Published in a scientific journal Energies new analysisconducted by a team of Irish and American researchers, including CERES researchers, raises unexpected and disturbing questions about the feasibility of switching to renewable energy sources, as well as their impact on the environment. Fears of climate change have led to huge investments in new “green energy” programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts from the fossil fuel industry. During 2011-2018, the world spent $ 3.66 trillion on projects related to climate change. 55% of this amount was spent on solar and wind energy, and only 5% on adaptation to extreme weather events.
Global spending related to solving the problem of climate change, 2011‒2018 Solar and wind energy: 55%. adaptation to climatic events: 5%.
Unexpected impact on the environment
Researchers have found that sometimes renewable energy sources contribute to the problems they are designed to solve. For example, a series of international studies found that both wind and solar power plants themselves cause local climate change. Wind parks raise the temperature of the soil beneath them, and this warming causes soil microbes to release more carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide). That is, the irony is that while wind power partially reduces human “carbon emissions”, it also increases the “carbon emissions” from natural sources.
The photographs show two different kinds of “tailwind influence” in wind farms off the Danish coasts. (a) Photo by Christian Steiness showing the effect of cold, moist air passing over a warmer sea surface (2013). (b) Photo by Bel Air Aviation Denmark – Helicopter Services demonstrates the effect of warm, humid air passing over a colder sea surface (2017).
Green energy technologies require a tenfold increase in the extraction of mineral resources compared to electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. Likewise, replacing just 50 million of the world’s approximately 1.3 billion passenger cars with electric vehicles would require more than doubling the world’s annual production of cobalt, neodymium and lithium, and harnessing more than half of the annual copper production.
In addition, solar and wind parks require 100 times more land surface than electricity from fossil fuels, and the resulting changes in land use patterns can have devastating effects on biodiversity. The impact of bioenergy on biodiversity is even worse, and the increased use of crops such as palm oil for biofuel production has already contributed to the destruction of rain forests and other natural environments.
Confusing financial implications
More than half (55%) of global climate spending for 2011-2018 was spent on solar and wind energy – $ 2.0 trillion. Despite this, in 2018, wind and solar energy produced only 3% of global energy consumption, while fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) produced 85% in total. Some researchers believe this raises pressing questions about the cost of switching to 100% renewable energy.
The lead author of the analysis, Koilin Ohaiseadha, says:
“The world spent $ 2 trillion to increase the share of solar and wind generated energy from half a percent to three percent, and it took eight years. What will be the cost of increasing its share to 100%? How long will it take? “
World energy consumption by share of energy sources, 2018. BP data (2019).
Frightening engineering challenges
Engineers have always known that large solar and wind parks are plagued by the so-called “periodicity problem.” Unlike traditional sources of electricity generation, which provide a continuous and reliable supply of energy on demand 24/7, wind and solar parks only generate electricity when there is wind or sunlight.
Co-author of the new analysis, Dr. Ronan Connolly, points out:
“Consumers in the average household expect their refrigerators and freezers to run continuously, and their lights can be turned on whenever they want. Those promoting wind and solar energy must acknowledge that they are unable to provide such a continuous supply of energy on demand across the country to which modern society is accustomed. “
The problem cannot be solved simply by using large-scale accumulator batteries, because this will require huge batteries that occupy many hectares of land. Tesla has manufactured a large battery to stabilize the power grid in South Australia. It has a capacity of 100 MW and produces 129 MWh, while occupying a hectare. One article analyzed in this new study says that if the Canadian state of Alberta switches from coal to renewable energy, using natural gas and storage as backup sources, it will need 100 of these large batteries to meet peak loads.
Some researchers suggest that fluctuations in energy production can be balanced by the creation of continental transmission networks, such as a network connecting wind farms in northwestern Europe with solar farms in the southeast, but this will require massive investment. This is likely to create bottlenecks where there is not enough connection capacity; in addition, it will not eliminate the fundamental vulnerability – calm and cloudy weather, which can last for several days.
Damage to the poorest
A series of studies by scientists in Europe, the United States and China show that the carbon tax places the greatest burden on the poorest households and rural residents.
Although the main motivation for introducing green energy projects was fears of climate change, only 5% of the cost of climate was associated with adaptation to climate events. This includes helping developing countries better respond to extreme climate events such as hurricanes. The need to build climate adaptation infrastructure and emergency response systems can conflict with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because fossil fuels are generally the most affordable source of cheap energy for development.
On the issue of indigenous peoples, the analysis highlights the fact that all energy technologies can have a significant impact on local communities, especially if they are not properly consulted. The mining of cobalt, which is needed to create electric vehicle batteries, has a serious impact on the health of women and children in mining areas, where mining is often carried out in uncontrolled, small, artisanal mines. The extraction of lithium, also required for the production of electric vehicle batteries, requires large volumes of water, can cause pollution and a shortage of clean water supplies for local residents.
The lead author of the analysis, Koilin Ohaiseadha, points out:
“The Standing Rock Sioux conflict with the Dakota Access Pipeline has been widely reported around the world, but what about the impact of cobalt mining on the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the impact of lithium mining on people in the Atacama Desert? Remember the slogan that was spoken in Standing Rock? Mni Wiconi! “Water is life!” This is true for the Standing Rock Sioux, who are worried that an oil spill could pollute the river, and for the Atacama Desert, who is concerned that lithium mining will pollute the groundwater. “
Brief description of the article
The analysis, published in the September 16 special issue of Energies magazine, consists of 39 pages with 14 color graphics and two tables. It examines in detail the costs associated with climate change, as well as the pros and cons of all possible solutions to the problem: wind energy, solar energy, hydropower, nuclear energy, fossil fuels, bioenergy and geothermal energy. To compile the analysis, the researchers scrutinized hundreds of research articles published in English across a wide range of fields, including mechanical engineering, environmental protection, energy and climate policy. The final report contains links to 255 research papers in all of these areas and concludes with a table showing the pros and cons of all energy technologies. The research team members were located in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States.
The analysis was published as a publicly available peer-reviewed article and can be downloaded for free at the following URL: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/13/18/4839…
Full name: ÓhAiseadha, C .; Quinn, G .; Connolly, R .; Connolly, M .; Soon, W. Energy and Climate Policy – An Evaluation of Global Climate Change Expenditure 2011–2018… Energies 2020, 13, 4839.
Financing: S.O., G.K. and M.K. did not receive external funding for working on this article. R.K. and V.S. received financial support from the Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences (CERES) while conducting research for this article. The mission of CERES is to disseminate progressive and independent scientific knowledge. For this reason, CERES donors are strictly prohibited from influencing both the direction of research and the results of CERES ‘work.
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