Renewable energy is the most sustainable way to generate power, and we must continue to develop the various technologies in order to replace fossil fuels.
Why should we continue to develop renewable energy? We believe there are three key reasons:
- Environmental Impact
- Human Health
- Energy Security
Environmental Impact. Traditional fossil fuels are powerful and familiar sources of energy, but will eventually run out. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form, and only seconds to consume. When fossil fuels are burned, they emit carbon which traps heat in our planet’s atmosphere.
People also tend to neglect the greenhouse gas emissions involved with extracting fossil fuels. Drilling oil wells and transporting fuels all have associated greenhouse gas emissions. The image below shows how much methane is leaking from the aging gas pipelines in Boston. As you can see, fossil fuels can contribute to climate change even if they are not getting burned.
In the renowned book “Physics for Future Presidents”, the author (Richard A. Mueller) makes a statistical calculation on the likelihood that the link between human generated CO2 and climate change is causal. He states that:
- The observed warming from 1957 to now has < 5% chance to be a result of ordinary climate variation. Something has forced the climate to change. The causes can range from solar variation to human produced CO2.
- There is a > 90% chance that humans are responsible for at least some of the warming.
There is little debate on whether using fossil fuels is affecting the climate – the main point of contention is how large the effect is.
Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and tidal do not run out (at least not until the sun stops shining), and have a smaller environmental footprint than fossil fuels. Depending on the type of renewable energy source, the construction of the technology may result in carbon emissions. However, the operation of the renewable energy technology typically generates no carbon.
Human Health. Even if you don’t believe that climate change is real, it is unacceptable that over seven million people die every year from pollution. That’s more than murders, suicides, and car accidents – combined.
Coal power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. These emissions eventually make their way into bodies of water and contaminates the food chain. The consumption of mercury-laden fish by pregnant women has been associated with neurological and neurobehavioral effects in infants.
A 2013 study aimed to determine the economic impacts of fossil fuel use on people’s health, and accounts for factors such as illnesses, premature mortality, lost workdays, and healthcare. This study found the following health costs associate with using fossil fuels:
- 32 cents per kWh for coal
- 13 cents per kWh for oil
- 2 cents per kWh for natural gas
Renewable energy sources have a very minimal effect on human health as they do not produce harmful emissions.
Energy Security. Fossil fuel resources are typically concentrated in certain geographical areas. As the easily accessible reserves are depleted, it becomes more expensive to extract additional resources. Since all modern militaries depend on oil to power their mechanized forces, a secure supply of fossil fuels is a matter of national security.
Securing fossil fuel supplies have certainly resulted in not only geopolitical tensions, but actual wars.
Renewable energy sources such as solar are available locally, and allows nations to generate their own power. The ability to generate power in your own backyard reduces the dependence on imported sources of energy such as oil, gas, and coal.
In order to decarbonize our energy infrastructure and move toward a renewable energy future, we need to utilize an “All of the Above” approach.