Letter to the Editor: 100 percent renewable energy is feasible and attainable (counter-opinion)

Renewable energy concept shows solar panels and wind turbines. | Image by Airubon / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — The recent opinion written by Howard Sierer and published in the September 7, 2017, edition of St. George News derided our ability to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. There are elements of fact in his claim that this is not feasible, certainly in wide scope and near term. However, the opinion is overly confrontational in implying motives, competence and assessing possibilities.


Read Sierer’s column here: Right On: 100 percent renewable energy and other pipe dreams


There is no need for disrespect.

Let’s see if we can approach this question more factually and less emotionally.

Sources of renewable energy

In his previously published opinion, the author was focused on wind and PV solar. This is an inadequate and improper consideration of renewable energy feedstock sources.

There are many sources of renewable energy: wind (on-shore, off-shore), solar (PV-photovoltaic, thermal concentration), water (dams, tides, waves), biomass (including nonfood waste), geothermal and, in a sense, next-generation nuclear as with fourth generation integral fast reactors. Using a combination of energy efficiency improvements, conservation and renewables, it is quite easy to meet 100 percent of our energy needs without having to dredge up old fossil fuel. Here’s a link to a convincing, fact-based article, albeit prepared before more recent innovations.

Why move toward renewable energy?

The reason is primarily climate change and, secondarily, general local pollution and related damage to ecosystems and human health.

Continued warming of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans is resulting in warming of the permafrost and ocean floor. Both these locations are vast reserves of methane hydrate which releases methane upon warming. Methane is a vastly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Release of the methane is expected to accelerate the warming trend. Here’s a link to more information about this looming problem.

The burning of fossil fuels for energy and the associated mining operations are the primary causes of climate change and local pollution. This move is required for the survival of most existing species on our planet, including humans. If we don’t reduce greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions in the near term (next 10 years?), we will not be able to reverse the heating effect. Models show the impact of warming in Utah will be faster than other places. We need to accelerate our move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources, now.

All the skills and resources needed for a renewable energy-based economy already abound in the fossil fuel economy. It would be a simple retooling to employ the same people. People who operate large rigs in the extraction could help in the feedstock processing, the operators of large refineries and power plants could run the renewable natural gas plants and renewable power plants.

Continuing to use fossil fuels without maximizing the use of the renewable resources is akin to throwing one’s monthly paycheck and living large on certificates of deposit and retirement savings.

What are the steps and long-term goal?

The previous opinion piece was correct in that we need to be balanced in the way we develop and implement renewable energy. But, it is completely erroneous and misleading to imply that such a balance cannot be achieved. Many places in the U.S. and around the world are already using 100 percent renewable energy. Not every location can do that in the near term. And, with near-term transmission technology, we don’t want to be moving energy over long distances. Local energy sources are the goal.

  • Step 1 (now): Reduce and then eliminate the use of coal with a shift toward natural gas (providing escape during extraction and transport can be greatly reduced) and a major balanced shift toward renewables, e.g., biogas or renewable natural gas. We here in SW Utah should be making a concerted shift to wind and solar. Continue electric vehicle and battery technology development.
  • Step 2 (25 years): Continue the Step 1 shift and begin implementing new base-load sources, shifting from all fossil fuels.
  • Step 3 (50-100 years): 100 percent worldwide renewable energy.

Obstacles

The obstacles are of our own making. The most significant barriers are political and not technological. According to the 2013 Post Carbon Pathways report, which reviewed many international studies, the key roadblocks are:

  • Climate change denial.
  • Efforts to impede renewable energy by the fossil fuel industry.
  • Political paralysis.
  • Unsustainable consumption of energy and resources.
  • Path dependencies and outdated infrastructure.
  • Financial and governance constraints.

We should start removing these obstacles where we can. Let’s start locally.

Where to start if you want to find more information

Start with something simple, like Wikipedia, and then follow the references stated there.

Written by CHARLES R. WOOD, St. George. Autobiographical statement: I serve as chairman of an early-stage biofuels company, Novus Energy LLC, that applies its unique technology to produce renewable natural gas and organic fertilizer (with a zero-carbon footprint) using nonfood waste as feedstock.

TOM BUTINE, engineer-scientist, Boeing Technical Fellow and volunteer Co-Leader Citizens Climate Lobby- St George Chapter, contributed to this opinion letter.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person or persons submitting them.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

20 Comments

  • Honor1st September 10, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Thank-you Mr Wood for a far more intelligent & credible assessment of our Renewable Energy Issues .

