From National Geographic: Going “All the Way”: With Renewable Energy?
In a world where fossil fuel provides more than 80 percent of energy, what would it take to go completely green? Could the world switch over to power from only the wind, sun, waves, and heat from the Earth in only a few decades?
The article explores what it would take to get 100% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, and looks at a few of the obstacles. The researchers highlighted in the article propose doing all of this without reliance on biofuels or nuclear energy.
I believe that we must switch to renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. Our present over-dependence on fossil fuels is bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for national and world security. The solution isn’t “drill baby drill,” and it isn’t just sitting around and letting the market take care of our problems (the market tends to be rather blind to the future on things like this). We need energy policies that have our great-great-great grandchildren in mind, not just the next election.
Here are a few of my thoughts and questions:
- Why try to go 100% without biofuels?
- Why try to go 100% without nuclear? I’m not a huge fan of nuclear energy, but recognize it as a useful transitional energy source.
- Being that wind/solar/waves/geothermal only account for 3% of our energy now, is it realistic to aim for 100% renewable by 2030?
- For a more realistic target, could we aim for 50% (or some other number) dependence on renewable energy sources by 2030?
- Many of these renewable technologies require other resources that are in short supply, such as rare earth elements. What will the negative consequences of a rapid move to 100% renewable be? (And what are the negative consequences of the status quo?)
Grace and Peace
HT: The Green Life
7 thoughts on “Renewable by 2030?”
Interesting article and questions. Although the article gave a different reason for not using nuclear energy for transition (due to concerns about waste disposal and proliferation) I think a better reason is the disparity that would be caused between countries by a 100% renewable future transitioning with just nuclear energy to hold the boat together. I think it is highly unlikely that the US and other nuclear enabled powers would be happy about every country or even every other country developing nuclear energy programs. Either we get very lucky and everyone makes a peaceful transition, or wars break out, perhaps even nuclear wars, either trying to stop nuclear spread or because energy programs are being weaponized by unsavory groups, or only first world countries, or countries favored by the current nuclear powers get the nuclear power in the transition. Believe me I would like to use nuclear power as a transitional method but I see the last case as the most likely to happen and without using fossil or biofuels as a transitional aid as well third world countries will lapse even further into poverty.
Perhaps another option would be to put nuclear energy into the hands of a few corporations rather than the countries themselves. They would then spread it to other countries and run the reactors but have heavy oversight from a few different organizations. The problem with this would be that it would likely have to be heavily socialized in order for it to go to all countries that need it for their power needs in the transition.
I agree with what you say about using nuclear as a transitional energy source. The chances of getting “very lucky and everyone makes a peaceful transition” is rather slim; just look at the mess we are in with Iran and North Korea.
I do believe that nuclear power plants can be built and operated safely (though always with a slight element of risk), but have the following concerns:
–Proliferation – even when countries are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which is just about all countries except India, Pakistan, Israel, and N Korea), there is always the chance that they will cheat on the side. As we have seen, the technology required to enrich uranium for power generation isn’t all that different from that required for weapons production.
–Uranium is a limited natural resource. Most political advocates of nuclear seem to be oblivious to this. Just as we are likely to hit the peak of petroleum production some time in the next decade or so, we will eventually hit a peak in uranium production, followed by a decline of supply. This is likely to happen some time during the 21st century. (Breeder reactors can convert “useless” U-238 into fissionable U-235, which would stretch out the resources more than a hundredfold, but we have been wise to stay away from that technology. The weapons proliferation problems inherent in the process are unacceptable).
–Transport and long-term storage of wastes. Not an insoluble problem—there are geologic setting appropriate for long-term storage—but I’m not sure we have the security or political will to address this adequately.
So again, perhaps nuclear fission could be part of the transition to a renewable energy future, but no more than that.
As for putting nuclear energy into the hands of corporations:
–I don’t trust giant corporations any more than I trust countries.
–Countries have a history of nationalizing corporations that operate within their boundaries but not under their control.
Thanks for your input, and God’s blessings to you.
I should add an additional problem with uranium (at least from an American perspective): We import most of our uranium. A good amount of this comes from friendly sources (Canada and Australia), but presently US production of uranium is only 4% of the world total. The US does have sizable low-grade reserves, but we will likely always be somewhat reliant on imports.
Haha, I have read too much cyberpunk to ever trust corporations as well. I was mostly just trying to think of something that would cross national lines better than individual countries without having to bring up the UN. I had not thought about the nationalizing of corporations. Nuclear energy is definitely not the answer to all problems as some would make it out to be but it is incredibly useful.
bad for the economy: Renewable energy means more expensive energy. Your proposal will raise the cost of energy for all. The poor and elderly will suffer the most as they spend the largest proportion of their budgets on energy. Cheap energy is actually very good for the economy.
bad for the environment: all current renewable energies involve using very large areas of land (wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels). Fossil fuels can be extracted by using small amounts of land.
bad for national and world security: shale gas is turning America into an energy exporter. Most vehicles could be changed to use natural gas and America’s reliance on imported petroleum would be greatly reduced.
Thanks for your comment.
Cheap is good, but it isn’t the only good.
The problem with shale gas is that it, too, is a limited natural resource. It certainly will be part of our energy package in the upcoming decades. And then what? Better to start the transition to alternative energy sources sooner rather than later.
I agree that switching to natural gas for powering our cars could be a good idea, especially in terms of national security. But this should be only part of a comprehensive energy package, and viewed as a transition to renewable energy sources.
We need to be thinking not only of what will work for us in the upcoming decade, but how to make the best possible future for our children, and great-great-great grandchildren.
When looking at the really long-term picture, obviously renewable energy has to be the solution. It’s the in-between times that get tricky.
For example, I would be quite happy with nuclear energy making a MUCH bigger part of what we produce now. Yes, it is a limited resource, but it pushes the time when the fuel gets really expensive far enough back that the truly renewable resources (solar) will be much cheaper and might even replace nuclear all on their own just because of cheapness.
I’m not as worried about nuclear proliferation caused by wider use of nuclear reactors. The technology is already loose, though difficult to use for countries like Iran and N.Korea. If Europe, the US, and China all went primarily nuclear, oil would last a couple more centuries before getting truly scarce, and nuclear power (with breeders) wouldn’t be causing nuclear proliferation beyond what already exists.
I have high hopes for microwave transmission of power from solar power arrays, but certainly not within 50 years. But, if we can get 150-200 years out of nuclear, solar energy on the scale we’ll need it will be easily possible. (and that’s even discounting nuclear fusion power)
Just for the next decade, I’m not worried at all about oil spiking because of insufficient supply caused by lack of oil deposits. Give it at least 20 years before that might hit, and possibly even longer, though I wouldn’t want to bet on it.