- IT IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR SOCIETY TO FIND ENERGY RESOURCES THAT ARE ABUNDANT IN NATURE, SUFFICIENTLY CHEAP, AND YET ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.
- OIL WAS THE ENERGY SOURCE TO MEET THESE THREE CRITERIA. NUCLEAR ENERGY WAS FURTHER DEVELOPED IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY. NUCLEAR POWER IS REGAINING IMPORTANCE ON A GLOBAL SCALE IN COUNTRIES SUCH AS INDIA AND CHINA. JAPAN STILL ADHERES TO NUCLEAR ENERGY BECAUSE IT SEEMS TO MEET THE NEED FOR CHEAP, ABUNDANT ENERGY.
- WITH THE TURN OF THE 21ST CENTURY, RENEWABLE ENERGIES HAVE MOVED TO CENTER STAGE. RENEWABLE ENERGIES GRADUALLY INCREASED THEIR SHARE OF TOTAL PRIMARY ENERGY PRODUCTION.
1. CHEAP ENERGY
Over the years, governments around the world had created incentive structures that strongly encouraged the growth of renewable energy technologies. In the Western world, the European Union had taken the lead, including countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The United States quickly gained a decisive role and had been playing a weighty role in the development of innovative renewable energy solutions for much longer.
Incentives have been created to drive the introduction of renewable energy technologies in the power sector. This is especially true when one considers the generous subsidies for the expansion of renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy has benefited greatly from subsidies that have been granted in Germany for up to 20 years. This has created an incentive for end users to install solar panels on their roofs and for companies to use solar panels for their commercial installations.
In addition, these installations were tax deductible. If a company consumes the electricity itself on the same premises, it is its own electricity supply and is not necessarily part of the general grid. In this case, the company does not have to sell the electricity B2B in the traditional sense. This allows companies a degree of independence from electricity suppliers, and supplying electricity to their own industrial site can be cost-effective.
The problem is that renewable energy usually has a low energy yield. Renewable energy technologies are in many cases, and in many locations, not the most energy efficient technologies for power generation.
2. ABUNDANT ENERGY
Energy in abundance generally comes in the form of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are running out over time due to peak oil. Peak oil is a concept that applies here, but we will also face peak resources.
Fossil fuels are stored energy that has accumulated over millions of years. Solar energy is indeed a primary source of energy that comes directly from the sun. Wind energy is actually a secondary source of energy that is derived from the wind that is generated in the earth’s atmosphere by balancing the temperature differences on our planet, the oceanic climate, the sun’s energy and solar cycles, and the earth’s rotation. Solar energy is very useful, but only at latitudes where significant solar radiation accumulates.
3. ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY ENERGY
Renewable energy sources are supposedly more environmentally friendly. The mining, construction and operation are not necessarily environmentally friendly. Mining often harms the health of people and the environment in the regions where the mining takes place. Many of the rare metals needed to make solar panels, wind turbines, and wind blades are mined in open-pit operations that would likely not meet stringent European Union and United States standards.
Distribution causes further damage to the natural environment to bring these resources to market. A significant amount of land is needed to build solar and wind power plants. In particular, the construction of large wind turbines has more in common with the construction of a small power plant. The construction of such a small power plant requires significant amounts of building materials.
To use these building materials, concrete and metals, fossil fuels were used in large quantities. Even as we move toward a renewable, carbon-free economy, we must rely on fossil fuels. We will probably continue to use fossil fuels even after the goals of the energy transition have been achieved.
Even though renewable energy can be generated from solar and wind power, solar and wind power plants typically have an operating life of 30 years – or less. In the case of solar panels, the efficiency of operating such a system decreases over time. Wind turbines require more and more repairs just to keep them running. This leads to enormous costs. Decommissioning of such plants leads to further costs.
- It is extremely difficult to find energy resources that meet all the criteria. We will probably have to compromise and use our current options wisely. Our current options are built on an energy system focused on fossil fuels. Nevertheless, renewable energy sources will make a significant contribution and move us forward.
- It is far from certain that we will find an alternative energy source that will meet all of our needs. Until we do, we will have to rely on a combination of fuel sources to meet our energy needs. This means that we will be involved in the geopolitics of energy.