Before we dive into the details of renewable energy and the harsh reality that seems to be going unnoticed, lets first take a moment to define what we mean by renewable energy.
Renewable energy is energy produced from or derived from non-fossil fuel sources. The energy production can vary from electricity generation to energy conversion for heating, transportation, fuel etc. To name a few examples of the types of technology we will be discussing are as follows…
We are taking a non-bias approach to this analysis as we have considered both sides of each argument and presented our findings in an easy to understand and simplified way. We would love to get your thoughts so please feel free to get in touch!
Isn't Renewable Energy A Good Thing?
Absolutely, renewable energy is much better than traditional fossil fuels, in a multitude of ways. Unlike fossil fuels which are finite (will run out), renewable sources are infinite in their ability to produce energy without the worry of running out. We will come back to this point later, as while this specific point is valid, as an overall process this might not be the case.
Anything that consumes more than it produces is of course going to be beneficial in “cleaning up”. For example when we refer to carbon emissions; if we have a process that consumes the same amount of CO2 that it produces, then we have a carbon neutral situation which is an ideal system.
We can however look for systems that have negative emissions. This is where the consumption is greater than the production, therefore the quantity of say CO2 will reduce over time. Processes like this will be needed to meet the 2050 emissions targets. You can read more about this in our post about the 2050 targets and if they are realistic.
Granted some renewable energy processes are better than others, and this is where our points become clear when we talk about life-cycle analysis.
What is Life-Cycle Analysis?
Ever heard of “looking at the bigger picture”? Essentially this is life-cycle analysis. As the name suggests we consider the complete lifetime of a process from the beginning to the very end (including decommissioning).
Rather than considering say the production stage of the process, the life-cycle analysis would consider the construction stage of the process, the distribution, and the decommissioning of the process. Within each stage variables such as cost, energy consumption, manpower, infrastructure, and time are all considered.
By performing life-cycle analysis you get a non-bias perspective of the process which is essential when evaluating the success or failure of a project. This is where many claims of performance or outcomes fail when challenged, and this is where our argument begins.
Renewable Electricity is Flawed
Before we go into the details, lets us again reiterate that we are in no way biased against or for any of the examples highlighted in this post. The information is a combination of the merits and demerits of our research.
Let’s consider the production of electricity from wind turbines. First and foremost, any electricity generated from non-fossil fuel sources is a positive and should be explored and optimised. However, the claims made by big companies and governments are flawed, the difference here is that we can back these claims.
If we consider the life-cycle analysis of turbine power, the key points associated with the overall process…
- Manufacturing turbine components (non-recyclable materials).
- Transportation convoy to the turbine site.
- Construction of turbine on site.
- Energy storage systems connected with energy loss.
- Transportation of renewable electricity. generation (option 1).
- Direct entry of electricity to power infrastructure (option 2).
- Decommissioning of turbine site.
- Disposal of equipment not able to be recycled.
Now the actual data for each stage is classified however as a general overview we can make some solid assumptions on overall energy requirements and carbon emissions.
Now by only considering the emissions and energy production within the production of electricity, this will look positive. However, if we consider the amount of emissions given out as a means of erecting the turbine and the high costs incurred, then before we even begin generating electricity, there is a significant deficit both economically and environmentally.
Now let’s say for the energy production the process is net-zero emissions (which it’s not), then this of course sounds like a great energy solution, however, the reality of the situation is that it is far from this hypothetical assertion. Just think of the amount of energy is consumed in all the processes mentioned above and the volume of emissions given out! So does this seem as positive now we have considered every aspect of the process?
The question you may be asking is, well why isn’t there reports or widespread information about this, and why are we being told that this is the solution to the energy crisis and reduction in emissions? As a general observation, it comes down to image. Being seen to be actively campaigning and showing to do your share is often what supersedes the harsh reality. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be optimistic about the future, but right now we need to be realistic!
Aren't The Experts Correct?
Being an expert in something doesn’t mean that your opinion or thoughts are 100% legitimate and that no one dares to question it because you’re an expert. This misconception that what an expert says must be true is what leads to a biased societal scenario.
