Of the disadvantages of renewable energy, one issue stands out: Can these technologies be renewed without fossil fuels? I recently spoke with Mark Hand about the renewability of renewable energy in an interview. Here’s the first question:
SNL Energy: What is your reaction when you see news headlines that say, “100% renewables could be closer than we think,” or, “European Union could reach 100% renewables by 2050?”
Ozzie Zehner: There are lots of research studies saying we have enough wind energy to supply 100x our needs or we have enough solar in the Mojave Desert to do this and that. The problem is that if we were to actually build that many solar panels, for instance, it would be an ecological disaster. The Mojave Desert might be the Saudi Arabia of solar, but if we were to cover deserts with solar cells, the consequences would destroy civilization as we know it within a single generation just because of heavy metals, greenhouse gases, economic effects and so on.
In my mind, there is a presumption that we have a choice between alternative energy and fossil fuels. But the reason that I wrote the book was to draw out why that choice that we seem to have between the two is an illusion. And that’s because alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels through every stage of their life. They rely on fossil fuels for raw material extraction, for fabrication, for insulation and maintenance, and for decommissioning and disposal.
Aside from the physical lifespan, they also rely on fossil fuels for their financing. They rely on an economy whose growth is driven by fossil fuels. The kind of financing that you need for renewables requires that. You need concurrent fossil fuel plants running alongside solar cells and wind turbines at all times.
From ‘Green Illusions’ author dissects ‘overly optimistic expectations’ for wind, solar in SNL Energy, April 1, 2013.
Read more in my recent environmental book: