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Energy the illusions of renewables  solar and wind will not save us | Upload Solar

The Illusions Of Renewables. Solar And Wind Will Not Save Us

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by: Sharai Hoekema
the illusions of renewables  solar and wind will not save us | Upload

ar too often, the debate on climate change shifts to one of the fossil fuels versus renewable energy. If we were to completely let go of the ‘wasteful’ and switch to electricity generated by natural elements such as wind, solar, or waves, it would - or so it is alleged - save our planet. This thought has been at the center of the climate debate for more than 30 years, setting in motion large-scale renewable energy projects.

The Illusions Of Renewables

However, looking at today’s landscape, we see that there isn’t a single nation that has completely shifted its energy needs to renewable sources. Some Scandinavian countries are well underway to realizing a near-zero carbon electricity supply, but what stands out here is the fact that renewables like solar and wind only make up a small percentage of this.

It is a well-documented fact that the number of solar panels or wind turbines required even to come close to the amount of energy generated by ‘regular’ producers is massive. At the same time, these enormous grids required will lead to higher costs of generating electricity, vast amounts of energy needed for its production, and leave behind a significant environmental footprint. Additionally, it is a somewhat unreliable source of energy. 

In short, solar and wind energy are not just falling short of what they ought to be producing to be an adequate replacement; they are also mostly unnecessary when looking at the bigger picture, which will, eventually, really be a good thing.

Graph World Energy use

Renewables History

When listening to a regular climate change debate, one will be quick to conclude that renewable energy - in particular solar and wind energy - is a relatively new invention. Wind turbines have, after all, not been recorded in modern history as a familiar sight until recently. Yet the reality is that wind and sunlight are some of the oldest sources of energy that we have.

Already back in 1833, a man named John Etzler was involved in a proposal that sought to construct solar power plants. These would employ mirrors to concentrate sunlight on boilers. Solar panels that are capable of generating electricity have even been mentioned in literature back in the late 1800s. The schools of thought were there, waiting to pick up - but unfortunately being overrun by the power of coal and other fossil fuels.

Yet renewables were never far from our mind, as there have been numerous mentions of solar energy in publications throughout the 20th century - pointing at it as the next ‘big thing’ in power generation. Thoughts about renewable energy started in 1891, with The New York Times. The New York Times was reporting that solar energy is not yet economical in an article titled “Solar Energy: What the Sun's Rays Can Do, and May Yet Be Able to Do,” in which it concluded, "…the day is not unlikely to arrive before long…”.

Solar And Wind Energy Revolution! Did It Arrive?

Graph world energy consumption 2017

That day did arrive, yet it never really ‘caught on,’ despite the hype being attributed to it by journalists and experts alike. In 1931, another journalist of The New York Times discovered this ‘hidden treasure,’ writing about “the evolution of civilization similar to that which followed the invention by James Watt of the steam engine.”

In the following decades, renewables slowly got more attention. They found themselves at the center of scientific and political debate, with subsidies, tax cuts, and grants thrown at it. Especially around the turn of the century, it seemed as if the ‘big breakthrough’ was waiting to happen - only waiting on that last bit of funding. A massive $2 trillion was spent on wind and solar energy combined between 2007 and 2016, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with governments spending up to 100 times more on its subsidies than it did for nuclear and fossil fuels. The results? Far from as impressive: in 2016, solar and wind-generated energy only made up 1.3 and 3.9 percent of the earth’s total, respectively.

RecommendedVortex Wind Turbine: Energy Generator Without Blades

Denmark And Germany As Role Model?

Of course, these numbers above are merely an average. Some countries, like Denmark, show more promising numbers for its decarbonization process: where wind energy, in particular, is thriving, making up 48 percent of the total electricity in the country.

Does this make them the role model for renewables that we need to create a blueprint for other countries as well? Well, it is vital to understand the specific reasons why this tiny Scandinavian country was able to achieve this. Firstly, it is small. It has fewer than 6 million inhabitants, occupies a piece of land that can be crossed in only a few hours, and is a minor player on the world’s economic stage. 

While small, it is located in a favorable region, with many European neighbors willing to import the excess wind energy generated, lowering the risk of a costly surplus. Regardless, Denmark’s electricity prices are still amongst the highest in the world. And while this is justified by claiming that the industry is one of its most important export products, it is still striking. 

Areas that are deploying solar energy on a large scale have seen similar uptakes in electricity prices. Denmark’s neighbor Germany has long boasted a status as the poster child of renewables but is facing the same issues. Their electricity is the second most expensive in Europe, after Denmark, while emissions are not declining as much as they would like. 

Danish Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said that the Government should rethink the level of tax on electricity consumption, which is currently the highest in Europe. According to the Tax Ministry, approximately 40 percent of a household electricity bill is tax, but these revenues were and are necessary for Denmark to subsidize the development of renewable energy.

graph electric prices households consumers

Carbon Emissions Least Production: France And Sweden

Therefore, measuring the share of solar and wind-based energy sources in the total energy production will paint a somewhat misleading image - and show the inefficiency of solar and wind. A much better benchmark can found when looking at the number of carbon emissions per capita. Here, France and Sweden are ranking high.

The surprising thing? While those countries have successfully cut their carbon emissions, they have done so by employing only limited wind and solar sources. Sweden is deriving 95 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources, and France 88 percent. What are these sources? Nuclear and hydroelectric power.

Other countries, including Norway, Brazil, and Costa Rica, have similarly harnessed hydroelectric power, effectively decarbonizing their economies. Nuclear is slightly more scalable and reliable, compared to hydroelectricity’s relatively sizeable environmental impact. Hydropower, as demonstrated by Brazil and California, is inherently unreliable. Meaning that countries will have to fall back on fossil fuels if production unexpectedly falls short. Thus, nuclear energy appears to be the only zero-carbon source that is capable of saving our planet - it is scalable, reliable, and efficient.

CO2 emissions worldwide 1990 2030

Renewables Not Necessary To Save The Climate 

Good news, so far: we do not need renewables to solve climate change. Renewables require a lot of lands and specific wasteful ‘ingredients’ like concrete, steel, and glass for its production - nuclear plants only need a fraction of this. 

                                            The Illusions Of Renewables. Solar And Wind Will Not Save Our Climate

To demonstrate this: solar panels have shown to rake up to 300 times more toxic waste than nuclear energy. And even after having been produced in a wasteful manner, they still harm the environment by occupying large areas of land, threatening the local ecosystem - all in exchange for a relatively minor share of electricity.

RecommendedSolar Farms In Space: Next Step In Renewable Energy

The Illusions Of Renewables. Are We Headed For A Solar Waste Crisis?

While people are up in arms about nuclear waste, only very few seem to be concerned about the concept of solar waste. And solar waste there is: most countries do not have an adequate plan for safely disposing of this often toxic waste, while its pile is growing steadily. Nuclear waste makes all the alarm bells in our heads go off, while solar trash seems to be regarded with something akin to indifference.

Solar Waste Versus Nuclear 

Let’s start with some cold, hard facts. Every unit of energy generated by solar creates 3000 times more toxic waste than a group of electricity generated by nuclear power. Put it in perspective: Environmental Progress calculated that, if all waste generated over the next 25 years got stacked on a football field, the pile of nuclear waste would be about the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste pile would be as high as two Mt. Everests (16 km).

Developing countries, on the other hand, are facing similar issues. China, India, and Ghana are dealing with those living in communities near waste dumps. Waste got burned in an attempt to salvage copper wires, which gets resold. This process requires the burning of surrounding plastics, meaning that the smoke that is released is very harmful and straight-up toxic to human health.

Nuclear waste, on the other hand, is carefully stored and managed, sing the highest levels of caution and safety, waste is contained in cement-filled drums and stored in secured facilities for decades or even centuries on end. When comparing this to the lackluster way in which solar waste is simply ‘dumped atop the pile’ of electronic waste, it is not hard to see where we are doing something wrong.

Solar panels contain a large number of dangerous materials, including lead, chromium, and cadmium - not just harmful on direct impact, but also capable of infiltrating drinking water supplies. 

The Illusions Of Renewables: Actual Dangers Versus Perceived Dangers

The dilemma is not as severe when carefully observing those facts. The share of nuclear energy in the world’s electricity market is more significant, yet created using ‘less.’ Less waste, less land area, less of an ecological and environmental footprint. While we are keen on implementing more solar and wind, the reality is that these energy sources are often showing far from rosy numbers below the line. 

We would do well to move beyond this illusion of renewables and explore other zero-carbon sources of energy, in particular nuclear power. There are relatively few drawbacks to this stable and secure source of energy, that has remained at the center of societal scrutiny since its earlier days. Nuclear power is one way of tackling climate change in a meaningful manner - something that, unfortunately, cannot be said about wind or solar. It is time to make decisions based on facts rather than on dreams of renewables.

Before you go!

Recommended: COP25: Can Paris Accord Signatories Beat The Fossil Industry

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Niels - 42 WEEKS AGO
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I am missing references for quite a few key claims being made. As i seem to disagree with most of them.
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The Illusions Of Renewables. Solar And Wind Will Not Save Us

ar too often, the debate on climate change shifts to one of the fossil fuels versus renewable energy. If we were to completely let go of the ‘wasteful’ and switch to electricity generated by natural elements such as wind, solar, or waves, it would - or so it is alleged - save our planet. This thought has been at the center of the climate debate for more than 30 years, setting in motion large-scale renewable energy projects. The Illusions Of Renewables However, looking at today’s landscape, we see that there isn’t a single nation that has completely shifted its energy needs to renewable sources. Some Scandinavian countries are well underway to realizing a near-zero carbon electricity supply, but what stands out here is the fact that renewables like solar and wind only make up a small percentage of this. It is a well-documented fact that the number of solar panels or wind turbines required even to come close to the amount of energy generated by ‘regular’ producers is massive. At the same time, these enormous grids required will lead to higher costs of generating electricity, vast amounts of energy needed for its production, and leave behind a significant environmental footprint. Additionally, it is a somewhat unreliable source of energy.   In short, solar and wind energy are not just falling short of what they ought to be producing to be an adequate replacement; they are also mostly unnecessary when looking at the bigger picture, which will, eventually, really be a good thing. Renewables History When listening to a regular climate change debate, one will be quick to conclude that renewable energy - in particular solar and wind energy - is a relatively new invention. Wind turbines have, after all, not been recorded in modern history as a familiar sight until recently. Yet the reality is that wind and sunlight are some of the oldest sources of energy that we have. Already back in 1833, a man named John Etzler was involved in a proposal that sought to construct solar power plants. These would employ mirrors to concentrate sunlight on boilers. Solar panels that are capable of generating electricity have even been mentioned in literature back in the late 1800s. The schools of thought were there, waiting to pick up - but unfortunately being overrun by the power of coal and other fossil fuels. Yet renewables were never far from our mind, as there have been numerous mentions of solar energy in publications throughout the 20th century - pointing at it as the next ‘big thing’ in power generation. Thoughts about renewable energy started in 1891, with The New York Times. The New York Times was reporting that solar energy is not yet economical in an article titled “ Solar Energy: What the Sun's Rays Can Do, and May Yet Be Able to Do,” in which it concluded, "… the day is not unlikely to arrive before long… ”. Solar And Wind Energy Revolution! Did It Arrive? That day did arrive, yet it never really ‘caught on,’ despite the hype being attributed to it by journalists and experts alike. In 1931, another journalist of The New York Times discovered this ‘hidden treasure,’ writing about “ the evolution of civilization similar to that which followed the invention by James Watt of the steam engine.” In the following decades, renewables slowly got more attention. They found themselves at the center of scientific and political debate, with subsidies, tax cuts, and grants thrown at it. Especially around the turn of the century, it seemed as if the ‘big breakthrough’ was waiting to happen - only waiting on that last bit of funding. A massive $2 trillion was spent on wind and solar energy combined between 2007 and 2016, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with governments spending up to 100 times more on its subsidies than it did for nuclear and fossil fuels.   The results? Far from as impressive: in 2016, solar and wind-generated energy only made up 1.3 and 3.9 percent of the earth’s total, respectively. Recommended :  Vortex Wind Turbine: Energy Generator Without Blades Denmark And Germany As Role Model? Of course, these numbers above are merely an average. Some countries, like Denmark, show more promising numbers for its decarbonization process: where wind energy, in particular, is thriving, making up 48 percent of the total electricity in the country. Does this make them the role model for renewables that we need to create a blueprint for other countries as well? Well, it is vital to understand the specific reasons why this tiny Scandinavian country was able to achieve this. Firstly, it is small. It has fewer than 6 million inhabitants, occupies a piece of land that can be crossed in only a few hours, and is a minor player on the world’s economic stage.   While small, it is located in a favorable region, with many European neighbors willing to import the excess wind energy generated, lowering the risk of a costly surplus. Regardless, Denmark’s electricity prices are still amongst the highest in the world. And while this is justified by claiming that the industry is one of its most important export products, it is still striking.   Areas that are deploying solar energy on a large scale have seen similar uptakes in electricity prices. Denmark’s neighbor Germany has long boasted a status as the poster child of renewables but is facing the same issues. Their electricity is the second most expensive in Europe, after Denmark, while emissions are not declining as much as they would like.   