Renewable Energy's Hidden Cost
have written in the past that I have always been a huge proponent of
research and development into all sorts of energy conversion systems,
be they wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, hydrocarbon, biomass,
chemical, or whatever. What I oppose and resent is the politicization
of the system where people and groups with agendas (that often includes
schemes for enriching and empowering themselves and their crones) feed
fallacious and obfuscating data to the public in order to gain acceptance.
The generally tech-ignorant and celebrity-stunned public is sadly all
too willing to fall in line, particularly when convinced (a simple task)
that they are being cheated by anyone with a little bit more than they
have, and therefore deserve to have that wealth redistributed - to themselves.
Modern day examples are superabundant.
magazine, sister publication of Nature, is no right-wing rag
by anyone's estimation. If challenged to classify its political bent,
I would place it squarely in the Libertarian camp, that is, socially
liberal and fiscally conservative. When its article authors are not
taking gratuitous pot shots at religious people, they are extremely
honest in their assessments and conclusions on matters of science (which
is where their focuses should remain, not on people's personal beliefs).
Even when I do not agree with a particular viewpoint, the integrity
reliable for incredibly informative graphics and amazing artistry, the
October 2013 edition of SciAm presented a chart depicting the total
global greenhouse gas emission from metal production for various
forms of energy conversion processes. The thumbnail image below uses
circles whose areas (assumed, vs. relative diameters) indicate the quantity
of each metal (denoted by color) required to produce one kilowatt-hour
of energy. The monstrous yellow circle is silver content needed for
solar energy (photovoltaic cells); it looks like a scale drawing of
the sun and planets - perhaps no coincidence since it is for solar energy
(I told you those SciAm folks are clever). The second largest circle
also belongs to solar, and it is for tin. Molybdenum, copper, zinc,
nickel, aluminum, and iron are the other metals needed by almost all
sources. Believe it or not, there is at least a trace amount of uranium
used by every process except hydro. As you might guess, the types of
energy production systems that need the smallest amount of metals for
processing are coal, gas, hydro, and oil. Nuclear owns the big blue
Keep in mind that the circles indicate not the
quantity of each metal consumed per energy generation process type,
but the greenhouse gas creation as a result of the mining, processing,
and, I assume, end use. To be fair, the types with the big circles are
relatively fledgling technologies and the learning curve is just beginning
to steepen to where higher efficiencies will eventually be realized.
However, at the same time advances are being made in the traditional
energy sources that are making them more efficient and more environmentally
friendly. Techniques for cleaner burning of coal and gas are constantly
breaking new ground, as are the methods used for mining the raw materials.
Fracking (hydraulic fracturing), for example, has recently seen great
advances in terms of backfill material with reduced or totally eliminated
toxicity. Coal scrubbing processes are following suit to minimize chemical
holding areas and unintentional runoff.
Like it or not, mankind
requires abundant and cheap access to energy to survive and thrive.
Posted September 25,