Alternative forms of energy and power have really come to the fore in the last half a decade or so and made great technological leaps. The focus on the costs of oil, environment and climate change all have taken their toll and created a scramble for an alternative.
However, it’s not all as clear cut as it seems and there are a number of challenges for alternative green forms of energy. There are two forms of alternative energy:
Substitutes for petrol – ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands, oil shale etc
Electricity Generation Alternatives – power storage technologies such as solar, tidal, biomass, wind etc.
Now, not all of these are green technologies and this is the first challenge. Oil shale, tar sands and gas fracking are alternatives, but environmentally costly ones that are often far lower to use than green alternatives. This means that there has been a turn towards these energy sources over greener ones and though this is a short term solution, it seems to be an increasingly popular one. The human race doesn’t seem to enjoy the long game
Green alternatives are wonderful but they so far have only been successful on a small scale. For green alternatives to become realistic, they will need to be supplied within the next few decades and also at an affordable cost. Small scale success does not certainly mean large scale success and this is the problem.
This leads us onto our next point. We’ve seen plenty of suitable alternatives demonstrated in laboratory conditions, or on small specialist scales. However, the length of time for such technologies to make it from the lab to full scale commercial production is usually 20-25 years. Technologies that prove they work in the lab have to go through tests, piloting, environmental impacts, then design, engineering, funding and a whole host of additions. This means that a technology that is in the lab today will not have a real life impact until 2030 at least.
Alternative energy requires alternative resources. Fuel cells require platinum and palladium, PV panels indium and OLED technology gallium and rare earths. These are limited in their existence and as currently only a small percentage of the world’s energy is met by these fuels, the volume of the rare resources used for production may dwindle before we can accommodate a green solution.
Water causes wars and is as much of a source of conflict in some parts of the world, as oil is in the West. Much alternative energy requires large amounts of water – bio fuel and biomass being two examples. This means irrigation is required and as there are only so many resources to go about, the decision between water for foods or fuel must take place. Put it this way, petrol requires 2.5gallons of water per gallon of fuel, biodiesel requires 14,000 gallons of water per gallon of fuel – that’s a problem.
Cormac Reynolds writes for a wide range of green businesses including http://www.worldofsolar.com/and has an interest in all things green.