The Limitations Of Renewable Energy

We all acknowledge the existence of global warming and the devastating consequences it has had on our planet. Not only has global warming destroyed ecosystems and habitats but an increase in average temperature worldwide but has also  An increased number of extreme weather events, with increased intensity have been felt across the globe. With the ice caps melting and the rise of sea levels. We can witness an entire transformation of the planet. These changes might not be able to be reversed. As a result of the problem we face, we humans as usual try to look for solutions. But the reality is renewable energy is not yet the key to fix our global warming nightmare. There are many limitations of renewable energy that have to be overcome. Before we can completely rely on them to power the world.

Energy Consumption 

We have been fooled to believe that our planet can be powered solely on renewable energy, which is not true. Despite the attempts of many politicians, usually left inclined in Europe and the US, promoting renewable energy as the ultimate solution for all of mankind. To put it short, it is not possible. To power the entire planet with renewable energy big changes would have to occur, and from an operating point of view, it would not be functional. 

Source: Ourworldindata

After all Renewable energy accounted for only 12.1% of all the energy consumed in the world in 2019. The staggering discrepancy of energy produced between renewable and non-renewable energy sources leaves us to believe there is still a big amount of work in front of us to decrease our ecological footprint.

Source: Author

Use of renewables

All things considered, renewable energy still remains vastly unused. Given the trend of growing population coupled with the growing need to produce even more energy. Thinking of a world only powered by renewable energy sources is something that will take a lot of effort and investment, that might not pay off as we will see. EIA, the US Energy Information Administration is projecting a 50% increase in energy consumption worldwide by 50%. Mostly led by increased energy usage in Asia.

Source: EIA

The main driver behind EIA’s estimates of increased energy consumption are easily explained by an expected growth in the global population. Projections show that by 2050, we will reach 9.7 Billion inhabitants on the planet, from the 7.7 Billion we are today.

Source: Ourworldindata

With the expected energy consumption to rise over 50% in the next 30 years driven by the growing global population. It seems an herculean task for renewables to become the main energy source powering the planet. As they only represent a small fraction of energy produced worldwide.

Cost per energy source

Another aspect that we also have to consider is the cost per energy source. This is extremely important since some underdeveloped countries will obviously prefer cheaper energy sources. Despite the technological advances we have achieved on renewable energy, they still remain expensive, when compared with fossil fuels. 

Given the increased cost of renewable energy and taking into account that we as a planet are completely indebted. It remains very unlikely that renewables will soon become the main energy source of the planet. Our resources are finite, and the honest truth is that people care too little about where their electricity comes from. There is no differentiating factor when using electricity powered by coal, wind, solar or oil. The end result is the same, the light turns on when you press the button independently of the energy source.

Renewables are more expensive

Combine the fact that renewable energy sources are by far a much more expensive option than fossil fuels, with the amount of debt around the world. We can see how it will be an easy choice for some countries to generate power out of fossil fuels. The pandemic has not been favorable for global debt. Global debt is expected to reach a record of $277 trillion by the end of 2020. This equates to 365% of the global GDP.

But the challenges that renewable energy faces don’t end up here. The fact is that fossil fuels have been used to generate power over the years for a number of reasons. The main one is reliability. The ability to press a switch and turn on a light is taken for granted in a sense. For the light to turn energy needs to have been produced, and renewable energies simply do not work when we want them to.

At any given moment power supply and demand must be in balance. Consider a windless and cloudy day. Wind turbines and solar panels will not be able to generate the necessary electricity in those specific days. Also the battery technology is not as advanced, and we don’t have the possibility of storing all the produced energy. Despite being expected to grow, energy storage will only achieve 1000GW by 2040, requiring an investment of $662 billion. Frankly this is not nearly enough to be able to power the whole world with renewable energy.

Duck Curve

Another aspect is the fact that power demand and supply must be in balance. Solar and wind are simply not a reliable source of energy for that reason. Solar presents even more problems, as there is a disparity between the peak demand and peak supply. This is usually referred to as the “Duck Curve”. The name comes from the resemblance to a duck shape of the graphic depicting the energy consumption during the day.

Source: Nuclear Power

It is explained by the fact that most of the energy consumed is after sunset. For that reason we cannot fully rely on solar panels to generate all the electricity that we need. Without adequate storage we won’t be able to fix the problem. When the sun sets fossil fuels are required to balance power supply with power demand.

This in turn generates another problem. Coal or nuclear plants are designed to run at full capacity, in order to be economically viable. By using the energy produced by solar panels coupled with coal and nuclear plants running under capacity. We will incur in much higher energy costs. The only solution for this problem lies in a very advanced battery system. That allows us to store most of the energy we produce. Despite great advancements in battery technology, it is still out of reach.

Pollution

All things considered, renewables remain a challenge to become a reliant and favored source of energy. Not only that but the general public perception is that renewables have near zero gas emissions, which is not entirely true. Every energy source inevitably releases CO2 into our atmosphere.

Source: World Nuclear

But the surprise in this data is the fact that solar panels are very misunderstood by most people. If you look closely at a solar panel, how it is built, its life cycle and the materials used to build it. We can easily understand that in the end they produce more CO2 than Nuclear energy. Most solar panel manufacturers stand by their claim, that a solar panel will last an average of 25 years. After that the toxic trash pile it will leave behind is difficult to recycle. This questions the whole green initiative behind solar energy itself. The process to recycle an entire solar panel is not easy to achieve, and has gotten many people wondering “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?

Source: Greenmatch

Why nuclear?

Most people when they hear the word nuclear have reminiscences of Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island. It is undeniable that nuclear power can turn against us and decimate entire populations and habitats. But at the same time it is a reliable, clean and sustainable source of energy. Afterall nuclear energy is a zero-emission energy source. Another factor is that nuclear energy’s footprint is fairly small compared with renewables. A 1,000 megawatt nuclear facility will require nearly 1 square mile of land to operate. Wind farms will require nearly 360,000 square miles to produce the same amount of energy. If we look at solar it would still take up 75,000 square miles. One other aspect is the minimal waste produced by nuclear plants. Not only that but new ways of recycling nuclear waste have been lately developed with the intention of minimizing waste.

Conclusion

As we can see there are many challenges that we face in order to become carbon neutral. Powering an entire planet is not an easy task, and it requires reliable sources of energy. Despite the advancements in renewable energy technology, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve our goals. Unless energy storage technology takes a big leap forward, these problems will continue to affect our goals. It is undeniable that nuclear energy can serve as an important energy source during the transition to carbon neutrality. Until we find a solution to renewable energy’s problems, nuclear seems to be the most reliable and environment friendly option.

HERE is why uranium prices will surge

Featured image source: IEA

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