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The Myth of Renewable Energy

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the in-the-long-run-we're-all-exhausted dept.

Earth 835

Harperdog writes to this "Excellent piece by Dawn Stover about what renewables can and can't do. The sun and wind may be practically inexhaustible, but 'renewable' energy isn't. Solar, wind, and geothermal power are not fundamentally different from other energy technologies that consume finite natural resources. Good reading for anyone who thinks they know how to combat climate change."

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Renewable or infinite? (5, Insightful)

jtoj (537440) | about 2 years ago | (#38158452)

Renewable doesnt mean infinite.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (5, Informative)

FTWinston (1332785) | about 2 years ago | (#38158472)

The argument being made is that expensive and potentially hazardous materials are required to make wind turbines and solar panels.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (1, Insightful)

stanlyb (1839382) | about 2 years ago | (#38158484)

Yep, like the hybrid, they burn less, but if you calculate the amount they burnt to actually build them......

Re:Renewable or infinite? (5, Interesting)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#38158512)

Solar panels would not surprise me -- semiconductor manufacturing is not exactly eco-friendly. As for wind turbines, I cannot help but think of the kid in Africa who built them out of recycled auto parts.

Really the question is, are these things better on the whole than fossil and nuclear fuels? I suspect that the answer is yes, although I am not an expert. Only people who live in shacks in Montana are seriously arguing that humanity can or should live without disturbing the environment at all; but we can at least try to not completely wreck the planet.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (4, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 2 years ago | (#38158552)

You can argue that making and charging EV's just shifts the problem downstream to the power plants, many of which are coal-fired, but having all of the pollution more localized still makes a difference in the environment and quality of life.

Just sucks to be you if you happen to live near a coal plant or an unsafe nuke plant.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158574)

thermal plants have better efficiency than explosion engines in car.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (0)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#38158678)

thermal plants have better efficiency than explosion engines in car.

Although the thermal plant might have more efficiency, depending on the level of NIMBY, the transmission losses and the overhead of maintaining base-load for the electric grid may make the actual net efficiency closer than anyone may like... Sadly, reality is a must-satisfy condition in this analysis...

Re:Renewable or infinite? (5, Insightful)

jackspenn (682188) | about 2 years ago | (#38158652)

I would argue nuclear is the best solution. It has the smallest impact and the greatest potential for recycling and reusing materials. The problem with nuclear power is the fear people have about it.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158704)

The problem with nuclear power is the fear people have about it.

Also the huge amounts of water required to run a nuclear plant. It's not a problem now but it will be in the future.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (4, Informative)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 2 years ago | (#38158740)

That's entirely dependent on current nuclear reactors (BWR, PWR, which all share the "water reactor" part in common). Molten salt reactors would need a lot less water.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (5, Interesting)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#38158732)

Nuclear power is not really renewable -- eventually all the uranium and thorium on Earth will be mined, and then we will need to start finding new sources of energy (or mining celestial bodies). I think nuclear power is part of the answer, but on its own it is not enough.

I used to be a big fan of wind, but I am starting to lean in the direction of (properly managed) biomass these days, for the following reasons:
  1. Terrain that could not otherwise be farmed for food can be put to use
  2. Existing coal plants can be converted at relatively low cost to use biomass power
  3. The ashes can simply be spread on the biomass farming areas to replenish minerals in the soil (compare to coal ash, which cannot be used in this way)
  4. If properly managed, it is carbon-neutral or nearly so (on a reasonable timescale)

Re:Renewable or infinite? (1)

Leuf (918654) | about 2 years ago | (#38158576)

But once you have the rare earth metals in the wind turbine, do they wear out?

Re:Renewable or infinite? (1)

FTWinston (1332785) | about 2 years ago | (#38158610)

Well, every manufactured thing has a limited lifespan ... but I'd guess that they can be recycled - and that it is probably economically feasible to do so (or that it will be in 30 years or whenever the current generation start to expire)

Re:Renewable or infinite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158648)

Even steel constructions are recycled today, why the fuck shouldn't a ton of rare earth stuff be worth it?

