Alternative Energy Sources

I don’t understand why solar panels and wind turbines are not yet put into broad commercial use, maybe that’s what makes them more innovative. I think they are the best means of alternative energy sources, enabling us to lower our carbon emissions.

Yes, there are ups and downs about them, however, I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. For example, according to an article in Boston, former secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Ian Bowles, argues that, “the benefits of reducing harmful carbon emissions outweigh the relatively small costs to utility customers”. Also from that article, Massachusetts now generates enough solar and wind energy to power 38,000 homes, increasing everyday.

It’s understood that it will increase costs for everyone who uses it, but as a long-term solution, it will benefit our society as a whole. Ian Bowles installed solar panels into his roof, and it cost about $17,000 to have his roof prepared and install the panels, and because he is creating his own energy, the energy company NStar, who he supplies energy to, will pay him $2000 a year, so it will all pay off in the next 10 years. It is never too late to start the use of alternative energy sources, we could think of it as a new start, and it will only get better from here.

Abel, David. “Renewable energy program called unfair as lawmakers debate its expansion – The Boston Globe.”Boston.com – Boston, MA news, breaking news, sports, video. N.p., 23 July 2012. Web. 21 Sept. 2012. <http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/07/23/renewable_energy_program_called_unfair_as_lawmakers_debate_its_expansion/?page=1&gt;.

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One comment

  1. There are a number of reasons why solar panels and wind turbines have not yet taken off, ranging from cultural to economic to practical. Culturally, wind turbines in particular face many challenges, they are typically placed in arrays (to capture areas of particularly strong wind flow) and often the optimal location for them is in places where they are very visible, such as along the ridge of a coastal hill. The acronym NIMBY stands for “Not in my back yard” and succinctly states the position of many people in areas where turbines are being installed. Solar panels don’t have this problem of course, but they have other issues. One of the main problems is that both of the two main techniques for generating electricity from the sun rely on a great deal of land, and scarce resources. Solar thermal works by focusing solar heat to boil a liquid to drive a turbine, the liquid tends to be water, and since these arrays are typically in the desert (to maximize solar energy) water can be quite hard (see expensive) to come by. Photovoltaics don’t have this issue, but they are made with several metals which are quite rare, including gallium, indium, and selenium. The cost of energy from PVs is still considerably higher than that of coal, natural gas, or nuclear. Projects such as the one you mentioned are subsidized, which lowers the cost, and makes it viable, this means however that the scale of projects such as this is limited by what the government or other organization is willing to subsidize, whereas conventional energy is limited only by the market. The problem of scaling up is compounded by the laws of supply and demand; the rare materials used to make PV panels represent a limited supply, so as demand increases, so does cost, which must then be subsidized still more. Finally there is the problem of fluctuating energy costs, if a company gains investors and begins to build a large solar array when energy costs are high, but then they drop when the project is ready to start producing, the company goes under, and there is massive waste. This is because many renewable sources have much higher capital cost than non-renewables, which are offset by lower operating costs, but that only works if the competing energy sources stay at high prices.
    There are, of course, many techniques which can address some or all of these problems, running from new technology which is more efficient and thus more capable of competing (without subsidies) to government regulation which charges companies for their environmental externalities, which could be seen as an inverse subsidy (a penalty) which in turn benefits those power sources which do not do such harm to the earth. The point is not that renewables aren’t viable, or that they shouldn’t be pursued, it’s that they are still new, and have many problems. There is no silver bullet for our energy crisis*, instead we will have to look to many sources, and recognize their strengths and weaknesses in order to apply them rationally. Subsidies can be a problem for this, as they encourage less reasoned approaches, since someone else is footing the bill. One of the most important factors in limiting our carbon output is efficiency and reduction. We quite siimply use too much energy, and too much stuff, and quite often simpler, less sexy interventions like adding high quality insulation to a house will have a more profound, and more economical effect than adding a PV array on the roof.

    *There are a few potential “silver bullets” mostly in the form of next generation nuclear reactors, which could run on what is currently considered waste, produce enormous amounts of energy, and nearly no waste, but they are several decades away, and it’s not clear any of them will work as advertised.

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