Monday, 23 May 2022

Renewable energy and the things we need

in the modern world may not be compatible. 

I like the idea of renewable energy. The idea of having some sort of seemingly endless source of power by harnessing the sun or the wind is seemingly full of possibilities. But how realistic is it really?

I know there is so much discussion about this out there that you are probably yawning and saying , "Really Cat! Write about something more interesting or I won't bother with you again."

Right. What about these things - cement, steel, plastics and ammonia?

 I read an article recently by one Vaclav Smil. He talked about these things. He made a simple point. We use more and more of those things every year - and they all require fossil fuels to produce and use. His argument is that we can't cease using fossil fuels while we continue to use these things. We need to use these things in order to feed and house the people on the planet. This is a reality of the modern world.

There are some solar panels on the roof of this house and on other houses in this street. It is that sort of neighbourhood. People have tried to do what they considered to be the right thing. At one point the Senior Cat even considered adding more solar panels. Then he did a little more research and decided against it. As always he discussed it with me. "The benefit is not there," he told me.

And it isn't. Why? Solar panels have to be made - and that requires far more energy than people realise. Presently they also need to be transported - more energy. They do not last forever.  At present there is no way of recycling them and this is becoming an issue. It will be a major issue in just a few short years. They will take up far more space and be the potential cause of much more environmental harm than a container of nuclear "waste" which would take up far less space and provide far more power over a longer period. What is more nuclear power doesn't depend on the wind, the sun or the water. 

We need cement and steel to build the places people live and work in. We need ammonia for the crops which feed them. All of those things take power to produce. 

It seems to me we may need to start considering ways to reduce our energy needs not ways to increase the amount of energy we use. We need to reduce the world's population. A global "replace yourselves" policy would help. Some people will never have children so population would reduce. Yes, there would be a need to take into account the needs of an aging population but increasing the population to take care of them is not the answer. China's "one child" policy was a mistake - something they have recognised - but for couples to have two children and no more? Is that reasonable? 

And we need to put much more time and money into the research and development of nuclear power. The idea that it is dangerous, that it cannot be clean and green, has to be overcome. Those opposed to the use of nuclear power still seem to be ready to embrace the idea of the benefits of modern nuclear medicine.

If we start to do these things could we then reduce our dependence on artificially produced ammonia - the fertiliser which helps to feed so much of the world's population? Let's be realistic we are not going to grow enough food by "organic" means - but we could reduce the amount of fertiliser needed if we reduced the population, ate more food which was grown locally and which was in season.

I know it is all much more complex than that.  It would require massive changes to our lifestyles. Therein lies the problem - all those "climate change" experts want to find "other ways" to reduce emissions. The reality is that it starts with us...and most of us are not prepared to do all it would take.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hopefully we end up with solar-produced ammonia, and steel based on solar-produced hydrogen. Not just energy-to-electricity in a solar cell, but sunlight to make chemical changes happen. is an interesting (open access) look at what would be needed to make the ammonia happen.
The cement is the trickiest in some ways - the CO2 is part of the chemistry, not just generated because it's an energy-intensive process. But there are other options.