Re:Renewable or infinite? (5, Informative)

JMJimmy (2036122) | about 2 years ago | (#38158752)

Unfortunately the article glosses over the fact that far more of those expensive and [s]potential[/s] actually hazardous materials are required to make carbon and nuclear based power generating stations. It also glosses over the lifespan of those products vs their counterparts (largely because no one bothers to collate the data on all the replacement parts that need to go into existing stations). The argument has never been that these solutions are perfect, nor infinite. The argument for green tech is that it's better overall and more sustainable than what we're currently doing.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (4, Insightful)

siride (974284) | about 2 years ago | (#38158818)

I think the real point is that we're fucked. Yes, fossil fuels and nuclear are worse, but wind/solar/biomass/geothermal won't save us either, for the same reasons. Although each individual installation may not be as environmentally or economically detrimental as a fossil fuel or nuclear installation, the fact that you have to have so many more "renewable" installations to meet the same energy needs counteracts that.

The takeaway from this article is that we have to change our energy needs and growth model. There's simply no way to continue down this path, no matter what "green" technologies are developed. Energy isn't free. Energy production has side-effects. The only real solution is to use less and less of it.

Re:Renewable or infinite? (4, Insightful)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 2 years ago | (#38158604)

Almost everything is renewable. It's the cost of renewing it.

I'm sure we could burn fossil fuels, capture the emissions from the air, send it to some plant, combine with energy and other things, and recreate the fossil fuel.

Don't worry (5, Interesting)

RStonR (2471390) | about 2 years ago | (#38158474)

After all, why worry when you know that global warming is good for world peace [] ?

Re:Don't worry (2)

RoLi (141856) | about 2 years ago | (#38158496)

As crazy as that may sound, it may actually be true. After all we talk about the medieval optimum (= warm, peace and progress) and the "little ice age" (= cold, wars and misery)

Re:Don't worry (1, Troll)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#38158516)

Indeed, cold kills. Only fools think that a planet that's 1C warmer would be a bad place to live.

Re:Don't worry (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | about 2 years ago | (#38158728)

So does drought and famine. Some parts of the world would likely become more habitable than they are now, but others would have water shortages and resulting famine.

But, then again, you're trolling so I doubt that it's going to make a difference.

Re:Don't worry (3, Interesting)

radaghast (1672864) | about 2 years ago | (#38158556)

The world is not as Euro-centric as most of our history lessons. I doubt the mass 'migration' of millions of pacific islander will do any wonders for world peace.

Re:Don't worry (1)

Darfeld (1147131) | about 2 years ago | (#38158612)

Brass Yourself. The Winter is coming...

Re:Don't worry (0)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 2 years ago | (#38158606)

I think the point is to worry, because they're all "replace this energy with renewable or we're surely doomed", and what they call renewable isn't actually, so we're doomed, barring "new technology".

Re:Don't worry (3, Insightful)

Brian Feldman (350) | about 2 years ago | (#38158744)

There is a pretty awesome "new technology", and it was discovered a few thousand years ago -- it's called "humans not reproducing at a disgustingly unsustainable pace with the apparent goal of destroying the world as quickly as possible."

finite geothermal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158478)

The finite nature of geothermal always bothered me. Won't the core stop rotating and the Earth's protective magnetic field disappear if we used too much of it? Granted, that would not be an easy thing to do. If only fusion was easier than it is, and we would have almost unlimited energy at the cost of some sea-water.

Re:finite geothermal (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#38158534)

Doesn't geothermal heat largely come from nuclear decay in the core?

Re:finite geothermal (1)

KumquatOfSolace (1412203) | about 2 years ago | (#38158782)

Some of it comes from decay of radioisotopes in granite or other types of rock in the crust (very low-level, but the heat builds up over thousands or millions of years if it is insulated).

Re:finite geothermal (1)

yndrd1984 (730475) | about 2 years ago | (#38158814)

Won't the core stop rotating and the Earth's protective magnetic field disappear if we used too much of it? Granted, that would not be an easy thing to do.

