What Is The Energy Solution? (Pt. 2)

In Part 1 of this article, we examined some specific claims that are often raised about the economics and environmental impacts of renewable energy. In Part 2, we'll take a look at the cold facts of how renewable energy is being deployed and the role it may play in the future to fulfill the world's energy needs.

Let's take a look at some factors in the real world deployment of renewable energy sources:

  • Renewables are a valid form of energy generation and will play a significant role in solving the world's energy, environmental and economic challenges

  • Today, renewable energy sources have significantly lower output density yields than fossil fuel sources

  • Renewable energy generation has little to no CO2 output but we cannot overlook the CO2 penalty realized in the generation of the materials used in the manufacturing, the transportation of the components, and the non-recyclability of many of the components utilized as well as the CO2 penalty incurred by generating all of the “clean” electricity needed to power EV sources.

  • Wholesale changeover of the world's energy infrastructure to renewable energy technology will take decades and will cost almost incalculable trillions of dollars.

  • Renewable energy has a host of economic and technical challenges, many of which are just coming to light, such as the requirements of electrical generation and distribution, how to handle toxic and non-recyclable renewable energy components without environmental harm . These challenges and problems will take significant money and time to overcome.

  • Renewable energy transportation like EVs are powered with Lithium-Ion battery technology. Mining Lithium, Cobalt and other necessary rare earth minerals and metals have severe environmental costs. There are also humanitarian issues to consider. CBS News reported about the exploitation of child slave labor in mining Cobalt for batteries in the People's Democratic Republic of Congo.

What this data reveals is that renewable energy isn't the technological and environmental be-all, end-all that its often portrayed as. In order to assume a significant role as a part of meeting the global transportation and industrial energy challenge, it's important to realize that there is no free ride with renewable or any other form of energy. Renewable has different, yet just as many environmental challenges as fossil fuels to overcome. Renewable energy is and will continue to also be more expensive than fossil fuel technology to implement at any large scale.

Governments and environmental groups often portray EV as being the solution to the world's personal transportation challenges. EVs are interesting, fun to drive and exhibit several qualities that are desirable. However, EVs also have many significant challenges to overcome before realizing their promise. The batteries that power EVs represent significant environmental drawbacks in the materials (Lithium, Cobalt, in particular) in their construction, lifespan, expense and recyclability. The electrical power needed to recharge EV batteries is largely supplied by non-renewable coal and natural gas-powered power plants which have their own greenhouse gas emissions, so while EVs have no tailpipe emissions, they have merely shifted the emissions burden from the tailpipe to the power plant smokestack.

The electrical vehicle recharging challenge is significant. There are simply not enough charging stations at present to support the small market share that EV vehicles currently have of the transportation market. The electrical power grid in most areas is not set up to provide the amount of power necessary to charge thousands of EVs at once. When traveling, EVs limited battery range is still of concern to drivers, causing them “range anxiety”, the fear of running out of power and not being near a charging station. Lithium-Ion EV batteries have been proven to cause thermal meltdown when caught on fire in accidents. Once EV batteries catch fire, because of thermal meltdown, they are nearly impossible to put out.

None of this is to say that renewable energy or EVs aren't valid technologies that have amazing potential benefits to the environment. It is to say that all factors of any energy equation must be considered and when they are, it quickly becomes apparent that fossil fuel powered transportation will have a significant place in the world's energy picture for a long time to come. There has definitely been a lot of hype and even “greenwashing” when it comes to how alternative energy has been portrayed.

When it comes to transportation energy, all points surrounding a given technology must be carefully measured and considered, including the environmental impact as well as the effect that deploying a technology could or may have on the world's economy and peoples' standard of living. Once evaluated, it becomes apparent that while renewable energy is desirable, on many levels, it needs many generations of refinement and improvement through innovation to stand any chance of completely supplanting fossils fuels as the world's predominant energy source.

The bottom line is, renewable or non-renewable, alternative energy or fossil fuel energy, there is always an economical, practical, environmental and humanitarian price to be paid in exchange for the world's energy requirements. There has yet to exist a solution that doesn't have real world costs. There is no free ride with energy, just tradeoffs. The way forward requires combining energy sources to make the transition smoother, better for the planet and the world economy.

You can check out our AiResource Energy Comparison Chart here