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Moving Forward or in Circles With Clean Renewable Energy?

21 Jul. 2011 Posted by Hannah Mich in clean renewable energy, windpower, solar power, hydropower
wind turbine, windpower, solar power, hydropower

If the clean renewable energy sources prove too problematic, should we continue to pursue them as clean renewable energy sources? And if these sources are so problematic are they really clean renewable energy sources? The answers to these questions and the decisions we make both nationally and internationally will effect generations to come.

Although current renewable energy sources are problematic, we may not be quite ready to throw in the towel. However, focusing solely on a handful of energy sources could eliminate opportunities for other undiscovered or less understood clean renewable energy sources.

In this article, I will not discuss in depth alternative fuel options that are not likely long-term clean renewable energy options. However, I do want to point out that investing in “side shows,” distract from real solutions. Ethanol and natural gas are great examples of this. In future articles, I will discuss in detail about these types of alternative energy sources along with misleading energy related products like hybrid cars.

The International Energy Agency in a 2011 progress report states that,
“Thanks to favourable policy support, solar PV and windpower are achieving strong growth. However, achieving sustainable energy goals will require a doubling of all renewable energy use by 2020.”

This statement implies that solar and wind power are directly linked to “achieving sustainable energy goals” and assumes they are excellent clean renewable energy sources. These are two major problems when trying to move forward with clean renewable energy research and policies, and making “green” decisions individually and within companies. Now many believe without a doubt that solar and wind are better or more sustainable than fossil fuels. However, are we, in our sense of urgency to decrease carbon emissions, moving too quickly to make them our new default energy sources?

Although many believe we are not moving quickly enough, may be we are investing our own energy and time in the wrong directions – of building up solar and wind power companies to make a profit, causing us to lose sight of our goals in the first place. Now successful companies are needed, but it should be to supply a demand not hoping for one. Solar and wind power have major problems. If time and energy [money] are not wisely invested in fixing those problems, these companies and energy sources are doomed.

Let us start with solar energy. Now for many this seems like a logical choice for our primary energy needs because the sun provides so much energy to the Earth. However, collecting, converting and storing this energy present a multitude of problems. Collecting and converting the sun’s energy requires lots of photovoltaics [PVs], which are made out of silicone or use harsh chemicals such as cadium sulfide and gallium arsenide. The initial cost of solar power is expensive, maintenance is expensive, storage and transport is still not efficient, and solar panels lack a long lifespan.

Wind power seems to be a favorite among environmentalists, primarily because it is more economical when compared to solar and other alternative resources. However, it is very inefficient, the wind turbines are noisy, and they can pose as a hazard to birds. Hydropower like wind can pose a danger to wildlife, but instead it is marine wildlife. And biomass, although less of a pollutant than fossil fuels, it still causes or releases air-pollution.

Solar, wind and biomass require large amounts of land to erect solar panels, wind turbines and necessary crops, respectively. This is another disadvantage to these energy sources. Furthermore, solar, wind and hydropower are limited to specific geographical areas. For example, placing solar panels in Canada or Alaska will be far less useful than ones in California or Arizona.

These massive obstacles for the top four “clean renewable energy” sources need to be mended immediately as we attempt to move forward with their production, especially any mass production. But so often we do not hear about the shortcomings of these energy sources, only of their promise. We need to realize that this is not just about selling a product and making a profit, this is about altering the way we live our lives- from what powers the lights in our houses to the energy used in our cars.

Let us not settle on these renewable energy sources. Unlike the reckless introduction of fossil fuels as an energy source, we need to have more foresight about the long-term effects of any alternative renewable energy source. If we do not take heed of the problems these energy sources currently present, we could end up with just as big of a problem as we have now with CO2 on the rise. Although it may seem like we should just be trying to utilize what we have to achieve at least minimal reductions in CO2 emissions, innovating a more realistic long-term solution [with fewer problems] may have a more drastic affect on CO2 emissions than anything we can accomplish with today’s renewable energy sources.

We are not moving forward quickly with clean renewable energy sources, in part, because we are focusing too much on mass-production, profit and policy. Now these play a significant role when introducing a new product, energy source or not. However, moving forward with a problematic product leads to only one type of ending – death. In our haste, we lost the balance between research, creativity and innovation; and mass-production, profit and policy. But as long as so much time and energy is spent on creating a market, mass-production and profits, we will fail at truly achieving our goal of eliminating CO2 emissions.

Look at it this way. To achieve optimal crop production we need a balance between rain [research, creativity and innovation] and sunshine [policy, mass-production, profits]. Too much of one or the other, decreases the successfulness of the crop or in this situation clean renewable energy. Therefore, we need a balance between researchers and innovators, and businessmen and politicians- working together. With all the obstacles previously mentioned, the “working together” may be the hardest one to overcome.

Call To Action: 

Stay up-to-date on energy news [i.e. solar panels on paper]
Support non-profit groups researching renewable energy sources
View your electric companies website or annual pamphlet on energy sources

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References: 

International Energy Agency 2011 Progress Report
http://www.iea.org/papers/2011/CEM_Progress_Report.pdf

PNAS; Powering The Planet: Chemical Challenges in Solar Energy Utilization; Nathan S. Lewis, et al.; 2006
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1635072/pdf/zpq15729.pdf

"Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society"; Wind Energy; W. E. Leithead; 2006
http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1853/957.full.pdf

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