A Tiny Wind in the World’s Energy Sails

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If renewables don’t cut it as an alternative energy source, we have to meet the demand in other ways. Could this mean that renewable doesn’t equal sustainable?Let’s not let the wind get knocked out of us by overly relying on the wrong power source.

32, 1, 30, 1/2.

Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute lists these numbers in a recent article about the viability of renewable energy dependence. These figures present the facts of life as he wants policy makers to see them.

Bryce says worldwide carbon dioxide emissions have grown 32 percent since 2002, and the developing world, not the U.S., is mainly responsible.

He says wind has a very low power density of 1 watt per square meter, so it requires lots of space to produce this kind of energy.

30: world daily energy use is the equivalent of the oil production of about 30 Saudi Arabias. “Of that 30 Saudi Arabias of daily energy consumption, we get 10 from oil, nine from coal, seven from natural gas, two from hydro and 1 1/2 from nuclear,” explains Bryce. The last 1/2 is from renewable energy (minus hydro).

So the question arises: Could renewables actually replace or even compete with traditional sources of energy if we wanted them to?

According to Bryce’s example, it would at least be rather cumbersome as far as wind power goes:

“Consider how much land it would take for wind energy to replace the power the U.S. now gets from coal. In 2011, the U.S. had more than 300 billion watts of coal-fired capacity. Replacing that with wind would require placing turbines over about 116,000 square miles, an area about the size of Italy. And because of the noise wind turbines make — a problem that has been experienced from Australia to Ontario — no one could live there.”

He says offshore wind turbines could be just as controversial and more expensive.

His solution for those concerned both about carbon emissions while aiding the developing world that depends on coal? Use the practical, cost-effective resources we already have: natural gas and nuclear energy.

As much as we want renewable sources of energy, if renewables can’t ever meet our energy demands, is it truly realistic to want to replace traditional sources with them on a major scale? And what about the consequences of trying to pursue such an unrealistic goal?

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