We hear a lot about the desirability of going 100% renewable energy (mostly solar & wind). But before we get overly excited by this vision, let's underline some practical considerations.
- Solar panels & wind turbines are low density energy converters and thus vast mining operations would be required to produce a significant amount of our electricity. Since the lifetime of the above devices is not that long (a few decades at the most) these mining operations would have to exist in perpetuity (even if some recycling takes place).
- Additionally, let's underline that electricity is only a fraction of world's total energy consumption and renewables usually only replace other sources of electricity generation.
Here we can see global energy consumption (IEA 2016 report):
- China is the #1 producer of solar panels & wind turbines so massive tonnage would need to be transported across the world (ships, trucks) and again, these shipping operations would need to continue in perpetuity.
- 100% RE would also require voluminous industrial battery banks which would also necessitate gargantuan mining, smelting, manufacturing and transportation operations. The useful life of batteries is even less that that of panels and turbines.
- New transmission lines will be needed to bring the renewable energy from where it is produced (low population density places) to where it is actually used. These transmission lines will also need mining, manufacturing, transportation operations.
- The shipping fleet worldwide would need to be significantly expanded (more mining, manufacturing, etc.).
All of the above would certainly be very expensive and harmful to the environment. So the question is why is 100% RE even considered a desirable objective?
Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram