Renewable energy is the way of the future, we are told. It is inevitable. Some renewable energy advocates boldly claim that the world could be powered by renewable energy as early as 2030 – with enough government subsidies, that is. And of course, the mainstream media play their part, hyping up the virtues of solar and wind energy as the solution to climate change.
In one regard, they are quite right: in terms of generational capacity, wind and solar have grown by leaps and bounds in the last three decades (wind by 24.3% per year since 1990, solar by 46.2% per year since 1990). However, there are two questions worth asking: (i) are renewable energies making a difference, and (ii) are they sustainable?
To answer the first question: No, wind and solar energy have not made a dent in global energy consumption, despite their rapid growth. In fact, after thirty years of beefy government subsidies, wind power still meets just 0.46% of earth’s total energy demands, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The data include not only electrical energy but also energy consumed via liquid fuels for transportation, heating, cooking, etc. Solar generates even less energy. Even combined, the figures are minuscule: wind and solar energy together contribute less than 1% of Earth’s energy output.
Bottom line: Renewables are not making a difference. It would be far more cost-effective and reasonable to simply invest in more energy-efficient technology. But of course, doing so would not line the pockets of billionaires like Elon Musk.
To answer the second question: Is renewable energy sustainable? Is the future wind- and solar-powered?
Looking first at wind energy: Between 2013 and 2014, again using IEA data, global energy demand grew by 2,000 terawatt-hours. In order to meet this demand, we would need to build 350,000 new 2-megawatt wind turbines – enough to entirely blanket the British Isles. For context, that is 50% more turbines than have been built globally since the year 2000. Wind power is not the future; there is simply not enough extraditable energy. Unfortunately, better technology cannot overcome this problem: turbines can become only so efficient due to the Betz limit, which specifies how much energy can be extracted from a moving fluid. Wind turbines are very close to that physical limit.
The state of solar energy is only slightly more promising. Recent findings suggest that humanity would need to cover an equatorial region the size of Spain with solar panels in order to generate enough electricity to meet global demand by 2030. Not only is this an enormous amount of land that could otherwise be used for agriculture, or left pristine, but it also underestimates the size of the ecological footprint, since only 20% of mankind’s energy consumption takes the form of electricity. Were we to switch to electric vehicles, the area needed would be five times as large.
Read more at American Thinker
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