Technically true but irrelevant, because radioactivity in the Earth generates more than twice as much power as mankind currently uses, and even without that it would take several billion years at our current rate of energy usage to drain the heat that's already there.

There is even better article (-1, Troll)

dev232 (2516324) | about 2 years ago | (#38158480)

Here is an excellent [] article, written about year ago, that discusses in depth the situation about renewable energy.
That's why I am so skeptic about renewable energy, and really think that world wide reduction in energy needs and population, is the way to go
(hopefully without wars).

Goatse Above (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | about 2 years ago | (#38158674)

Don't click

Psychotic retard defies logic (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158486)

Claiming solar power isn't renewable because it requires water, you do realize the water used returns back to the earth once it is used right? That water is also renewable (as long as you don't pollute it while using it, you can use it forever). Will it maybe take 10% of the power generated to transport water, sure.. but that leaves us with 90% gains and full renew ability.

I'm not even going to bother refuted this ultra netcase's other bits, there is something mentally off with this idiot.

Re:Psychotic retard defies logic (1, Troll)

Darfeld (1147131) | about 2 years ago | (#38158686)

You might want to think a bit more before calling someone an idiot. Or you just enjoy the Troll.

Sure cycle of water is a wonderfull thing, but if you used it more than it recycle, the shit hit the fan at the end. That what the author is talking about.

photovoltaics require silicon (0)

Walter White (1573805) | about 2 years ago | (#38158488)

That's a finite resource. Has anyone even calculated how long our present known reserves will last?

600 acre feet of water? I probably use that much to shower every year.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (2)

bmuon (1814306) | about 2 years ago | (#38158520)

Silicon can (and should) be recycled.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | about 2 years ago | (#38158568)

Indeed - isn't glass mostly silicon-dioxide and is one of the most recyclable products available?

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158746)

Silicon can (and should) be recycled.

Can yes but in the case of IC's "should" is up for discussion.
Whe current method to recycle electronics is to send it in containers to China where it is desoldered by the cheapes labour available. There are plenty of information on the process available on internet but here is one of the first that a google search gave me. []

Pretty much all who work in the field suffers from lead poisoning. (Yes, the RoHS directive will mitigate this slighlty but most electronics recycled is still the old leaded stuff and it is not like there is still a lot of unhealthy matherials used.)

With our current methods of recycling the choice is pretty much between if you want the environment or the persons to suffer.

When you by that cheap remote controlled toy with brittle plastics and components that look worn you can be pretty sure that someone have paid with a few days of their life-span to make it that cheap.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158616)

Actually, there are new prototypes not using silicon but organic materials [] instead. It's an active research field, but it's already showing concrete results.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158654)

Silicon = sand. There's a lot of it.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158670)

That's a finite resource. Has anyone even calculated how long our present known reserves will last?

Yes, about 600 million years. []

Since our crust is approximately 28% silicon by mass, there can never really be a shortage of silicon on earth.

I realize you were trying to be sarcastic, because my sarcasm beeper is beeping.

Re:photovoltaics require silicon (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 2 years ago | (#38158714)

They are finding alternatives to the rare doping elements.

I don't think energy production will be a problem in the end. The end problem is population density and total population.

Anyone with a house can slap panels on the roof sufficient to reduce power generation needs by 75%. 100% if they use batteries (which are highly unrenewable - 7 years and they are toast under very good conditions- less under bad conditions).

But apartment buildings don't have enough surface area for the residents power needs.

It does seem like solar and wind energy would not increase the net heat- because that is already in the environment. Releasing stored energy (coal, oil, uranium) would increase the net heat.

Reserves of SILICON??? (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 2 years ago | (#38158748)

Is this a joke?

Are you seriously suggesting that it's reasonable that we could one day run out of fucking sand?

Hot tip: (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158508)

Did you know that things like coal and oil came from the capture and processing of Photons, just like wind/PV/hydro does?

