I've been discussing the issue of clean and renewable energy with and associate of mine for some time now. He is an electrical engineer working for a multi-billion dollar energy service provider and I am somewhat of an efficiency specialist with a solid science and economics background. There has been a massive amount of debate on the subject of renewable and "clean" energy in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. While I agree that we need to slow our reliance on fossil fuels, we must keep in mind that "clean and renewable energy" is not always completely straightforward.
One must remember that the law of thermodynamics states that "energy cannot be created or destroyed", it can only change forms. Therefore, the renewable energy created from renewable sources such as wind, air, ethanol, electricity, and plant fuel had to come from somewhere. It is not "free" energy as some organizations and companies would have us believe.
Many forms of "clean and renewable energy" have substantial costs in one way or another. The cost of a windmill includes the trees that must be cut down for wood, and/or the metal that must be mined for parts, and/or the oil that must be converted to plastic parts... just to name a few factors to take into consideration. There must be a large wiring system that can transmit the power generated from the wind moving the windmill's turbines. There is also the constant problem of maintaining the windmill and what alternate sources of power will be available in the situation that there is minimal or no wind.
Hybrid cars such as Toyota Prius and Tesla are all the rage with gas prices fluctuating between high and extremely high prices. The batteries that can be charged electrically and reduce gasoline usage are extremely expensive for the consumer to pay for or replace if damaged. More importantly, the costs of procuring and manufacturing these raw material metals to build the batteries are exorbitant. The damages from mining done to most ecosystems usually outweighs the benefits of reduced emissions in hybrid cars.
The use of bio-fuel such as ethanol is not as perfect as it may seem. The ethanol is usually derived from corn, the most popular crop in the United States by far due to various business and legislative policies. The use of corn as a source of ethanol fuel not only increases the price of everything that includes corn (nearly everything we eat and many that we don't) but it decreases the amount of crop diversity that we produce in our nation and in the world. Corn is cheap and very efficient but the more corn we plant the less we can produce for other crops. Ethanol can only be produced from corn due to United States legislation, but every crop of corn means a reduction in the possibility for other crops or trees. Ethanol is about the same price as gasoline and about 30% less efficient. Also, the byproducts of ethanol from plant sources is just as damaging to the ozone layer as byproducts from fossil fuels! It may be renewable, but not necessarily as efficient or clean.
The United States and other countries have certainly made great strides in producing cleaner energy from wind turbines, solar panels, and renewable plant-based fuels. Consider the impressive strides California took during and after green energy enthusiast Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took office and increased its priority. Unfortunately the more populated country of China has probably tripled it's output of pollution due to increased industrialization and minimal if any regulations. Only time will tell if President Donald Trump's policies will undo the US clean energy trend in favor of competing with China and other cheaper international manufacturers.
So am I for alternative and clean energy and the pursuit of improved independent energy production? Yes, of course I am. I am for the most efficient, affordable, and environmentally stable forms of energy production possible. Do I think that we have a lot of work to do before we can increase the efficiency of renewable energy production? Absolutely. Until then, we have to keep in mind that there's no such thing as a free lunch and that we'll need some greater improvements before the benefits can be more affordable, effective, and widespread.
I hope you enjoyed this opinion piece about the current state of affairs regarding renewable green energy in the US and the world. My views are my own and not reflective of my employers or clients, and like any opinion they can change and evolve with current events.
Interested in more articles about green energy and efficiency?
Read My Posts:
- 5 Energy Solutions For Your Company
- Promoting Eco-Friendly Practices In The Workplace
Published by Michael J Schiemer
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