Is alternative energy really the answer?

Photo credit: katsrcool (Cool Cats Photography) via flickr. 

By Derek Whitney


Much more hemming and hawing, debating and calculating has been brought to bear in instituting wide-scale renewable energy plans than was ever around for the start of the full-scale fossil fuel energy era. Although it seems reasonable to have learned from the past by refusing to dive head first into an energy plan without a full understanding of the consequences, the pressing matters of climate change and fossil fuel depletion provide much impetus for initiating a new energy plan post-haste.

So what is holding up the debate? Why is there so much talk about and not much wide-scale adoption of renewable energies? In addition to the financial investment required and debates of the ‘best’ renewables, there are a few major sticking points that hold up the full-scale shift to renewable energy.


Infrastructure
The current energy infrastructure is included amongst public utilities requiring government oversight, what some have described as a “natural monopolies.” (1) As such, any single change in energy generation and distribution affects large areas and requires a substantial investment. Add to this that, in contrast to fossil fuel energies that can be transported substantial distances, many renewables must be used at or very near the point of generation. As such, the type of grid and the positioning of power stations must be completely rethought in order to incorporate renewable energy.



Continuity
Although sustainable, many technologies have not yet demonstrated a capacity to ‘keep the lights on’ continuously. That is, due to the use of discontinuous energy sources such as sun and wind and insufficient means to store these energies, current projects have renewable energy covering only up to 80% of US needs by 2050.



Pit-falls
There is a tempting argument being made that nuclear power will solve the energy crisis due to the lack of green house gas emissions during the generation of power. What is often overlooked, however, is that 15,000 new reactors would be required to meet the impending global energy shortage. The building of each plant requires a massive input of petrochemicals in a process that requires from seven to twelve years to complete. (2) Then after about 40 years of operations that generate catastrophic amounts of nuclear waste for which there remains no disposal methods, the plants are no longer safe enough for use. (3,4)



Solutions
With an understanding of these main contentions, the heart of the matter becomes clear. If major investment in new infrastructure and continuity from a single resource is what is dissatisfying about green energy, a decentralized distributed grid with multiple input types must be a part of the solution. (5) This has already been underway in many regions with homeowners footing some of the initial costs for an at-home solar array or a wind turbine that covers their own energy needs and provides any excess energy back into the grid. This allows point-of-production use and is workable before any wide-scale infrastructure changes have taken place.


It is important to note that no single renewable energy source will meet the current demands on the system, but perhaps none should. There remains tremendous room for improvement in the amount of energy currently being consumed unnecessarily. Therefore, a strategy of both green energy and conservation needs to be adopted at all levels from individual to institutional.

References
1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/the-answer-to-climate-cha_b_4337435.html
2. http://www.neis.org/literature/Brochures/npfacts.htm
3. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=228&t=21
4. http://phys.org/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html
5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2012/06/13/distributed-generation-grid-killer/


Derek is blogging for Technology Dynamics, a manufacturer of different power supplies like <a href=“http://www.technologydynamicsinc.com/switching/index.php”>12 volt DC power supply and ACDC power supplies. He enjoys blogging about different sources of alternative energy and how to conserve more energy.
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