Are 'green' energy technologies potentially environmentally unsound?

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Cristin McKee

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Cristin McKee  asked the Naked Scientists:

Hello, I live in Northampton, Massachussetts in the US and I love your show. Living in New England, it's fun to hear the familiar names of the towns people call in from on your show, because I also live within a few hours drive of Cambridge, Braintree, Exeter, Gloucester, Leeds, Taunton, and Warwick, among, I'm sure, many equivalent others. Even if other names aren't exactly the same, they sound very familiar as I think most of our local naming conventions must be derived somehow from yours. I find it fascinating to still have that unique connection with England in this part of the US and I'm sure it runs down most of the east coast as well.
Anyway, I do have a question:

We were having a discussion at work the other day about various types of energy. And we got to wondering if a certain level of "clean" energy would no longer be environmentally safe. If the earth is dotted with vast fields of solar panels, does that limit the energy that reaches and warms the ground? If the earth is dotted with vast fields of wind turbines, would that effect the local weather? I'm not really talking about the current level of use of such methods, but a hypothetical future in which there is a much larger worldwide effort to capture clean energy.

Cristin McKee

What do you think?


Offline frethack

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As far as wind, geothermal, and tidal energies go, I am not sure off hand.  I do know that current technologies in photovoltaic cells use small amounts of heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, selenium, and nickel, all of which are biocumulative. Fortunately (if memory serves) they are used in comparatively very small amounts, and there are apparently cleaner emerging technologies for solar panels. 

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