Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I Support Renewable Energy

I was asked recently why I, a former oil company employee, and now an attorney, am so much in favor of renewable energy.  Don't I know that renewables are intermittent, unreliable, too expensive, and too dilute to ever replace the fossil fuels?  

Waxing a bit philosophical here, but I see many worthy reasons to pursue renewable energy over fossil energy and especially over nuclear energy. Nothing is free, but all products must carry the cost of their raw materials, production, and maintenance. Even a canister of compressed air is not free, yet the raw material (air) is certainly free. Nor is a bottle of spring water free, although the water flows eternally from a spring. Not even hydroelectric power is free, although the rain falls freely from the sky to fill the reservoir behind the dam.

But I disagree with some about using coal, oil, and especially nuclear power. I leave natural gas to the side for the moment. My point is that combustion of fossil fuels is not truly clean, but produces various levels of toxic substances, such as SOx, NOx, soot or particulate matter, and in the case of coal, mercury, plus ash that contains solid toxics. I also have written about this elsewhere on this blog, and hope to see the day when all our energy needs are provided by clean renewable sources such as hydroelectric, wind, solar, wave, ocean thermal, and ocean current, and possibly geothermal.

I foresee a day when oil can and will be used exclusively for high-value purposes such as petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, lubrication, and asphalt. When that day comes, oil will drop in price due to low demand, and pharmaceuticals will also drop at least somewhat in price. Lower prices for medical drugs are good for society. The world political balance will shift dramatically, and some of the current tensions will ease.  Transportation will be petroleum-free, as electric vehicles and hydrogen from electrolysis will provide motive power. 

As for nuclear power, in my view, it is now completely uneconomic, unnecessary, and should be forever banned. That should be the goal of every country, and any world-wide body such as the U.N. I am encouraged each time I read that another planned nuclear power plant is cancelled due to inability to obtain the exorbitant financing.

I look forward to the day when the engineers, my clients, can proudly state that the renewable power systems they developed provides power that is cheaper than any other power, also more reliable, more abundant, more secure, and less polluting than any other power source. No more coal miners need die deep underground, or from breathing black coal dust. No more children need grow up with the spectre of nuclear bombs falling on their heads. No more poor and elderly need make horrible choices between heating their homes or buying medicines or buying food. No more people anywhere need suffer from a lack of abundant, fresh, clean water, as they will have sufficient cheap energy to make fresh water out of seawater or brackish water. No more people anywhere need suffer from tainted food because they will have abundant, and cheap, electric power for refrigerators and freezers. No more people need sleep miserably in hot, humid homes while fighting off mosquitoes and flies, but will sleep in air conditioned comfort with the insects buzzing outside.

The promises that were made in the 1950's by the nuclear power engineers regarding abundant power, that is too cheap to meter, will finally be realized. However, it will not be nuclear power providing that cheap energy, it will be a mix of renewable energy sources coupled to reliable energy storage systems.  No matter how cheap uranium is, nor how efficient it is at producing electrical power, nothing is cheaper than free.  Wind is free.  Sunshine is free.  Ocean currents are free.   Rain is free.  

Those are worthy goals for renewable energy, and CO2 has nothing to do with any of it. The engineers are close, and getting closer.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

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