The Problems with Renewables

Hi, all.

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about renewables. As energy producers like solar panels and wind turbines slowly become welcomed to the market, the debate over whether or not renewables will be sufficient continues.

While I support a grid that is diverse, versatile, and decentralized, I can also recognize the limitations to renewable energy resources. It is vital to understand and accept limitations so that we can better adjust and implement solutions.

There are a variety of renewables.

Hydropower (water wheels, dams, pumped storage) can be considered the OG of renewables. The problem with hydropower is that there is a limited number of locations that are viable for this type of energy production. Most hydropower locations are either already in use or protected from such infestation (and rightfully so). Additionally, hydropower is dependent on the amount of water and flow power. As you can probably guess, climate change and overuse of water both negatively affect hydropower’s consistency and ability – decreasing its reliability. Also, hydropower like dams have a detrimental effect on wildlife. For example, fish spawning (reproduction) is totally diminished when a dam is in effect because the fish cannot easily travel up and down stream. Very sad! Finally, as water pools up in dams, the salinity or saltiness builds, making the water unusable for human use like agriculture. That’s a major issue as our water supply is already stretched thin in many parts of the world.

Wind is also very well-known in the renewable world. Wind occurs due to change of temperature, as the hot air is constantly trying to move to places that are not hot. There are not many places where wind blows all the time. Shorelines are the best places for wind turbines because of the difference in air temperature in the land and water. However, the best spots near and offshore are often far from the grid – so transporting the energy is expensive. They don’t last very long, either, only about 20-25 years. So, investing in them might not always pay off. Wind turbines make the most energy when they are very high up, so making them tall might help with the cost. However, he efficiency also makes the turbines more hazardous. Which brings me to my next point: wind turbines are extremely difficult and costly to maintain because of their location and physicality. Finally, some people would argue wind turbines are just downright ugly.

Solar seems to currently be the shining star *pun intended* of the renewables. There are many ways to approach solar, like water heating, solar cooking, and photovoltaics (PV aka solar panels). In any case, solar is still comparable to land-use size as both coal and natural gas, as solar requires a lot of land to produce sufficient energy. This also depends on the location, and it does not make sense to put the panels just anywhere. Solar PV does not last very long, just like wind turbines, and they need to be replaced every twenty years or so. Electronic waste is a major concern around the world, and solar PV definitely contributes to the waste. This is true not just for the upkeep, but also for the materials used. Most solar cells are made of silicon tetrachloride. Many producers of the solar cells have been found to dump their waste from producing these materials into the surrounding land to save money on recycling. This definitely detriments the environmental health because these are hazardous materials. Solar energy is also intermittent, in that it only produces energy when sun is available, and humans do not wait for the sun to come out to turn on their tv or start their dishwasher. Storage is not yet widely available either, and there are even some concerns with sourcing the battery storage materials.

These are obviously not all of the renewables that exist, but probably the major three.

Renewables totally have their role in our energy system, but perhaps this post may have opened your perspective as to why these energy producers have not yet taken hold in our society. There are clear limitations, yet absolutely solvable.

Hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think about renewables and how they compare to nonrenewables.

In Soil We Trust,

Tiffany

Thank you to Jonathon H.C. Kelman Basic Energy Science – A Citizen’s Guide to Energy Choices for this graphic report and the informational content of this post. Basic Energy Science was one of the greatest courses I took in college.

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