Video: Identifying Methods of Electricity Generation That Produce Carbon Dioxide

Which of the following types of power station release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? [A] A nuclear power station. [B] A coal power station. [C] A gas power station. [D] A solar farm. [E] A wind farm.

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Video Transcript

Which of the following types of power station release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? a) A nuclear power station. b) A coal power station. c) A gas power station. d) A solar farm. e) A wind farm.

Okay, so, considering these five different types of power station, we want to know which ones release this gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere in the process of generating power. Now, the fact that we’re talking about releasing a gas into the atmosphere as a biproduct of power generation means that we’re talking about a certain category of power generation. We can think in terms of the broad categories of renewable energy sources and nonrenewable energy sources. The difference between these is that if a source is renewable, that means that it is not depleted as it generates energy, whereas nonrenewable sources are depleted as energy is extracted from them.

So, for example, if we had an array of solar panels, panels that take in sun energy and convert it to electrical energy, we can see that the generation of energy by this process in no way depletes or diminishes the energy of the source, the sunlight. Generating energy by solar means, then, is an example of using a renewable source. This distinction between renewable and nonrenewable energy sources is important when we realize that the release of carbon dioxide that the problem statement talks about is a result of a process of combustion, that is, something burning.

The two standard products of combustion are carbon dioxide, CO₂, and water. Whatever types of power station release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will be types that involve some sort of burning, some combustion process. So, among our answer options we’ll look for sources that require combustion for extracting their energy. As we go down our list, then, considering a, b, c, d, and e, we can see that both options d, a solar farm, and option e, a wind farm, are renewable sources.

The sunlight and wind that generate energy in these farms, respectively, is not depleted by being used up to generate electricity. Moreover, getting energy from these sources does not involve combustion, and as a result, they don’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, we’ll cross out options e and d from our list of candidates.

Considering option a, a nuclear power station, we know that this kind of source uses nuclear fission to generate energy. It’s not a burning or combustion process, but rather a splitting process, where larger atoms split into smaller ones, that’s responsible for the generation of power from this type of power station. Since no combustion is involved in nuclear power generation, we’ll cross off this possibility as a type of power station that can release CO₂.

This leaves us with coal and gas power stations. For both of these types, there is combustion that goes on; the coal is burned and the gas is burned to generate energy. As these fuels are burned, they release the products of combustion, carbon dioxide and water. And therefore, both these types of power station release CO₂, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

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