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.
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.
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