By: Erik Kane | On: March 13, 2019
Power generation is one of, if not the top concern when it comes to emissions and climate change. We need energy, and lots of it. Our demands for it are increasing every day, even with improvements in efficiencies. To kill two birds with one stone, industries are looking at alternative sources of energy – green energy. Solar, wind, and nuclear are the big three when it comes to these types of power generation and many have called for a carbon-free grid by 2050. Unfortunately, they all seem to be at war with each other…competing for buy-in from investors, government subsidies, and popular opinion. We know the problems we face with fossil fuels, but green technologies have avoided this examination to a degree. They all like to tout their benefits, but what are some of the drawbacks to the various types of green energy?
The Future Energy Mix
Solar is the big one. No energy source is more abundant than the sun. From ancient religions to modern science fiction humanity has seen the sun as a source of power. In fact, if we could capture and store all of the sun’s energy that reaches Earth for one hour we could power our civilization for an entire year. Yet, herein lies the problem. Solar energy technology is still very inefficient compared to traditional generation methods. Even with the best case scenarios (prime location and most advanced technology) the efficiency of solar rarely crests above 22%. Even coal-fired power plants can achieve 40% efficiency, and modern natural gas combined-cycle power plants can push past 60% without the unpredictability of solar. This low efficiency rate, combined with the amount of rare-earth materials necessary to manufacture solar panels and the environmental impact of mining them, results in a high-cost option that still impacts the environment and has a low return when it comes to actual power generation.
Wind is number two. While wind may seem to be nearly as abundant and infinite as sunlight, there are areas which remain unexplored in its effects on the environment. Most of the complaints regarding wind energy generation come from the size of the turbines; the eyesore they create, and the noise that they make. When it comes to energy though, it is neither created nor destroyed, and can only change form. Meaning, in areas where there are enough wind turbines to sap this energy out of the atmosphere, the actual physical wind itself may be reduced. There is no way to increase the amount of wind in the air. Some theorize this can actually have a negative effect on the temperature of an area and cause it to increase and create climate change without the natural airflow, or affect how plants and insects are able to pollinate.
Finally the most hotly debated of the 3: Nuclear. Nuclear generation’s biggest advantage is that it really does produce zero carbon emissions…during operation. Equally important, while other generation sources are spotty and can have issues in inclement weather, nuclear generation can keep on chugging at 100% without missing a beat. The problems come from the inherent danger in a nuclear power plant’s operation, the difficulty in procuring fuel, and the disposal of spent fuel. Incidents like the Fukushima disaster have shown the world that even with the most advanced technology, Mother Nature can be impossible to reckon with. And even if we improve the methods of fuel disposal, the mining and enriching of uranium is an industrially intensive and environmentally hazardous process that doesn’t seem to be going away.
Which one is the Answer?
The truth is, we haven’t fully quantified the negative impacts or the implications of new technology. A balanced energy grid seems to be the most logical choice in order to maximize the benefits and mitigate the drawbacks of each type of power generation. Even though it will be decades before the efficiencies, technologies and production match what we have from fossil fuels, it’s imperative that we work towards a safe, sustainable energy supply. It’s only been a little over 100 years since we filled in the corners of the map and began to understand that the volume of fossil fuels, the acreage of forests, or even the air in the atmosphere or the water in the oceans are all indeed very large, but also limited.
When it comes to changing technologies and critical industrial applications, Hose Master will continue to be there. Regardless of how the market evolves, we will continue to supply the highest quality metal hose and expansion joint solutions to the power generation industry, to meet the engineering-intensive needs of our customers. If you have a need for metal hoses or expansion joints in a power plant, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-481-2020 and we will be happy to assist you.
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