26 July 2007

Rape of Nature

Renewables are not green. To reach the scale at which they would contribute importantly to meeting global energy demand, renewable sources of energy, such as wind, water and biomass, cause serious environmental harm. Measuring renewables in watts per square metre that each source could produce smashes these environmental idols. Nuclear energy is green. However, in order to grow, the nuclear industry must extend out of its niche in baseload electric power generation, form alliances with the methane industry to introduce more hydrogen into energy markets, and start making hydrogen itself. Technologies succeed when economies of scale form part of their conditions of evolution. Like computers, to grow larger, the energy system must now shrink in size and cost. Considered in watts per square metre, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors.
In Renewable and nuclear heresies, the noted conservation biologist and climate change researcher Jesse Ausubel argues that key renewable energy sources, including sun, wind, and biomass, are "boutique fuels" — "They look attractive when they are quite small. But if we start producing renewable energy on a large scale, the fallout is going to be horrible." Analysing the amount of energy per square metre of land used that different power sources can produce, he shows that solar power would require 150 square kilometres of photovoltaic cells to obtain the same amount of energy as a 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant, while biofuels would require 2500 square kilometres of prime farm land.

One critic, from the US government's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, quoted in the New Scientist, responds by noting that "even if the US got all of its power from solar energy, it would still need less than half the amount of land that has been paved over for highways" — which is rather perverse when you consider that 70% of Los Angeles is used for roads and car parking. One might just as well note that the whole of the US electricity demand could be met if they dedicated "just" 780,000 square kilometres of land to wind power alone — an area the size of Texas, America's second largest state!

As Ausubel concludes, "We should be sparing land for nature, not using it as pasture for cars and trucks."Car fuelled by plant oil in a field of rape [Credit: Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy]


Anonymous said...

Your article states . "while biofuels would require 2500 square kilometres of prime farm land."

A car show room in Witney, Oxfordshire, has a rather attractive looking saloon car in the window with large writing along the side of it - "This car runs on Biofuel or Petrol".

Lovely! Very laudable! However if we hand over all our farmland to produce these biofuels where are we going to produce the food to feed the drivers of the cars?

Of course we can always upset the Balance of Payments and import all our food from overseas - presumably that would have to be the European Union since we are a member? The advantage of that would be that we would be able to import Polish (or other national) food to supply to the newly arrived residents of our towns with their native foodstuffs.

A resident of David Cameron's consticutency.