  • comments September 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    The first thing I’d like to see is gov’t subsidies totally removed from the bio fuels industry. It actually takes more than the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a gallon of ethanol. Bio fuels are a joke. Without some kind of major disaster, war, or some other sort of mass human die off, prioritizing renewables won’t happen, period. The entire world is a petroleum economy, and that’s the way it’s gonna stay. It’s not gonna get too bad until a few generations down the road, and likely most of us around today will be dead or at least old, so the question is: who cares? catastrophe is the only thing that will spur political change with this issue. I’m not sure this planet would support even 1/2 the current human population without the full-on petroleum economy. They used to put fear into us that petroleum would run out. Now the question is what will happen first: will petroleum run out or will the earth just flat-out become uninhabitable–at least for many of the 10billion or more humans there will likely be in the not so far off future? Violent, turbulent, chaotic times a-comin’. I likely will not be around long enough to see it, but it’s comin’.

  • Howard Sierer September 10, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I have great respect for Mr. Wood and I believe that developing renewable energy is in our long term interest. I fully support research on all the technologies he mentions: no one can predict with certainty which ones will prove viable. I wish him and his startup firm all the best just as I hope that battery research finds a breakthrough technology.

    My column should have made clear that I believe solar and wind power have a place in today’s marketplace. Taking this for granted, I left a number of readers with the impression that I am opposed to renewable power in general. I am not.

    My purpose instead was to state that without a breakthrough in battery technology, today’s renewable power technology cannot provide 100 percent of the nation’s needs. Neither solar or wind is available on still nights.

    Hence, absent a battery breakthrough, there is a practical limit to the amount of solar and wind power that is useful. If everyone is generating excess daytime solar power without batteries to store it, there is no one left to buy the excess. For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels are indispensable.

    The 500 mayors who plan to use 100 percent renewable power are either (1) relying on an as yet unproven, economically viable breakthrough that can be implemented nationwide in the next several decades or (2) they are jumping on an enviro-political bandwagon.

    I challenge Wood’s list of obstacles. Literally billions of dollars can be made by entrepreneurs who develop viable renewable energy technology at a competitive cost. Witness Bill Gates’ investments in battery technology.

    Germany didn’t let political paralysis or the fossil fuel industry stop it from wasting well over a trillion dollars in a nationwide renewable energy gamble. Germany is now building coal-fired generating plants as fast as it can to make up for deficiencies in today’s renewable technology.

    Keep researching. Hope for breakthroughs. Build demonstration power plants. Show their economic viability. But until then, stop pandering to environmental activists and political grandstanding about 100 percent renewable power by some specific date.

    • comments September 10, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      The potential energy stored up in carbon fossil fuels on this planet took something like a billion years to accumulate to the amounts there are. That’s a billion years of solar energy stored up. Renewables are actually a joke when compared to carbon fossil fuels. You want to implement 100% renewables then you need massive reduction of human population to make it work. In a lot of ways it is a fraud. They tell a lot of lies to make it seem plausible.

      • comments September 10, 2017 at 5:16 pm

        If you look into the “biofuels” industry it’s actually one of the biggest scams going. Thinking that you can make gasoline and diesel substitutes from plants with “neutral environmental costs”. That’s actually fraudulent as hell and a total lie.

        • comments September 10, 2017 at 5:25 pm

          Only thing keeps that industry going is absolutely massive fed gov’t subsidies, at least for corn ethanol; haven’t looked into “bio-diesel”. These tricksters in the “bio fuels” industry with their claims think they can defy the laws of thermodynamics or energy conservation or whatever it is–get something for nothing, ya know? witchcraft and voodoo! frauds and scammers, welfaring themselves on tax money!

      • Brian September 11, 2017 at 7:34 am

        It would take about 25,000 square miles of solar panels to power everything on earth (roughly the size of West Virginia). The earth’s land surface area is 57,500,000 square miles. So putting solar panels on 0.04% of the earth’s land could generate all the power we need. We aren’t there, yet (far from it ), and it would require massive advancements in battery technology (also not there yet), but it’s far from a joke. In actual fact the amount of solar energy hitting the earth dwarfs the amount of energy stored in fossil fuels, because only a small fraction of that gets turned into oil, and as you point out that is a very long process.

        • comments September 11, 2017 at 2:27 pm

          Just try gathering enough solar panels and windmills and batteries to power one house’s central air. Seems like we’re 100s of years away from making such things cost effective.

          • comments September 11, 2017 at 2:29 pm

            and yeah, most of the sun’s energy isn’t easily converted into the types of energy we demand every day, not without great expenditure

          • Brian September 11, 2017 at 7:52 pm

            I’m in the process of putting 10kw of solar on my house now (which since it’s DIY makes good financial sense with or without the tax credits), and A/C is definitely the biggest power draw. I’m hoping to use geothermal to ditch the heat instead of the air condensers, which are very inefficient and use a lot of electricity. However, even without geothermal the 10kw system is more than enough to power my whole house, including AC.

