Jun. 21, 2017

Viability of Renewable vs Fossil Fuel Energy

So, is renewable energy viable? I found a website that debates this issue. I will summarize the debate, but will include the website if you want to read more. http://alternativeenergy.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001244

One thing that became clear in reading this debate is that there are differences in viability between production of electricity and transportation. Currently, almost all aspects of transportation (cars, trucks, ships, planes, trains) depend upon petroleum resources- gasoline and diesel. And, although oil prices are volatile, petroleum prices are still fairly cheap. Transportation represents a quarter of carbon emissions and this area will be the most difficult to transform.  

Renewable energy technologies for producing electricity are much more viable in the short-term, but must compete with the market because economics plays into the mix as well. Natural gas is cheap, although the process (fracking) for collecting natural gas is not well received by the public. Fracking seems to pollute groundwater supplies and cause earthquakes. Coal is abundant around the world and is still the main source for electricity production. As demand for coal declines, so will the price. As Jerry Taylor states: In a free market, cost dictates energy choices. Fossil fuels, for example, are economically attractive for many applications because the energy available from fossil fuels is highly concentrated, easily transportable, and cheaply extracted. Renewable energies such as wind and solar power, on the other hand, are relatively dispersed, difficult to transport, and costly to harness given the capital costs of facility construction.

It does cost more to build wind farms and install solar arrays. But once these plants are set up and running, they have lower operation and maintenance costs than conventional power on a yearly basis. No more regular fuel bills and only minimal expenses for upkeep of solar, for example, which has no movable parts that wear out and need to be replaced. Of course, wind and solar can be intermittent sources of energy and depend upon batteries for electricity storage. Battery innovations are essential for the viability of wind and solar energy. Many scientists and engineers are working on improving battery efficiency. Technological advances are improving the economic viability of solar and wind. Although renewable energy costs are falling globally, they are still currently more expensive than fossil fuel sources.  

Transitioning to sustainable energy will take decades- it is definitely a long-term goal. A truly sustainable energy economy may be very different from the American economy we know today. The renewable economy will likely be slower and more local; it will probably be a conserver economy rather than a consumer economy. It will also likely feature far less economic inequality. Improved efficiency and changed lifestyles are called for to meet the challenges imposed by Nature. It will fundamentally change the way we live. Change is difficult, but sustainable energy is the solution for reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

You know, the odds of you being the victim of a terrorist attack are truly negligible, yet we take every precaution we can to prevent such a thing from happening.  When it comes to excess carbon causing a global ecological disaster, these odds are much greater. But it is less immediate, man’s actions are so much quicker than Mother Earth’s actions and we are not very good long-term thinkers as a species. Are we willing to start making changes to ensure a quality environment for our grandchildren, our descendants? We willingly tightened our belts during WWII. Can we do the same for our species future? It is a daunting task to move to renewable energy, but so was the idea of putting a man on the moon when President Kennedy first suggested it.