The only question on renewables is when

2008-07-19

in Economics, Geek stuff, Law, Politics, The environment

Goliath beetle

One of the most active debates within the environmental community is how much of our energy we should be getting from renewable sources in the near to medium-term. There are those who assert that it is too scarce or intermittent to provide more than a small share, thus making things like nuclear fission and carbon capture and storage necessary. Then, there are those who assert that with more efficiency and a better grid, we can move to a renewable-dominated grid within the next few decades.

Ultimately, it seems important to remember that the only real questions on renewables are ‘which ones’ and ‘when.’ By definition, we cannot keep using any other kind of power indefinitely. Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that renewables will soon be a more desirable option overall, even when fuel scarcity and climate change are not taken into account. Both questions have their technical sides: the relative appeal of different options depends on technology, funding issues, and physical circumstances. Both questions also raise issues of preferences and fairness.

Yes, there is a danger of moving too quickly and suffering from early adoption problems and the later emergence of superior technology. There is also, of course, a danger of falling behind and suffering from dependence upon energy sources in decline. Striking the right balance requires good engineering, good policy-making, and the vision to build a better world.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

t July 19, 2008 at 11:05 am

“Striking the right balance requires good engineering, good policy-making, and the vision to build a better world.”

Sometimes I wonder how this kind of thinking differentiates itself from the utopian communistic vision that the revolution is “inevitable”. The Frankfurt school has already pretty convincingly argued that even if the revolution was in a sense destined, the sense of its inevitability will hold it off indefinitely.

Milan July 19, 2008 at 11:22 am

‘Unsustainable’ really is that. The question is which sustainable equilibrium we will reach: a few thousand miserable humans living off sustainable plant and animal matter growing near their scattered bands, or billions of humans approximating our current global arrangement, using the sun and wind and heat of the Earth for energy.

Anon July 19, 2008 at 11:47 am

There is one other logical possibility:

1) There are a great many non-renewable sources of energy which we haven’t discovered yet.

2) We discover and use them sequentially.

3) Something happens that would have wiped out renewables too: comet or meteor impact, death of the sun, heat death, etc.

Call it ‘perpetual leapfrogging.’

Kerrie July 20, 2008 at 9:15 am

I think I saw the same bug outside my bathroom yesterday.

Milan July 21, 2008 at 10:56 am

Call it ‘perpetual leapfrogging.’

Admittedly, it is a logical possibility.

That said, genuinely new forms of non-renewable energy don’t seem to emerge often. Coal, oil, and gas have been understood as basic fuels since ancient times.

Arguably, the only new form of non-renewable energy for thousands of years has been nuclear fission.

Milan July 21, 2008 at 10:57 am

Kerrie,

Just be happy you didn’t see their larvae.

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