            Of course, it wouldn’t make sense without net metering (ie. using the grid as a giant battery), but the current arrangment is beneficial for me and Rocky Mountain Power, so I’d be nuts not to do it. And if the excrement ever hits the rotating air circulation device I have solar power to use (after modification).

          • comments September 12, 2017 at 12:52 am

            its a good idea. hope it works out. i’d love to be off the grid as much as possible

  • Kilroywashere September 10, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Well written opinion. There is no doubt renewable energy will continue to grow. The real technological catalyst will be an efficient affordable battery. We are getting close but not there yet. Tesla and other companies are on the cutting edge.

  • comments September 10, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Even if renewable energy could provide for 50% of the grid it doesn’t even begin to impact fuels used in transportation unless some sort of “miracle battery” is invented–something cheap to produce with a huge capacity. The best we have now is what? ultra expensive lithium? Good hell, we’re still using 150yr old lead-acid batteries in our cars. I’d like to see it done, but the over-expectations, lies, and scams need to end. I’d put solar panels up if it was cost effective. But really, pretending that a switch away from fossil fuels would be… well, with today’s technology it’s pure fantasy to think it’ll be simple or even plausible in any way. Someone better get to work on these affordable miracle batteries, or convince everyone to give up their cars and build a bunch of electric trains or something, lol.

    • comments September 10, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      *150yr old lead-acid battery technology in our cars

      NOT 150 YR OLD BATTERY LOL 😉

  • January20 September 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Never heard anyone claim the climate doesn’t change. It never stops changing. Liberals opposed all use of fossil fuels with claims their use led to global warming until their version of science (computer modeling) didn’t back up their claims. Now they’ve changed their terminology to climate change and began calling anyone who disagreed with them climate change deniers. Anyone who claims climate change is caused by man are in fact climate FACT deniers. The evidence doesn’t exist and anyone willing to do their own research will arrive at the same conclusion. I agree that we need to continue to develop alternative energy sources but be honest enough to admit that a combination of wind, solar, battery, and other sources are decades away from being able to completely replace fossil fuels.

    • beacon September 14, 2017 at 10:55 am

      I would like to be in the room with you and 97% of the world’s scientists who believe that climate change is a result of human activity and the burning of fossil fuels. That would be an interesting discussion. Perhaps more study is in order to back up your position before you get into that one.

  • dodgers September 10, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    Regarding the writer’s first obstacle “climate change denial,” I doubt that many deny that our climate is changing. It has been changing for millions of years.
    I think the disagreement is over an irrational belief that man can somehow change what has been happening for millions of years. It is foolish to believe that man can do so.
    I’m all for renewable energy IF they can exist and stand on their own without subsidies. And if they can effectively compete in a free market.
    That said, we’ll always need various forms of fossil fuels; they aren’t going anywhere.

    • comments September 10, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      “That said, we’ll always need various forms of fossil fuels; they aren’t going anywhere.”

      It’s a finite resource. The easy petroleum era isn’t going to last forever. I remember one old r-wing kook thought the earth was constantly replenishing it’s petroleum supply. I think you’d be waiting quite a while for that to happen.

  • jaltair September 10, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Climate change is real as most of us agree, but there is no hard data to support the claim it is caused by increased CO2 production. Most of the studies that have been done are subject to interpretation, and the theory cannot be demonstrated by hard, scientific data.

    Those who understand science should realize that to prove a truth there need to be separate studies that show the same results; therefore, some scientists won’t back the claim under the general theme of “global warming” or “climate change “. Those who have critically voiced their concerns have been expelled, and that is not what a scientist wants to have happen.

    Many studies regarding climate change involve government funding and the language of the “grant” will dictate how language is to be construed for the theory and desired outcomes to obtain the desired funding for the study. This encourages research groups who know they have time limits to carry out studies that tend to prove their “theory” or agenda rather than producing data that might be replicated.

    We do need to develop other alternative energy sources that are renewable if only to be good stewards for this earth and to keep it cleaner, but this development should not be subsidized by the government and the government should stay out of a science that hasn’t shown proofs. In addition, the current political structures need to step aside and not yield to the unreproducible studies as definitive. There is way too much influence by government and the political leaders, and sadly the dialogue about climate change has become an emotional issue that shouldn’t be in scientific studies.

  • Bender September 11, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Carbon tax and reasonable tax on pollutants and other external costs and let the market sort it out. Transportation fuel taxes should bear the full costs of building, maintaining and policing our roads.

Leave a Reply