Guest Post by Martin Nicholson. Martin studied mathematics, engineering and electrical sciences at Cambridge University in the UK and graduated with a Masters degree in 1974. He published a peer-reviewed book on low-carbon energy systems in 2012: The Power Makers’ Challenge: and the need for Fission Energy
Firstly, what does renewable energy (RE) actually mean? Wikipedia says renewable energy refers to the provision of energy via renewable resources which are naturally replenished as fast as being used. RE resources include sunlight, wind, biomass, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.
In “The myth of renewable energy” (Dawn Stover, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), Stover believes that “renewable energy” is a meaningless term with no established standards.
RE certainly needs to deliver energy that we can readily use – more than just the RE resources (sunlight, wind, etc.). These RE resources have to be converted into usable energy. We need wind turbines, solar panels, farming equipment and generators for biomass, and water catchment and generators for hydro sources. Alas wind turbines and solar panels do not grow on trees.
Renewable energy converters require the use of steel, copper, concrete and rare earth elements plus all the land on which to build these converters. Wind farms and large scale solar plants require transmission lines to connect to the electricity grid. The materials used to make the energy converters and transmission lines are not naturally replenished so Stover is probably correct when she says “renewable energy” is a meaningless term. But let’s stick with the term for now because it is in the common vernacular.
But is RE looking like a ‘new religion’?