Coal/Oil only seems cheap on a photon processed basis because Man didn't spend the effort and time converting biomass into the coal/oil.

So want to conserve energy? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158514)

Only have one child.

RTFA and reached a conclusion (5, Insightful)

DontBlameCanada (1325547) | about 2 years ago | (#38158522)

The author, by failing to mention the current oil-based energy strategy at all, while vilifying the alternative energy sources leaves the reader with a sense of, "the alternatives are bad, lets keep using the current infra until we come up with something better." Interestingly, nuclear energy is *not* mentioned either, positive or negative - it's completely omitted.

I'd not be surprised if the author was either a shill for the oil and gas companies or the nuclear energy affiliates.

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (-1, Redundant)

FTWinston (1332785) | about 2 years ago | (#38158578)


Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (4, Informative)

BergZ (1680594) | about 2 years ago | (#38158614)

This is an article from The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (
In the 50+ years that they've been publishing I bet they're sick of talking about nuclear (power, weapons).

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158646)

Odd that the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" wouldn't mention nuclear energy.

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (1)

travisco_nabisco (817002) | about 2 years ago | (#38158718)

I didn't even notice the lack of nuclear power in the list until you mentioned it. Since the article failed to mention it, what would you put down as the negatives for nuclear, just so everyone gets fair representation. There is obviously the accident risk, even if it pales in comparison to the lives lost coal mining. It takes a lot of concrete to build a reactor. I imagine a lot of rare / difficult to refine materials are used in the construction of a reactor as well.

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158724)

Oil and engines are far better then electric motors at this time for vehicles. Add on the fact that you are charging your electric car by either burning oil or coal for the most part and it just becomes clear you are looking for an excuse to use fossil fuels and/or you prefer to use them and pollute somewhere else.

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (4, Interesting)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 2 years ago | (#38158730)

I disagree. He's clearly a neo-Malthusian arguing for population limits, calling for a " in which energy demands do not continue to escalate indefinitely" and highlighting California's expected population growth and how "There are now seven billion humans on this planet" before saying that we need "a way to reduce our energy consumption and to share Earth's finite resources more equitably among nations and generations".

He does mention that "renewable technologies are often less damaging to the climate and create fewer toxic wastes than conventional energy sources." Are those the words of an oil-industry shill, or someone who cherishes the status quo?

You note that "nuclear energy is not mentioned". But look! This is published in "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". The front page will supply you with nuclear-power reading if you really want it.

Re:RTFA and reached a conclusion (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#38158804)

I was wondering where the comparison charts for oil/gas/coal were, but I guess the point TFA was assuming was they they required no infrastructure to mine, process and burn these materials.

How much acre feet of groundwater does the average coal burning plant use by comparison (KWh of electricity produced)

Steam (5, Interesting)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#38158530)

Several times, she talks of water consumed by steam turbines.

Wouldn't any sane design condense the steam into water, and re-use it? Otherwise you're throwing away water *and* heat.

Re:Steam (2)

Stormthirst (66538) | about 2 years ago | (#38158608)

I remember being taught in school (which was some years ago now, and I'm too lazy to google it right now), but doesn't Iceland have several geothermal plants, which the by-products (heated water/steam) then go on to be used to heat nearby homes and provide hot water?

Re:Steam (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158828)

Yeah, but Iceland is smaller than a medium size city and pretty much irrelevant to anything.

Re:Steam (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 2 years ago | (#38158726)

The article alludes to that and says that the new models will use 90% less water.

Like most humans, they probably ignored/missed constraints in the first iteration because they saw the water as an "unlimited" resource.

Cooling towers do just that (2)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 2 years ago | (#38158770)

They're not practical for mobile steam engines, but they certainly are used in most nuclear plants. Those that don't are located near the sea. Not gonna run out of sea water any time soon.

This makes perfect sense... (0)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 2 years ago | (#38158536)

... so watch it get shouted down by the right-wing big-government cloud-cuckoolanders.

