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The Myth Of Renewable Energy – OpEd


By Gavin Atkins

In light of the announcement that the Australian Government is to create a new tax sink – the Renewable Energy Agency, the definition of what constitutes renewable energy is worth reviewing.

Renewable energy is natural energy which does not have a limited supply. Renewable energy can be used again and again, and will never run out.

In other words, solar and wind energy is supposed to be the magic pudding of energy.

But if you want to create renewable energy, you need a huge amount of solar panels and wind turbines. By one count, Germany will need 111,000 100-meter wind turbines to replace the nuclear power plants that it has decided to phase out. Even if we ignore the carbon dioxide created in building these turbines, this will have zero net savings in carbon dioxide emissions once they are in place. And of course, unlike the nuclear power plants, the turbines will produce no electricity when the wind is not blowing.

In addition, the German Energy Agency estimates that 3,600 additional kilometres of the 80-meter-high power masts will be required to transport the power. Of course, to make these wires, we are going to have to crank up our carbon dioxide emitting copper smelters to full capacity.

This illustrates the myth of renewable energy. Renewable energy is not really renewable simply because of the infrastructure that is needed to put it in place. Someone, somewhere – probably the Chinese – are going to have to build the turbines and solar panels. Only the Chinese, meanwhile, are smart enough to be building nuclear power plants to give them the necessary power to do it. It’s ironic, is it not, that the power that is expected to create so much of that valuable renewable energy is expected to be nuclear.

Another real risk is that with countries like Germany going into it on a huge scale, there is going to be a big shortage of the materials needed to make solar panels, electric motors and wind turbines. It is hard to think of a better way of illustrating the fact that renewable energy is not unlimited than the fact that we are likely to run out of the raw materials required to make these things very quickly.

In the meantime, the Germans are bracing themselves for blackouts. Looks like they are about to discover the hard way that renewable energy is not unlimited.

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Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

2 thoughts on “The Myth Of Renewable Energy – OpEd

  • July 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Finally! An article that recognizes the issues with renewable energy. It requires traditional energy sources to be produced and then it takes up lots of acrage. All while the global population keeps increasing. I was please to read that you also take into account the raw materials used. For example, car manufacturer Audi had with their 2008 model year begun removing features like power folding mirrors. The 2012 models can’t deliver the rearview camera. Component shortage. But somehow all of those raw materials should be available for renewable energy turbines and panels. And mind you, they will never increase in cost, as this source of power is shouted out loud as getting cheaper and cheaper. Demand increase and supply shortage somehow don’t equal costs sinking, in my book, but it does in every yay-sayers book. Moreover, this energy they tout as renewable may very well be eternal, but last I checked, turbines and panels last for 25 years and then needs to be replaced. I think the prices of raw materials – rare earth elements – used in building these will look very, very different 25 years from now. Ironically, as climate change has been a big issue over the last few years, I suppose they’re very certain the weather gods will be kind to the locations picked for wind turbines and solar panel. I know I, for one, never expected it to snow in the Atacama desert, but it did just the other day.


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