The push for green energy has shed light on the complexities of moving from fossil fuels. It has raised a lot of questions and revealed some formidable obstacles. Adding to the mix is the instability of the global economy, with the threat of recession and more economic woes. The question then becomes is this the right time for green energy?
Obstacles to Development
The most glaring barriers to wide-scale implementation are costs and feasibility. Currently, wind power contributes 23 percent of the total renewable energy needs, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Solar power’s share is less than one percent.
Cost is a significant obstacle, especially in a fragile economy. Renewable energy costs more to build and operate than fossil fuels. The reality is that coal is cheap. With high unemployment and rising prices, it is hard to justify yet more increases in the cost of living.
Reserves and Jobs
One of the concerns with using fossil fuels is supply. It raises more questions regarding expense and dependency on foreign oil. However, an audit of the Green River Formation in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado found that the site has reserves that equal the entire proven global reserves. What’s more, the majority of the land is federally owned.
This information brings to light another point to consider. As long as reserves exist, there is an active source of jobs and income. With renewable sources like solar and wind, it is more of a passive source. The plant is built. The panels are installed. Only maintenance is needed.
The Right Time and the Right Place
Solar and wind power are viable sources of alternative energy. Each type, however, has other environmental costs. Both rely on rare earth elements, which require destructive processes to extract. Solar power requires water usage that can be critical in areas already under water stress. Wind power can increase surface air temperatures and affect local weather patterns.
While both produce no emissions, more research is clearly needed to deal with this challenges. Perhaps solar and wind energy are best in standalone installations that won’t tax the environment. The solution may be to wait on large-scale operations until technology catches up with the limitations. In any case, the economy is a major player on where and how clean energy should go.