Danish Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said that the Government should rethink the level of tax on electricity consumption, which is currently the highest in Europe. According to the Tax Ministry, approximately 40 percent of a household electricity bill is tax, but these revenues were and are necessary for Denmark to subsidize the development of renewable energy. Carbon Emissions Least Production: France And Sweden Therefore, measuring the share of solar and wind-based energy sources in the total energy production will paint a somewhat misleading image - and show the inefficiency of solar and wind. A much better benchmark can found when looking at the number of carbon emissions per capita. Here, France and Sweden are ranking high. The surprising thing? While those countries have successfully cut their carbon emissions, they have done so by employing only limited wind and solar sources. Sweden is deriving 95 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources, and France 88 percent. What are these sources? Nuclear and hydroelectric power. Other countries, including Norway, Brazil, and Costa Rica, have similarly harnessed hydroelectric power, effectively decarbonizing their economies. Nuclear is slightly more scalable and reliable, compared to hydroelectricity’s relatively sizeable environmental impact. Hydropower, as demonstrated by Brazil and California, is inherently unreliable. Meaning that countries will have to fall back on fossil fuels if production unexpectedly falls short. Thus, nuclear energy appears to be the only zero-carbon source that is capable of saving our planet - it is scalable, reliable, and efficient. Renewables Not Necessary To Save The Climate   Good news, so far: we do not need renewables to solve climate change. Renewables require a lot of lands and specific wasteful ‘ingredients’ like concrete, steel, and glass for its production - nuclear plants only need a fraction of this.   {youtube}                                              The Illusions Of Renewables. Solar And Wind Will Not Save Our Climate To demonstrate this: solar panels have shown to rake up to 300 times more toxic waste than nuclear energy. And even after having been produced in a wasteful manner, they still harm the environment by occupying large areas of land, threatening the local ecosystem - all in exchange for a relatively minor share of electricity. Recommended :  Solar Farms In Space: Next Step In Renewable Energy The Illusions Of Renewables. Are We Headed For A Solar Waste Crisis? While people are up in arms about nuclear waste, only very few seem to be concerned about the concept of solar waste. And solar waste there is: most countries do not have an adequate plan for safely disposing of this often toxic waste, while its pile is growing steadily. Nuclear waste makes all the alarm bells in our heads go off, while solar trash seems to be regarded with something akin to indifference. Solar Waste Versus Nuclear   Let’s start with some cold, hard facts. Every unit of energy generated by solar creates 3000 times more toxic waste than a group of electricity generated by nuclear power. Put it in perspective: Environmental Progress calculated that, if all waste generated over the next 25 years got stacked on a football field, the pile of nuclear waste would be about the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste pile would be as high as two Mt. Everests (16 km). Developing countries, on the other hand, are facing similar issues. China, India, and Ghana are dealing with those living in communities near waste dumps. Waste got burned in an attempt to salvage copper wires, which gets resold. This process requires the burning of surrounding plastics, meaning that the smoke that is released is very harmful and straight-up toxic to human health. Nuclear waste, on the other hand, is carefully stored and managed, sing the highest levels of caution and safety, waste is contained in cement-filled drums and stored in secured facilities for decades or even centuries on end. When comparing this to the lackluster way in which solar waste is simply ‘dumped atop the pile’ of electronic waste, it is not hard to see where we are doing something wrong. Solar panels contain a large number of dangerous materials, including lead, chromium, and cadmium - not just harmful on direct impact, but also capable of infiltrating drinking water supplies.   The Illusions Of Renewables: Actual Dangers Versus Perceived Dangers The dilemma is not as severe when carefully observing those facts. The share of nuclear energy in the world’s electricity market is more significant, yet created using ‘less.’ Less waste, less land area, less of an ecological and environmental footprint. While we are keen on implementing more solar and wind, the reality is that these energy sources are often showing far from rosy numbers below the line.   We would do well to move beyond this illusion of renewables and explore other zero-carbon sources of energy, in particular nuclear power. There are relatively few drawbacks to this stable and secure source of energy, that has remained at the center of societal scrutiny since its earlier days. Nuclear power is one way of tackling climate change in a meaningful manner - something that, unfortunately, cannot be said about wind or solar. It is time to make decisions based on facts rather than on dreams of renewables. Before you go! Recommended:  COP25: Can Paris Accord Signatories Beat The Fossil Industry Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about sustainability? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
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