Is Renewable Energy Renewable?
by Ozzie Zehner
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:
The first thing that would need to be converted to renewable would be the manufacturing base.
Use existing methods to build the necessary hardware to convert factories then use those factories to convert others or build new. All manufacturing converted first.
We also have to stabilise the population. The planet can’t support an unlimited population growth to fulfill the capitalist fantasy of endless “growth”.
Do you “believe” we can continue to rely on carbon based energy indefinitely or that perhaps nuclear will save us? Or is there some combination that will keep the world pleasantly warm without causing climate havoc?
The whole capitalist concept of endless growth MUST end.
It’s physically impossible. It attempts to defy the laws of physics.
As a species we must learn to live within our means.
Solar PV is reaching that point now ( I think it’s in Japan) ,where PV energy is being used to produce new panels, and the input savings are becoming that much greater ,even than they were before.
There is much buzz about liquid fuel thorium reactors. Higher burn-up of fuel, proliferation resistant, high operating temp (at near one atmoshpere fuel pressure), possibility of existing waste destruction, abundant fuel supply, etc.
I’ve used solar electricity more than two decades and completely agree that solar PV is not “sustainable.”
No combination of “alternatives” is going to replace our overconsumption.
The energy downslope is going to force “involuntary simplicity” whether we like it or not. The question is how we will use the remaining fossil fuels — to relocalize food or promote more Wal-Mart culture (to oversimplify the choice).
Come on guys… seems that by your comments solar cells for example are doomed at the current tech level… they will become so much more environmental friendlier to produce than today… we are just at the beginning… I bet than in 10 years from now we will use 100x less materials to produce the same energy producing cells.
It’s a pity that there are no figures to back up this brief opinion, so it doesn’t actually challenge anything !
There does seem to be a bit of a niche movement at the moment attacking lower emissions technology without presenting a more positive alternative. If they are successful ,the only winners will be oil, gas and coal businesses or nuclear (until the changes they’ve engineered destroy them too).
Those of us who put our feet where our mouths are ,and visa-versa, have been living simply for decades, and ,in my case have realised that very few are following, in fact things are going in the other direction, so the question is, how do we minimise the damage whilst we lack the influence to significantly change the growth/consumption philosophy ( which is natural, but in humans has too much power behind it for safety) of society at large.
Personal motor vehicles are not sustainable, nor are the type of large substantial houses that are the norm these days ( I recently read that their production is responsible for 90% of CO2 emissions ), and all this is ,of course proportional to the numbers using them.
So it seems strange to attack solar and wind, when switching to less damaging energy sources AND reducing use are BOTH vital, along with population control.
On the point of the use of fossil fuels to produce alternatives, that’s rather obvious, as that is the current fuel system, the current starting point for any future . The point about ,say solar panels, is that they use a fraction of the energy used to build ,run and decommission conventional power stations for the outputs. Those planning these things have not just left high school and thought “Hey lets try solar!” .The life processes have been analysed and compared, future scenarios have been analysed by people with decades of expertise and analytical experience. A quick Google search brings up such studies immediately.