Sunken Solar Panels

Not so "Green" Solar energy in the wake of the storm results in greater polution in the landfills.

By Scott Hamilton

Over the last decade or more there has been a push by global governments toward an initiative they refer to as green energy. What exactly does green energy mean? What are the benefits of green energy? What should we do concerning the topic? These a few questions I hope to answer in the coming week. The first would seem to be a simple question to answer, but it is much more complex than it first seems at the surface. The definition of green energy is often confused with renewable energy; in actuality, all green energy sources are renewable, but not all renewable energy sources are green.

So let’s start with a couple of examples of renewable energy with which we are all familiar. Wind power and solar energy are renewable, because they are constantly and naturally renewed. These forms of energy are also considered sustainable energy, because we have a never ending supply of wind and sun. However, these are not entirely green energy; though the sources of the energy are completely green, the methods of capturing the energy are not.

If we take into consideration the required resources for sustainable wind and solar energy, we begin to quickly realize that the batteries require a non-renewable resource in the lithium commonly used. These lithium mines require heavy equipment that operate on fossil fuels and consume extreme amounts of non-renewable resources. The batteries are required because the wind does not constantly blow, and the sun only shines during the day, and on average only provides enough energy for an average of eight hours a day, meaning we must store solar power for use during the remaining 16 hours.

Wind power has the potential to create more consistent energy over a 24-hour period and requires fewer batteries, but the turbines require a nearly constant supply of oil to keep bearings lubricated and the current light-weight plastic turbine blades weaken as exposed to the sun, giving them a 10-year life expectancy. This results in a lot of waste materials on wind farms, filling the landfills with recyclable turbine components.

Another term often used in reference to green energy is clean energy, which once again is not the same thing. Clean energy means that when the energy is used it does not pollute the atmosphere. It is all about the quality of the air after consuming the energy. Solar and wind energy fall into the clean energy category, until you consider the manufacturing of the equipment. We can never have a truly clean energy source when we take into consideration the storage and sometimes the generation of the energy. Electricity itself is a clean energy, but is not considered green or renewable. Confusing isn’t it?

The good news is that most global governments agree that green energy means a move away from broad use of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources to clean energy that is also renewable. Ironically, one of the greenest, and possibly cleanest, renewable energy sources is wood, but it is not seen as green or clean by mainstream environmentalists. Wood burning stoves do not put more carbon into the atmosphere than it does through natural decay, some of it in ash which replenishes the carbon in the soil and some as carbon dioxide. The trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and result in cleaner air. The younger trees consume more carbon from the atmosphere than the older, larger trees, and the carbon is effectively captured and removed from the atmosphere by the trees. Wood burning stove are considered carbon neutral heating devices. However, once again when you consider the harvesting equipment there is a heavy dependency on non-renewable fossil fuels. It was only prior to modern times that we lived on truly green energy, when we heated with wood, traveled by horseback and slept from dusk to dawn, requiring no power generation and relying entirely on natural, renewable resources for daily life. I don’t see an easy way to be green without going backwards in technology, comfort and convenience. Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.

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