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Currently showing: Sustainable energy > Fossil fuel


07 Aug 13 15:08

Renewable energy, our saviour! If only everyone was for renewable energy and used renewable energy then the world would be a much better place. Energy would become cheaper, nature will be spared, the environment can recover and we will all live at peace with mother nature.

Mmmmmm, yeah. Not quite. I actually find it quite frustrating how easily people become slaves to the allure of renewable energy. Yay, it will save everything (he says sarcastically)! What frustrates me is not that people are optimistic about renewable energy (as I am all for developing renewable energy solutions) but that I feel that people missing the point of renewable energy. They are not seeing the problems we will face if we move forward with the status quo, more from an expectations point of view and from a business/commercial perspective.

The main problem renewable energy is meant to solve is to halt our dependence on finite resources for our energy supply on which we so heavily depend. That is it. The fact that the fossil fuel methods we have been using so far is damaging the environment is an unfortunate side effect of our incredibly fast technological and industrial development and our inability to think about anything else but our balance sheets and the upcoming elections.

I would like to highlight two common misconceptions about renewable energy that frustrate me the most:

Renewable energy is so much better for the environment
Yes, compared to our current fossil fuel systems and in the long run. Unfortunately we still need to get to that point and unfortunately we are not there yet. Did you know that because of the processes and chemicals involved in the production of a Toyota Prius it has a much bigger detrimental impact on the environment than a Range Rover Sport? That is because the production process of the car (especially the battery and fuel system) and the scrapping of the vehicle is so damaging to the environment that the savings in emissions cannot make up for that over the running lifetime of the vehicle.

Renewable energy will be cheaper
Seriously, do not kid yourself on this one for even a second. Wind turbines have the highest cost of electricity production per kw/h than nearly any other source of electricity. At 3 or 4 times the cost of electricity produced by that of coal or gas it is not clear how electricity will become cheaper, not in the short term anyway. Solar is a bit better but the battery systems associated with the setup lead to massive production and maintenance costs as well as negative impacts on the environment, especially if not disposed of properly. In the long run some of these technologies will be cheaper as maintenance is low and supply "endless" but unfortunately energy companies do not work on 20 to 30 year time horizons (not their income statement anyway). They will always need to make profit, "invest in infrastructure", etc. And, are we seriously expecting them to reduce the cost of energy they charge us? Why, we are used to paying current rates?

I think the price-match point (when renewable energy will become cheaper than fossil fuel energy) is not going to be brought down by renewable energy technology but energy companies are going to use the excuse of the cost of renewable energy technology and wait until fossil fuels become more expensive (because there is less to go around) and then find a much higher acceptable price for renewable energy than what could be possible and then convince us we are going to save a lot of money.

My last (and most important) take away from this post is that that renewable energy will have no direct benefit to an individual (other than cleaner air) while we still depend on large energy companies to produce the energy. They can control the price, the speed at which it is implemented and what technology gets implemented. The absolute priority for entrepreneurs in the renewable energy sector should not be to develop new renewable energy technologies BUT to develop technology that will make the consumer energy independent through the use of renewable energy. Energy independence should be the top priority.

This is supposed to be a reality check and not an article of "doom" about the renewable energy industry. We need to start somewhere and as we get better at this we will get better at producing the technology cheaply and in a way that is truly better for the environment. The thing is, I think things will still get worse before they get better but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


Category: Sustainable energy: Fossil fuel, Nuclear


3 Comments

Justin Whitaker - 8 Aug 2013, 3:02 p.m.

Re: Toyota Prius being more environmentally detrimental than a Range Rover Sport --- curious what studies you referenced to come to this conclusion? From my understanding this is a myth that has been debunked:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/does-hybrid-car-production-waste-offset-hybrid-benefits.htm
http://www.pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/hummer_vs_prius3.pdf

Alicia Montoya - 8 Aug 2013, 5:54 p.m.

Whoa! That's a loaded article. OK, I'll keep it short because I have to rush off but we could debate about your many points for hours...

First of all, about cost of electricity, solar thermal is by far the most expensive:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

In terms of hybrid tech, how about this? Hybrid planes!
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130802-powering-up-hybrid-planes/2

Paritosh - 8 Aug 2013, 6:19 p.m.

No matter how hard you try, it will be always be tough to beat a marketing team ;)

The major problem haunting renewable energy is energy storage.... Any battery is an environmental risk and in more ways than one

Why magnetism and electromagnetism has not advanced in producing electricity, has always intrigued me... Perhaps one day would understand it


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