I say BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158538)

the water need to wash panels doesn't get "consumed" ... the water cycle is kind of renewable (and ongoing since a few billion years on this planet).

Re:I say BS (2)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#38158594)

In fairness, if the solar power plant is in the desert (where they often seem to be) where water is scarce, water used to clean mirrors is going to evaporate and fall as rain elsewhere, probably where water is less scarce.

However, it doesn't seem insurmountable. If it's really an issue, I'm sure one could design cleaning systems that minimise the amount of water lost - and the cost (both financial and environmental) of transporting water in trucks ought to be minimal compared to the power output of a large plant.

Re:I say BS (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | about 2 years ago | (#38158620)

Granted, some of the water will evaporate from the panels as they get washed, but most of the water will run off - get filtered and then get re-used.

Not so much "renewable" (1)

Scareduck (177470) | about 2 years ago | (#38158540)

as "scalable". Solar is really impractical to harvest in large quantities, doesn't work well for baseload generation because of no way to store surplus, needs distribution, etc. I get his point but the title is somewhat misleading.

Quoth Homer of Simpson (4, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 2 years ago | (#38158542)

"In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"

Nice read... (2)

alendit (1454311) | about 2 years ago | (#38158546)

Interesting read, because of all the factual information in it (I assume, it's actually correct).

Is "renewable energy" a meaningless term? Sure, even sunlight isn't limitless. Everything's finite and we're all gonna die, buhu. The things we call "renewable" are more sustainable in a long run, than current main energy sources (e.g. coal), that's what it is about. You can discuss semantics all you want.

So, while understanding the technology limitations is surely important, the solution is not to do nothing, just because we can't achieve perfect results just yet.

Quick Summary (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158550)

Less people == eco-friendly

If there were only a billion or so humans around, we could dump pretty much anything we wanted, anywhere we wanted, and it would never matter. Certainly with current technology, we could truly conserve the planet.

So the problem is figuring out how to murder about 6-10 billion humans over the next few decades without wrecking the global economy.

Re:Quick Summary (1, Flamebait)

schnikies79 (788746) | about 2 years ago | (#38158598)

No need to kill anyone. Limit reproduction and the problem is solved in just a few decades.

Re:Quick Summary (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 2 years ago | (#38158798)

So the problem is figuring out how to murder about 6-10 billion humans over the next few decades without wrecking the global economy.

They're working on it. Better top-down control of how food is produced and distributed is getting rolled out now. Studies on lab-created viruses and rolling out vaccines to the general population is an important component, too.

Mostly just FUD (4, Interesting)

skids (119237) | about 2 years ago | (#38158562)

OP seems to be a compendium of old FUD I've read before. Yeah sure, solar panels have a limited lifetime -- about 25 years, by which time the next generation of them will make twice or more as many panels from the same amount of materials harvested by recycling them. Oh dear, solar sites need to wash panels, they'll never figure out how to make dust-resistant coatings, of course. OMG wind turbines use a lot of Nd (using the worst case of a direct drive unit) so naturally it follows that that's the only way to do it and we won't be switching to Separately Excited Syncronous or Switch Variable Reluctance gensets when it becomes cost effective to do so.

I'll be glad when these clowns finally sell their Exxon stock so I don't have to listen to them whine any more in the face of the inevitable.

Re:Mostly just FUD (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 2 years ago | (#38158812)

I'll be glad when these clowns finally sell their Exxon stock so I don't have to listen to them whine any more in the face of the inevitable.

They're promoting nuclear, not fossil fuels.

Disinformation - Shame on you /. ! (5, Interesting)

bridgey655 (800826) | about 2 years ago | (#38158564)

Do not let anyone tell you this drivel. "Solar, wind, and geothermal power are not fundamentally different from other energy technologies that consume finite natural resources" BS! BS I say! Check out

Re:Disinformation - Shame on you /. ! (1)

bridgey655 (800826) | about 2 years ago | (#38158588)

Here is one of many many examples!! The truth is, and you wont like it, the energy companies DO NOT CARE about the environment. PROFIT makes this world go round but that is all about to change pretty soon. It has to. Free energy gathering, storage, and TRANSMISSION: []

There is even better article (-1, Troll)

dev233 (2516336) | about 2 years ago | (#38158572)

Here is an excellent [] article, written about year ago, that discusses in depth the situation about renewable energy.
That's why I am so skeptic about renewable energy, and really think that world wide reduction in energy needs and population, is the way to go
(hopefully without wars).

