In Australia, the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) takes care of and advancing all sustainability outcomes of Australian infrastructure. The ISCA define infrastructure sustainability as: “Infrastructure that is designed, constructed and operated to optimise environmental, social and economic outcomes of the long term”. The meaning behind this is to look at both the immediate but also future effects that infrastructure has on the environment in terms of pollution, noise but also the value that it may have on that land in the future, while also keeping in mind how sustainable it is economically as a producer of power. The key to avoiding creating a significant impact on all three of these areas is to construct each of the farms in low populated areas with the highest impact on creating energy is to plan out the entire process, from the development and procurement stages right through to the construction and operation.
Environmental: Wind turbines create a large initial impact in the procurement of materials, land and construction phases, but environmental pollution in the future must also be considered. The impact that wind turbines have on the environment is quite minimal as it produces no greenhouse emissions from an inexhaustible energy source. The impact is more on noise and wildlife as they produce around about 50 decibels. Its greatest impact though is on the wildlife effects. These can be seen through numerous studies on the birds and bat deaths that they cause. This is caused by the wildlife flying near the spinning turbine blades, and because of the rapid changes to the airs pressure, it causes the wildlife to collide with the blades and die. This is an environmental impact which needs to be considered for the future and whether its worth constructing the wind farms.
Social: Wind turbines create a large amount of sound due to not only the blades cutting through the air, but also the actual mechanical sound produced by the turbine itself. Although this may be a large annoyance to nearby communities with health concerns around hearing, both companies and governments enact a ‘good neighbour’ policy by having open and friendly talks with concerned citizens who feel an impact. Along with this impact the turbines can lower land value through the noise pollution but also as the may disrupt the scenery.
Economic: Throughout the entire lifetime of the wind turbine, it costs money. From the planning stages, to design and construction, right through to maintenance and decommissioning, it costs substantial amount of money. There must be a system in place (which also accounts for increase in costs for the future) that can be used to afford all of these costs in the turbine(s) lifetime.
Environmental: The two possible ways to produce electricity using solar energy are using Photo-Voltaic’s (PV) and Concentrating Solar thermal Plants (CSP). The environmental issues with both of these are in the amount of land and habitat loss that they both cause. To counter this, they are usually built in low habitable locations such as Australian deserts where there is a large amount of uncompromised sunlight and a low amount of wildlife to impact. There is also a large amount of water used in the process of producing energy in the CSP, specifically in the cooling tower which can draw from 2200 to 2500 litres of water per Mega-Watt hour. This sort of water usage needs to be looked at for the future and whether it is sustainable to lose all this water for a single Mega-Watt hour.
Social: There are positive incomes socially as solar energy has a ripple effect on creating more jobs for people per unit of electricity generated compared to more traditional sources of power such as fossil fuels. The social impacts that this has obviously increases the amount of jobs available, but also has the potential to decrease the unemployment rate for both skilled and unskilled workers.
Economic: Finally, the impacts that solar farms can have economically can be both positive and negative. Firstly, the negatives that can be produced from solar farms is that initially, making PV panels cost a considerable sum of money, and then to sustain these through maintenance and also replacement of panels can cost a large amount of extra money. The positives that solar farms can have though is that because they are sustainable energy, it can create a stable and affordable energy prices when the energy produced is added to a grid. This over the long term can decrease the overall amount of money put into energy spending by the average family, creating economic growth in industries as more money is available to spend.