in Poland the installed capacity utilization factor for renewables ranges from ten to about 40%The lowest values ​​in this range are obtained in PV farms, and the highest values ​​in offshore wind farms.

Polish coal power plants have this percentage with an average level of 70%, and nuclear power plants around the world reach more than 80%. What does this mean in practice?

Renewables depend on the weather, while corn provides us with as much as we want and when we want. In addition, installation and infrastructure are used for almost the entire duration of the operation, while in the case of renewables, only part of that time is used.

Impact on nature and landscape

This, in turn, has to do with another parameter. Renewable energy facilities take up a lot of space for the amount of energy they produce. Here is another comparison.

Nuclear energy saves nature. The production of 1000 kWh in a nuclear power plant requires 0.3 cubic meters2 Territories occupied by establishments. This includes not only the power plant itself, but also the space needed to extract uranium and the raw materials for its construction.

Producing the same amount of energy in PV panels requires 10 times more space for rooftop panels, thus not taking up extra space with the same installation, up to 40 times more for above-ground installations.

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In the case of producing energy from coal, including coal mines, it takes 15m2 To produce 1000 kWh, that is 50 times more energy than an atom and up to 5 times more energy than the sun.

The real record holder in this ranking is wind energy. In order to produce 1,000 kWh, it must cover an area of ​​about 100 square meters, which is hundreds of times larger than in the case of nuclear power. The area occupied by individual facilities is an important ecological parameter.

The more land area is covered by the infrastructure needed to produce energy, the less impact it has on the landscape and the less pressure it puts on the environment and ecosystems. Thanks to this, it contributes to the protection of biodiversity.

Securing different energy sources

In the end, I saved the most important things to myself. Safety is statistically calculated as the mortality rate for various energy sources. In short, how does the production of a unit of energy affect the mortality rate of a population?

I have compared the different energy sources again. And I don’t think I’ll surprise you when I say that The death rate is the highest for coal. The production of TWh by burning lignite means on average more than 32 deaths, mostly from air pollution. For hard coal, this percentage is just under 25 deaths. In the case of gas electricity production, we have less than 3 casualties per terawatt-hour, which is about 10 times less than in the case of coal. Interestingly, the mortality rate for green biomass is much higher than for conventional gases.

Finally, the three safer sources that have the same low mortality rate: wind, sun, and corn. One TWh production in their case means about 0.03 deaths, which is 1,000 times less than coal and 100 times less than gas.

I started this episode by asking which sources should be considered green? Which ones are renewable or those that have the least impact on the environment, including us, as part of this environment? In Poland, the percentage of people supporting the construction of nuclear power plants has been increasing for years and today it reaches almost 75% of the participants.

When will the reactors finally be built? hard to say. Today, however, the plan is to launch the first one in 2033, and the entire Polish nuclear power program consists of several nuclear units, with a total capacity of 6-9 gigawatts.


The article was created in advertising cooperation with the Ministry of Climate and Environment Tweet embed.

Selected sources:


Thomas Ruschick

I am a physicist by education and a science journalist by profession. I’ve been creating the Nauka brand for years. I like that, in addition, I run the research department of the weekly Gość Niedzielny and collaborate with several media and editorial offices. I am a happy father to twins: Zozia and Janek and Anya’s husband.

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