Re:There is even better article (4, Interesting)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 2 years ago | (#38158816)

Probably the biggest problem to addressing the 'population issue' is that the areas of the world where environment movements tend to exist tend to also exist alongside groups which love population growth.

Big cities like New York, Toronto, London... tend to have a lot of 'green movements'.
Yet they're also places which keep advocating high immigration rates for both political reasons (diversity...) as well as special economic reasons (prop up the housing industry, cheap immigrant labor...). More often than not the same groups in the green movement are the same who love increasing population.

It's one of the reasons why things like pollution/Capita are tricky. A lot of people seem to think per Capita measures are the ultimate measure. But it doesn't take into account societal and cultural choices.

For example, we compare two societies.

1. A huge population like India where the consumption/capita is very low. (545 kg in oil equivalence)
2. A sparsely population country like Iceland with high consumption/capita (17338 kg)

source: [] (energy use per capita).

Now many who just look at the per capita measures like to rant how inefficient and wasteful western people are. Yet don't look at the per capita numbers alone. Look at the society as a whole.

Icelandic society provides a high standard of living for everyone and keeps its population reasonable. That each Icelandic person lives much better than an Indian is not a problem... as the Icelandic society has managed to keep its population small.

Put simply... is the solution to shove everyone in to a city and make everyone live like they're in Tokyo? Only for those who like to measure everything in per capita use and don't want to look at the greater functioning of society.

Infinite energy, finite disposal space (1)

Meeni (1815694) | about 2 years ago | (#38158580)

We do not want infinite energy. The earth is (approximately) a closed system that only takes input from the sun. It does not radiate much energy in the void of space.

Said otherwise, if we have infinite (even clean, but non-renewable) energy and produce too much, we will increase the energy input of the system, but that will not translate into a greater dissipation into space. Hence, nuclear fusion/fission is not a long term solution, even if it is rendered completely clean and harmless.

Actually, the only safe option is sun power, although the impact of transforming a significant amount of sun energy into waste heat from thermal losses might have a variety of consequences, compared to when it is used to produce hydrocarbons in plants.

We do not want more energy, we want less people.

Its Not An Energy Problem, Transportation Fuels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158582)

The most likely cause of a major die-off for the human race (say 500M+) is Peak Oil and the lack of a decent transportation fuels substitute.

Wind and solar don't help that problem.


Real Question (1)

foobsr (693224) | about 2 years ago | (#38158590)

Did not bother to read TFA but quite fruitlessly did a little research on the effects of large scale extraction of wind energy. There must be a 'dark' side. Anyone able to enlighten the crowd, including myself?


Re:Real Question (5, Funny)

buglista (1967502) | about 2 years ago | (#38158688)

If all the axes of all the wind turbines line up at once, it will act as a giant gyroscope and throw the earth out of orbit.

Or were you actually serious?

Houses, mountains, bridges, trees ... (2)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 2 years ago | (#38158806)

... all extract wind energy. They interrupt the flow of wind and generate turbulence, and eventually turn wind energy into heat, except that unlike wind turbines they don't make electricity as well. It's a rather silly question when you know the first thing about thermodynamics.

He gets to the point at the end (2)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 2 years ago | (#38158618)

There are 7 billion people on the planet.

Way too many.

At our current energy usage growth rates, the planet is the temperature of boiling water before 2500.

