Key Challenges Facing Renewable Energy.
Key Challenges Facing Renewable Energy –
Renewable energy, like wind, solar, biomass, hydro power and others, is not exactly new. These have been around for a long time.
The big challenge to such renewable forms of energy is actually not much different from the challenges that they faced 10 years ago, 3 decades ago, or even a century ago. It really all boils down to distribution, intensity and cost.
It’s easy to wrap our minds around the concept of cost. In fact, if you’re looking at just figures of dollars and cents, and you compare cost charts and graphics with the figures from fossil fuels, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. It’s easy to think that renewable energy in and of itself is simply not ready for primetime. There’s really no other way to say it according to people who just focus on the costs.
What if I told you that there are more things to consider besides monetary costs? Sure, on a watt-per-watt basis, solar energy is still more expensive than fossil fuel-based electricity. This is undeniable and indisputable. That’s just how it is, but there are also other types of costs. There are social costs, cultural costs, costs to the environment, costs that we can’t readily appreciate or even detect right now.
Accordingly, instead of just looking at the cost and benefit analysis purely from a financial perspective, we should also be open to a wider definition of the concept of cost. If we were able to do that, I think we would be in a better position to truly appreciate the costs that we are dealing with. If it’s just money, then it’s too easy to rush into something that may turn out to be a dead end.
Moreover, it’s possible that it causes so much more problems than it solves. We’ve done this before, and it’s no surprise that we’re reaping the consequences of that in our time.
The Problem of Intensity
One common complaint against renewable energy is the fact that it’s not intense enough. This is absolutely true.
On a wind farm, it’s anybody’s guess if the wind is going to be blowing in the right direction and with the right amount of velocity to generate enough electricity. This has always been one of the drawbacks of renewable energy. It’s kind of joined at the hip with the other drawbacks of geolocation, which I will address below.
As far as intensity is concerned, it really all boils down to diversity. If you have a wind patch or a windmill area that has a higher than normal chance of experiencing high velocity winds, it’s surely a good idea to put a wind farm there, but you shouldn’t stop there. There should be alternative places just in case the wind doesn’t appear at the right place at the right time. Do you see where I’m coming from here? A little bit of diversity goes a long way.
What’s holding this back of course is that it is the reality that wind farms do cost a lot of money. The counter argument to that is as more local government units embrace alternative or renewable energy policies, the cost will go down thanks to economies of scale.
Additionally, a lot of wind generation technology is shifting to China with its lower cost base, and this can have a revolutionary effect on the overall cost profile of wind farms, as well as solar panels. In fact, in solar panels, the shift to Chinese manufacturing has dramatically sunk the price of solar energy.
We’re still not at the point where it’s a runaway commercial success, but we’re getting there. If you look at how much solar panels cost now compared to as recently as twenty years ago, it’s as if the price crashed to the floor. It’s simply nothing short of amazing, and I suspect that, given China’s renewed emphasis on robotics and automated manufacturing, the price is going to sink even more.
Another drawback to renewable energy is the fact that it is restricted by geography. For example, if you want to get hydro power and produce hydroelectric energy, you have to have a river. That river has to have enough water, enough depth, and there has to be a lot of other factors there.
Accordingly, when you take any geographic area, the limit is there, assuming that you have any available at all. Again, the work around here is the concept of diversity. If you don’t have any rivers, try solar. If you don’t have any solar, but you’re near the coast, try tidal.
Renewable energy has many different faces. It’s not just one monolith that gives you like a fixed menu as far as your selections are concerned. A little bit of creativity and a large amount of diversity can go a long way in increasing the percentage of renewable energy sources in any given geographic regions.