Energy Efficiency

Our thinkheadedness is causing the planet to suffer and it doesn't have to be that way!

Energy Production: is Short-Termism Killing our Planet?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that about only 11% of world marketed energy consumption is from renewable energy sources. A continued dependence on fossil fuels for energy production means that one day we will completely deplete the available resource reserves. At current rate this day could be as close as a quarter century away.

Change our Energy Production MethodsUnder tremendous and increasing pressure politicians will have to address the fossil fuel and pollution crisis. Difficult questions will have to be answered. Key among them are: What alternative energy sources exist to replace our present great dependency on petroleum? New technologies are likely to need around 50 years to replace existing sources in terms of convenience of use. Can they be obtained in significant quantity and how widespread around the world are they? What are their environmental impacts?

It would be ideal if Governments began dealing with these problems now, but in democratic societies, political representatives are elected for short terms, having little motivation to adopt costly, sustainable, long-term energy policies with the aim of preparing for the inevitable energy crisis.

Highlighting the Problem

Global Energy Demands:

Graph about Global Energy DemansThe table above charts how global demand for energy since 1980, with current projections aiming to take usage above 600 quadrillion Btu in 2025, double the level experienced in 1980.

Global Energy Sources

Global Energy Sources GraphEven with the threat of total depletion looming, Governments appear reluctant to switch away from this reliance on fossil fuels for energy production. This article explores some of the potential implications this is having on the environment and how renewable energy sources could offer the balanced solution where demand is met and environmental impacts are reduced.

Negative Implications of Non-Renewable Energies

Atmospheric Impact

EPA: Emissions by AreaImage Credit: EPA. Source

Burning fossil fuels emits harmful greenhouse gases into the air. These gases, primarily carbon dioxide, damage the ozone layer which acts as a shield from the sun’s radiation. The air pollution also negatively affects our respiratory health. A 2004 study concluded that pollution from coal-powered plants shortened nearly 24,000 lives a year in the U.S alone.

Acid Rain

Acid rain is caused by a chemical reaction that begins when compounds including sulphur dioxide (a bye-product of coal fired power stations) and nitrogen oxides are released into the air. These substances are met with oxygen and water to form acidic rain water.

Corrosive to buildings and detrimental to local ecosystems through the destruction of forests and pollution of lakes. According to the World Resources Institute, acid rain is now particularly problematic in areas of southeast China, northeast India, Thailand, and the Republic of Korea that are in or downwind of urban and industrial centers. Research in the late 1990s has shown high levels of acid rain in these areas and has linked this to declines in crop yields and tree growth.

Environmental Disasters

Excavation and transportation of fossil fuels can lead to a range of disasters including oil spills. Oil spills are extremely hazardous to nearby shores and ecosystems. They are also economically damaging. Analysts estimated British Petroleum’s oil spill of 2010 would cost $2.5 billion in losses to the Louisiana fishing market alone. A study one year on from the disaster highlighted how close to 7,000 birds, animals and mammals were killed as a direct result of the catastrophe, with many more thousands heavily contaminated by the oil.

Using Renewable Energy to Combat Environmental Issues

Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to data aggregated by the International Panel on Climate Change, life-cycle global warming emissions associated with renewable energy; including manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance, and dismantling and decommissioning are minimal.

Compared with natural gas, which emits between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (CO2E/kWh), and coal, which emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of CO2E/kWh, wind emits only 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E/kWh, solar 0.07 to 0.2, geothermal 0.1 to 0.2, and hydroelectric between 0.1 and 0.5.

Improve Air Quality

Generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offers significant public health benefits. The air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and it reduces overall healthcare costs.

Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions. While geothermal and biomass energy systems emit some air pollutants, total air emissions are generally much lower than those of coal, and natural gas-fired power plants.

Renewable Energy Powering the World

According to the IPCC, renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades – but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.

The infographic below was created by Solar Wow to accompany the article, providing a visual representation of the concerns raised through continued dependence on fossil fuels for energy production.

Solar Wow Inforgraphic

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