This has nothing to do with global warming. It's just a fact that as you use energy, it flows into the environment. Just like a 100 watt lightbulb also warms up the room, 7 billion people worth of devices releasing energy warm up the planet faster than it can radiate the heat into space. []

A bit absurd (4, Interesting)

Asic Eng (193332) | about 2 years ago | (#38158622)

Sure materials which we need to use in order to build e.g. wind turbines are theoretically finite. They are not being used up by building wind turbines, they can be recycled if that's economically interesting. Stuff like "While sunlight is renewable -- for at least another four billion years -- photovoltaic panels are not." is just silly. We are not going to run out of sand in any plausible scenario, so that's just nitpicking.

In any case, renewable energy refers to the energy source. That clearly sets it apart from other energy sources, and is thus a good description. There is nobody who believes the installations required to use renewables can be build without any environmental impact in terms of pollution, area use etc. That doesn't distinguish them from other installations. If people were calling renewable energy plants "impact free", fine the author would have a point. The myth the article is debunking is one which doesn't exist, however.

Re:A bit absurd (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#38158702)

We are not going to run out of sand in any plausible scenario, so that's just nitpicking.

I read in Michael Welland's book "Sand" (which is rather good) that chip manufacturers tend to be quite secretive about the source of their sand, because not just any old sand will do, and the right sort of sand is in limited supply.

That said, I imagine that if it ran out, they'd develop ways to refine other kinds of sand.

What was the point of that article? (1)

guises (2423402) | about 2 years ago | (#38158626)

I'm not trying to be overly negative but that article (yes, I read it) didn't seem to go anywhere. The author correctly points out that nothing is free and then... stops. No conclusion, no message, just one obvious statement and then nothing. Maybe he's trying to point out the need for reduced population growth? Maybe he's one of those "nothing works, so I'll do whatever I want" doomsayers? Maybe he's trying to encourage further energy research? I have no idea. The article just stopped.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (4, Informative)

1u3hr (530656) | about 2 years ago | (#38158650)

Interesting that the summary doesn't mention that TFA is published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Which is a quote respectable group; but nevertheless, they have a horse in the energy race, one that burns Uranium. TFA simply counts the cost of various "green" energies, but never compares them to the costs of "conventional", or nuclear, energy generation. You're left with the impression that "green" energy is a shill, that all forms of energy are equally bad, and so you might as well sit back and keep burning oil and coal until someone invents perpetual motion.

Re:Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1)

tinkerton (199273) | about 2 years ago | (#38158802)

Maybe - well , probably - the Atomic Scientists agenda explains why the writer is happy to point out -selectively- the things he does, but if you take a look at this thorough reference article []
, which is not linked to the Atomic Scientists, there are very good reasons to look into the degree of renewability of renewable sources. Incidentally that article also treats the limited usability of atomic energy.

600 acre-feet, WHAT? (5, Insightful)

buglista (1967502) | about 2 years ago | (#38158656)

It's really time to go metric guys, unless anyone can explain to me what that means?

Re:600 acre-feet, WHAT? (2)

LQ (188043) | about 2 years ago | (#38158722)

A unit of area x a unit of length = a unit of volume
1 cubic metres = 0.000810713194 acre foot (per google).

Re:600 acre-feet, WHAT? (3, Informative)

nickovs (115935) | about 2 years ago | (#38158784)

An acre-foot is a quite reasonable measure of volume if what you are interested in is collecting rain water in a place where land is sold by the acre and shallow depths remeasured in feet.

That said, I'd wholeheartedly vote for the US switching to metric measures if I had a vote.

Author neglects the experience curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158662)

Had he been comparing transistors to vacuum tubes in 1950, he probably would've written that while transistors probably had some specialized uses such as in portable radios for the military, the visionaries who championed them didn't seem to notice that cost 10 times more to manufacture than tubes.

But technology marched on. A collection of millions of transistors embedded on a microchip now costs orders of magnitude less than the same number of staples, and requires orders of magnitude less storage space.

Who is this again? (2)

JDG1980 (2438906) | about 2 years ago | (#38158696)

Who is Dawn Stover and why should we be taking her opinions seriously?

