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Environmental Impacts of Energy Use in Turkey - Büşra Öztürk


According to International Energy Agency (IEA) 2021 Energy Policy Report, Turkey's energy supply has increased by 92% since 2000. Despite a growing supply of renewables over the last decade, the majority of it is made up of fossil fuels, meeting 90% of total energy demand. We rely heavily on imported fossil fuels. Natural gas is imported at a rate of 99%, oil at a rate of 93%, and coal at a rate of 58%. In 2019, the proportion of fossil fuels in all energy sources fell to 83%. The primary cause of this decrease is the increased production of renewable energies such as hydroelectric and geothermal.


Although renewable energy investments are increasing, the decrease in the CO2/population ratio is not as rapid as in other countries. For example, while the decrease in CO2/population ratio in Turkey is limited to 0.32 between 2016 and 2020, the decrease in many European countries is greater than 0.5 between these years. When the causes of the slowdown in emission reductions are investigated, it could be observed that renewable energy systems are not designed with considering environmental precision sufficiently.


For instance, Turkey has increased its use of renewable energy, particularly geothermal energy, by 36% in the last decade. According to Global Status Report 2020, Turkey ranked fourth in geothermal electricity generation, second in geothermal heating, and third in solar water heating systems globally as of the end of 2019. A commonly known approach to geothermal energy is that it is a clean and reliable energy source in terms of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere during power generation. However, geothermal power plants in Turkey that use high-temperature fields may emit high levels of CO2. An interesting fact is that the CO2 content of geothermal wells in Turkey is nearly as high as the emission factors from coal-fired power plants.


According to a World Bank investigation into CO2 Emissions from Geothermal Power Generation in Turkey, CO2 emissions from 85 geothermal power plants worldwide have a weighted average of 122 g/kWh. It is reported that a weighted CO2 emissions average of 887 g/kWh using 2015 data from 12 geothermal power plants in Turkey, is far higher than the global average.


Another cause of devastating impacts of energy use on the environment is coal and lignite-fired thermal power plants serving as the primary source for electricity generation. These power plant chimneys emit local pollutants such as fly ash, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Pollutants cause pollution by affecting receptive environments such as air, water, forest, and soil, and inhaling them poses significant risks to humans and other living things. Some decontamination units can capture pollutants, but their use is limited due to high costs and a lack of enforcement. Furthermore, cooling water discharged from power plants pollutes the surface and groundwater. However, oppositely all of these negative impacts, coal exploration activities have increased, and efforts have been made to increase the share of domestic resources in production in the last five years. Likewise, hydroelectricity is serving for electricity generation as a secondary source. The water retention systems used in hydroelectric power plants also harm vegetation, wildlife, and local residents since the country's rich biodiversity are extremely vulnerable to climate change.


Turkey's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were calculated to be 506.1 million tons of CO2 equivalent, with the fact that the country is one of the world's major energy consumers due to its developing economy. This amount is equivalent to about 1% of total global emissions and Turkey ranked as the world's 20th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In line with the global picture, energy-related emissions account for the lion's share of Turkey's emissions at 72%.


The environmental impact of renewable energy sources is relatively low when compared to fossil fuels, but it is not zero. In this respect, it is critical to adequately inform the public as well as prepare and thoroughly inspect environmental impact assessment reports. However, there are currently no regulatory limits in Turkey for CO2 emissions from geothermal power plants or other renewables, and it is not required to monitor or report their emissions.


In comparison to previous periods, Turkey has taken more radical steps in terms of climate priorities, and the general trend can be said to be parallel to global climate trends. Infrastructure and support studies are ongoing in order to achieve a greener and more environmentally friendly system in the energy sector, as well as in many other climate-related topics ranging from waste management to forest protection and effective water resource management. However, it is very significant to design and implement energy systems in the most appropriate way with rational evaluation in terms of quality and quantity, in terms of reducing negative environmental effects.