I was once told that the general public when faced with someone who holds a PhD (or similar degree) will take what they say as 100% legit and true. I wanted to test this theory out and to my amazement, it actually worked, on multiple occasions. So to anyone reading this, just because someone is an “expert” doesn’t mean what they say is completely true, as more often than not you will find their comments and recommendations are predicated on their own belives and biased opinions towards the topic.
So next time you are faced with an expert’s opinion, don’t be afraid to challenge them, ask them why? Ask them to expand on their comments and make them think. This is a great way of building knowledge exchange for both parties.
Being an expert has its advantages and it’s disadvantages. It is very easy to fit a conclusion to a biased hypothesis. For example, you can attempt to make the data fit that confirms your conclusion, and this is flawed logic, and this is where the key selling points of renewable energy are flawed because they are aimed at fitting into a flawed hypothesis.
This isn’t the case for most experts, scientists and engineers, however, there are a number of individuals who frequently exercise their power of knowledge as a means of benefiting their results.
Are Electric Cars Not Better?
While the positive public perception of electric vehicles has been increasing over the past few years, the logic behind them is exactly the same as the renewable electricity generation example we discussed earlier.
My favourite line for electric cars is “well when I go for a drive I don’t harm the environment”… well I am sorry to say but that is simply not the case. In fact, you couldn’t be further from reality.
Again think of the life-cycle analysis of an electric car. Yes considering the actual drive from A to B is not doing the same damage as a traditional diesel engine, however, as we discovered earlier, looking at the overall picture will produce the reality of the claims. So let’s think about the key stages of electric car production that all require energy…
- Mining for expensive metals like Lithium and gold.
- Manufacturing infrastructure to build car batteries.
- Manufacturing the materials and comments of a vehicle i.e., bodywork, interior, electronics etc.
- Testing and safety simulations.
- Distribution of vehicles
- Electricity required to change vehicles.
- Maintenance and infrastructure are needed to service these vehicles.
- Decommissioning and recycling of parts.
Now let’s ask the question again, is electric vehicles as environmentally friendly as they first appeared to be? Of course not, especially now we have looked at the bigger picture. Granted there are fewer emissions as the vehicle is used on a daily basis, but this is based on a comparison from the vehicle itself. To get a true indication, think about the energy requirements to generate the electricity in the first place, then that will be the emissions of your electric vehicle. Crazy right!
To anyone that drives an electric vehicle, don’t be too judgemental and condescending to the ones driving petrol or diesel cars. Make sure you are fully aware of the reality of emissions coming from your electric vehicle first!
What Other Options Are Available?
Sticking with the electric vehicle example there is an obvious and easier solution to combat the emissions issue. As we mentioned previously a potential renewable energy source is biomass. Now biomass comes in a variety of ways, ranging from woodchip to organic waste, and microalgae.
Microalgae have the ability to produce lipids which are essentially fats that can be converted into biofuel and used as a replacement for traditional diesel. Now microalgae have huge potential in both producing sustainable energy while at the same time capturing carbon.
Rather than trying to eradicate all combustion engines and replace them all with electric motors, why not keep the existing infrastructure we have and supplement it with an environmentally friendlier alternative fuel source. This would have huge benefits in a huge range of aspects across the life-cycle analysis.
The process to produce biofuel is much more environmentally friendly compared to the electric generation technology from wind or solar, and this is backed by the life-cycle analysis.
Let’s consider the implication of using biofuel instead of electric vehicles. We already know the associated points with electric vehicles, let’s compare the biofuel points…
Biofuel uses existing vehicles, therefore, reducing the infrastructure required to recycle them. Mining for previous and essential elements is significantly reduced by keeping combustion engines. The CO2 emitted by biofuel will be consumed by microalgae when producing biofuel, resulting in a carbon-neutral process. Significantly less infrastructure is required to produce biofuel compared to producing renewable electricity, as retrofitted existing refineries could provide the infrastructure. There are so more other benefits to this technology!