The Trouble with Renewable Energy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Renewable energy cannot fill all our energy needs and thus we must cut down on our energy consumption first and foremost.

All too often the advocates and proponents of renewable energy, of solar, wind, wave and hydro (as in mini hydro) by trying to convince people claim that those can meet all our current and future energy needs. This is disingenuous at the very least and they do not do themselves nor renewables any favors with such claims.

Fact is that renewables, even if we put the use of methane gas from sewage, landfills and methane digesters into the equation, will not be able to meet all our energy needs, not now and especially not in the future. Not at the rate that we consume and waste energy at present.

Aviation and maritime fuel, for one, cannot be replaced by renewables and thus we need to rethink a great many of our current ways. The electric car also does not cut the mustard as charging all those vehicles on renewables just is not going to work,, sorry to be a spoilsport!

But, as we will need to replace fossil fuels for environmental reasons and the fact that oil and gas – cheap oil and gas – are almost history and they would have been history already almost entirely had it not been for the global Great Recession. Nuclear, because of its legacy and environmental concerns also is not going to cut it. We have, therefore, only one true option and that is reduction of our energy consumption (and consumption in general) and using of renewables as source of energy we need, after reduction.

We also must reduce, as already indicated, our general consumption of goods, especially those made in far away places, as air and maritime transportation cannot run without fossil fuels. Well, ships, in actual fact can run without fossil fuels, and they did so before coal and then oil but it will make for a different kind of shipping and for much dearer goods from abroad.

Goods manufactured in places such a China, Vietnam, etc., because labor is cheaper there is not sustainable and also are exploitation of the workers there and the same goes for “organic” green beans grown in Kenya for the European market. But then again we will have to change that all anyway even though at the time of writing in December 2014 crude oil is at an almost all-time low, but for reasons other than that there is a surplus.

It has nothing to do with suddenly more oil having been found and such but with a political issue, that is to say Russia (and Islamic State or ISIS) though more aboout the former as certain countries wish to destabilize the government of the Russian Federation, than the latter. And, as suggested by Sir Richard Branson, the chairman of he Virgin Group, it could also have to do with Saudi Arabia wishing to undermine the renewables market.

We must support local makers again and demand home produced goods and products to force industry away from the unsustainable practice of off-shoring.

Let us, for a moment, revisit (also) the electric car. While it all sounds good in theory the first thing to remember is that those cars need to be built and for that raw materials need to be extracted and processed, and the batteries to power them, and that needs energy and this energy cannot be delivered from renewables. Thus the notion of driving a car in a post-carbon world is a fallacy and it is not going to happen. For one, even if they are made, the great majority will not be able to afford them but, the fact is that, I don't believe that they can be made without the use of fossil fuels.

We need to transition to a green world without fuels that damage the environment and Planet and neither fossil fuels nor nuclear can and will that. But even solar is a problem as the panels need to be made from materials that are not pollution free and their lifetime is also rather limited. The biggest problem, however, is that renewables will not, unless we make changes, real changes, be able to supply our needs.

The first thing to do is for every roof and every house to become an electricity generating plant, first and foremost, to generate electricity for our own use and without inverters, that is to say as 12V DC as generated by the panels, the wind turbines, etc., and using inverters only for those appliance that do require the higher “mains” voltage.

In general, however, until we can transition to this, we will have to reduce our energy consumption and that not only in our homes. Businesses, industry and government, central and local, must do so too. Do shop fronts really have to be lit up all night and do we really need to have streetlights on all night, and the lights left in in our offices, etc.? I do not think so.

Without a serious reduction in the way we “consume” energy and waste it either getting away from environmentally harmful fuels – and this includes nuclear – will not happen or the lights will goo out, literally, as renewables cannot support the way we work, so to speak, and use energy at the moment.

However, renewables can work if we change our behavior and the kind of lighting and appliances we use and how we use them and energy. A great deal of electric energy that we use on a daily basis in many of our appliances, be this our computers, our radio receivers, etc., is wasted energy, not by us leaving the appliances on, necessarily, but by having to convert the 240V AC mains voltage to low voltage DC, of 12V or below, via transformers, nowadays referred to as “power supplies”. The great majority of the appliances, bar white goods such as fridges, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, etc., do not need the 240VAC “mains voltage” and could directly run – often needing still further power reduction by way of semiconductors – on 12V DC as it comes out of PVs and small wind turbines and lighting could all be 12V DC, LEDs or strip.

This does, though, require a great deal of change and I wonder whether the great majority and the powers-that-be are actually prepared for it.

The way it seem the powers-that-be, the governments and other bodies, try to sell the people the story that, while we have to move from fossil fuels to others, from carbon to non-carbon, but love to include, especially in the UK, nuclear in that equation, for environmental reason, we can continue with business as usual. Rethink! We cannot, we will not be able to. And that is a hard-sell that those in power, who, more often than not should not be in any power, are not prepared to engage in. And while it may be a hard-sell it is reality, however, and something that we will have to embrace.

This does not, except for motoring, mean a diminished lifestyle but it does mean that we all will have to change the way we do some things and the way that we consume energy, primarily electricity, and the amount of it that we consume.

If we do not want to really have the lights go out we must change the way we use and consume electricity (and other energy) and the first step is to seriously reduce our consumption of it.

© 2016