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Will Renewable Energy Ever Meet All Our Energy Needs? 626

Posted by samzenpus
from the doom-and-gloom dept.
Lasrick writes "Dawn Stover has another great piece detailing why renewable energy will never provide us with all our energy needs. She deconstructs the unrealistic World Wildlife Fund report (co-written by several solar companies) that claims renewables will be able to provide 100% of the energy needs of several countries by 2050. From the article: 'When renewable energy experts get together, they tend to rhapsodize about the possibilities, believing that this will somehow inspire others to make their visions come true. But ambitious plans to power entire countries on solar energy (or wind or nuclear power, for that matter) don't have a snowball's chance in Australia. Such schemes are doomed to fail, and not because of the economic "reality" or the political "reality" -- however daunting those may be. They are doomed because of the physical reality: It's simply not physically possible for the world's human population to continue growing in numbers, affluence, and energy consumption without trashing the planet.'"
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Will Renewable Energy Ever Meet All Our Energy Needs?

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  • by peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! (2743031) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:12PM (#42744671)

    The summary cites solar, wind, and nuclear as not being able to power cities. This is due to the fact that cities need power when they need it, and can't wait for the power to be there intermittandly. Therefore, viable options fall under the designation "baseload" power (power that you can have whenever - and in most cases wherever), and the summary's mention of solar and wind are rightly not grouped in this category.

    Incorrectly, however, the summary mentions nuclear, which is in fact a primary form of baseload power along with coal, gas, or hydro. Nuclear could, can, will, and does power entire cities, in fact, Chicago is roughly over 90% powered by Nuclear energy (rough statistic - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_power_stations_in_Illinois [wikipedia.org]).

  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:12PM (#42744679) Journal

    Renewable Energy can NEVER satisfy 100% of the total energy requirement to run the current human civilization.

    However, if we deconstruct the way we use energy we would find that up to 80% of the energy we are using ended up in waste heat.

    No matter it's in the industrial setting or electricity generation or even the fluorescent light bulbs that we are using right now, waste heat is generated.

    If, and only if, we can get our technology to improve to the level that waste heat is minimized to, let's say 10% or less, then, we will see that we do not need that much energy input anymore.

    This has a ripple effect ... The less energy we need, the less load on the electricity grid and the less need to construct power plant ... and so on ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:19PM (#42744767)

    I lived off grid for 2 years, then had to move back into the city... It's pretty easy, you use batteries for things like lights, and you use high-draw devices when the sun is out and giving you power. No sun, no washing machine. If you change your routine a little, you can fit into renewable energy just fine.

  • by turbidostato (878842) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:27PM (#42744855)

    "Renewable Energy can NEVER satisfy 100% of the total energy requirement to run the current human civilization."

    In other news, renewable energy has ALWAYS satisfied 100% of the total energy requirement to run the human civilization up to date.

    Yes: all that oil comes from Sun.

  • by eepok (545733) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:36PM (#42744957) Homepage

    No. The current status of renewable energy (geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, solar, etc.) can in no way support our current consumption habits.

    Can a more widely implemented renewable energy/less-polluting energy infrastructure support a society that uses less energy? Likely. Or some of us are going to have to die to make room for the bigger consumers lest we all die.

    The plan?

    (1) Assume all fossil-fuel-burning energy plants will shut down in 50 years.
    (2) Begin plans to install the most regionally appropriate renewable energy power plants to support those areas.
    (3) Calculate the energy shortfalls and make plans to supplement with the most reasonable nuclear options (insert arguments about recycling waste, using thorium, etc.)
    (4) Select a demo site, implement, learn, discuss, implement better.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:57PM (#42745197) Journal
    "Sorry boss. I've got to rush home right now. The Sun's out and I've got a load of laundry to do."
  • Re:Obviously (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:01PM (#42745259) Journal

    the nice thing about an ecosystem in a bottle is that nature self corrects on usage of resources. the water evaporates but reforms as dew, the sunlight is temporary but the only form of energy waste, as the plant parts die and are consumed by micro bacteria, which make the co2 for the plants to process.

