Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is a 100% Renewable Energy Future Possible?

While many pundits would like to claim that the answer is a resounding "no", there are at least some experts who believe that it is, in fact, possible to go to 100% renewable energy (excluding nuclear and biofuels) by 2050 if not sooner.  This is precisely the holy grail that so many people have been clamoring for.  So what exactly is holding us back?

First, there are technical issues.  The notorious intermittency problem comes to mind, namely that the sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing.  Then there is the problem of transmission from one area to another.  However, the aforementioned experts note that a mix of various renewable sources, including hydroelectric, can help fill in the gaps, and transmission lines can be upgraded over time.  Thus, the technical difficulties of renewables are not insurmountable, and are not the biggest problem at all.

Second, there is the issue of materials needed for renewable energy technologies.  While rare-earth minerals seem to get most of the attention, there will also be a huge demand for base metals such as copper.  And much of these materials are currently being imported from countries like China rather than produced domestically.  Of course, unlike fossil fuels, once the materials needed for renewable energy have been extracted, they will last for decades.  And the USA could start mining more of these materials domestically to make us less dependent on foreign minerals.  As for the cost issue, it is worth noting that while solar and wind power have been getting consistently cheaper over time, fossil fuels (especially oil) and even uranium have been getting more and more expensive every year.

But the biggest problems of all are political.  The enormous vested interests in the status quo (i.e. the fossil fuel industry), combined with the lack of political will to fight such interests, is the most significant obstacle to a (nearly) 100% clean energy world.  This could obviously be solved rather quickly, but for some reason it has not been.  Wonder why?

The TSAP fully supports a transition to a completely clean energy economy as soon as possible, by 2050 if not 2030, as noted in our party platform.  The need to end our addiction to fossil fuels grows more and more urgent every year.  And we believe that we can speed up the transition even more rapidly by adding modern nuclear power (especially the thorium fuel cycle) and responsible biofuels to the mix of non-fossil energy technologies.  Combined with increased electrification and conservation, we already have the technology to make the change sooner rather than later.  We have the chance to gain true energy independence and help save the planet at the same time.  So what are we waiting for?

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