Myth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158708)

so, to make your energy properly renewable -
Solar plants, which use ground water to wash panels, need to look after water use.
geothermal needs fresh water, from more than just the local aquifer.
Wind turbines need good recycling for their metal components.
Biomass needs to come from non arable wasteland and crop waste not new cut forest and good farmland.
Also hydro electric needs a huge investment as well as sediment management behind the dam.

and you must bear in mind that everything you build needs cement, which is usually recycled as hardcore, not back to cement (unless you bother to use lime mortar which can be reprocessed back into mortar by the same manufacturing process as was used to make it.

Why is this news to anyone with half a brain?
Of-course we need to be take care with these new technologies and of-course they do not magically fix everything, but none of the problems are insurmountable, and even without fixing them most are still much better than fossil fuels.

One Word (1)

ylon (656206) | about 2 years ago | (#38158720)

Thorium: []

Want to combat climate change? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158750)

Get rid fo 5 billion people, and stop making more.

Re:Want to combat climate change? (1)

bridgey655 (800826) | about 2 years ago | (#38158776)

Bull shit. no need. we need to overthrow the bastards that are holding back new technologies and get rid of money and declare the Earth's resources the common heritage of ALL the worlds people. We do this or we die.

things get better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158774)

I remember when household cleaning chemicals used to be really dangerous.
then we started with the safer ones, that didn't really work.
Now we have safer ones, for us and the environment, and they work pretty good!
already more "organic" solar panels are being researched. and in the end they will be easier to produce then working with harsh chemicals.
technology doesn't generally get dumber.

So green energy sources aren't perfect (2)

gatkinso (15975) | about 2 years ago | (#38158778)

Thank you Captain Obvious.

Every plant has building costs (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#38158786)

First of all, we should make a distinction between renewable and clean energy sources, as the article seems to treat them like they were the same. For example, biomass is renewable but not ecology-friendly, while nuclear power is clean but not reneweable.

The argument that building plants costs resources has little to do with long-term usage, as it is a one-time cost. And at the end of it's lifetime most building materials can be recycled would we ran out of them.
That plants use water, yes it's true, but they don't make water disappear, they just turn it into vapor. The problem seems to be only local, as the area of the plant runs out of water. That's why most non-renewable plants are built next to rivers. The problem with some renewable sources is that they require optimal places to work effectively. This is a valid problem but one that has little to do with renewability.
Yes, hydropower and especially biomass have severe ecological and social problems, which again has nothing to do with renewability.

Worrying about when will we run out of steel, concrete, rare earths or water is simply stupid.

focus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158788)

You can't combat "climate change", it's inevitable with or without humans and not necessarily a bad thing. What should be focused on is making technologies that provide energy at less and less cost, which inevitably means less consumption of resources.

There are invariably limits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38158822)

One of the great thing about fuel is its transportability. You cannot transport wind energy unless you convert it to electricity. There are limits to that conversion because you need to manufacture the battery and the construction of the battery itself is problematic.

Moreover, if you need to expend gobs and gobs of mechanical/wind energy to create electricity, you may not be that much further ahead given the size of the average wind farm.

Nothing is free.

Er. Hmmm. (3, Insightful)

DeathToBill (601486) | about 2 years ago | (#38158824)

Published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Can't see any agenda there...

She doesn't exactly cover herself in glory for facts, either. She doesn't appear to know what neodynium is used for (why, exactly, would you want magnets in a gearbox?). She (quite deliberately, I think) confuses consumable fuels with non-consumable equipment - a turbine may need 800 pounds of neodynium, but after 20 years of operation you've still got 800 pounds of neodynium. In fact the whole magnet is reusable as is. Today's largest wind machines are 10MW (in construction, anyway). 4.5 million of them would (on average, not peak capacity) provide the entire world's energy use - not sure where her need for an additional ~2 billion devices comes from.

Of course it's not infinite - nothing is (probably) but that's not really the claim, is it? The only sensible point made is that renewable sources require materials that are finite, but I think we knew that already.

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