    the problem is the ecosystem in a bottle is totally ignored by many people. they cling to lies. they cheat. they rise above diseases, or pretend to. humans have clean tap water from underground aquifers. humans have plastic to wrap food in and protect it from competing life forms. if we built a dozen nuclear plants for the sole purpouse of making distilled water to feed our greed for fresh water, and thus made the earth even more inviting to symbiotic life forms (plants) we could exceed the nature easily. but atomic energy and fresh water only make the problem worse, by letting us get our glass bottle ecosystem to absurd levels of production. where nature would stop, humans would proceed. this is a problem created by humans and well known since the romans began moving water to fit their goals for life on earth. and yes atomic energy comes from stars and geothermal comes from natural thorium reactions. so there is plenty of energy but the way we use it is changing and it is scary because no one can find a state where we are 'happy' with what we've done to the earth.

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rrohbeck (944847) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:22PM (#42745509)

    I think this graph summarizes it well: http://media.peakprosperity.com/images/A-brief-history-oi-humans.jpg [peakprosperity.com]

    The people who do the math come up with numbers around 1.5 to 4 or so billions of humans by the end of the century, simply based on the available resources like energy and raw materials by then. How we get there is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • Re:Efficiency (Score:4, Interesting)

    by foniksonik (573572) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @11:58PM (#42746863) Homepage Journal

    If we can reduce the energy consumption of a device, it just means we get to use that energy for other devices, potentially more powerful.
    Consumption of energy will still increase even if devices are made more energy-efficient.

    That's a possibility. Another possibility is that there are only so many devices needed by a person.

    Lighting, cooking, refrigeration, washing, cleaning, heating, viewing, communicating, listening, transporting, making, destroying, storing.

    That's pretty much it.

    Pervasive robotics is the only thing that could create a change in that model.

    Anecdotally I've reduced the number of devices and increased efficiency over time. I've done that while adding four people to my family. That won't hold true for long as my children grow but gone are the days of having a device for everything. Now they are all combined into just a few high efficiency devices. A smartphone, laptop, tablet and TV are all that is needed. The TV is only used a few hours a day by the kids which will get less and less as they become more independent and social life takes over.

    So fewer devices, more efficient energy use - even the appliances are far more efficient and really how many refrigerators can you use? Washer dryer? Dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, toaster, microwave, coffee maker. The list isn't that long and you soon run out of things to buy. Sure you upgrade for efficiency or features every 4-5 years but you just don't buy two coffee makers anymore, you get a Keurig and make a cup at a time regular or decaf or special roast or tea.

    This trend will continue. The big cost is in the manufacturing of new stuff though. That's where the robotics make a difference in a good way (discounting the labor competition) as they are far more efficient than people. They can run at off peak hours, don't require lighting (infrared would work fine), dont need creature comforts or heated work spaces.

    So if we can mature past the wealth based society, robots can do all the work and we'll have plenty of energy for strategic and creative pursuits.

  • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @12:10AM (#42746945)

    Solar energy is a great alternative energy source but the current technology for photovoltaic cells include too many rare earth elements that make them expensive and limit the amount of them that can be made. If you can make solar cells out of cheaper, more abundant materials then solar becomes more likely. Or, you go back to old fashioned boiler plate tech using mirrors to concentrate the light to generate heat to create steam or melt salt. Steam can drive a turbine directly or molten salt can be used as an intermediate storage so that steam can be generated through times when the sun isn't available.

    The rare earth argument never makes any sense. It's suddenly become the "in thing" to throw out "oh too many rare earth's" when anyone mentions electronics or high technology, but no one ever comments on the specifics - it's just been picked up since the China-Japan thing happened.

    PV cells are predominantly thin-wafers of silicon. Doped silicon - but the dopants are not rare-earth's, they're boron/arsenic which are both very common.

    Rare-earth metals are used in high-performance high-speed transistors and permanent magnet electric motors (principally neodymium in that case). They're not used to the produce the materially voluminous bulk of solar cells, although they would be used in grid-feed inverters (presuming they're the non-isolated type - which is not certain either).

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