Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Never Ending Cycle of Renewable Energy Trade Offs

     We are fairly diligent in our review of information regarding biofuels, renewable energy, biomass, etc.  I am always amazed at the comments which bring up new and inventive ways in which these technologies are "potentially harming" the environment and our economy.
     I wanted to share some observations that have stuck out in my mind over the years.

1.  Biofuels are causing habitat reductions for orangutans.  There are no doubt habitat reductions for many species but let's be realistic.  How much are biofuels really contributing compared to urban sprawl and the standard of living increases in countries?

2.  Food vs. fuel.  I will not get into detail on this other than make a couple comments.  How many food shortages would be prevented if we stopped all corn ethanol production?  How much would the US agricultural community be affected if the 30% of the corn which is now locally bought and converted to higher value products was sold overseas at commodity prices?  When you look at the price of food on the shelves how much is related to raw agricultural products and how much is related to processing costs and distribution?  How much has the biodiesel and corn ethanol production helped us to move towards a greener future?  Isn't there some value in trying?  It is better than setting on our hands waiting for a perfect solution.

3.  Removing forest and agricultural biomass for energy production will harm the land.  This is correct.  Removing biomass without first understanding and considering the effects can harm the land.  Landowners and policy makers have been regulating the management of land with economic or policy based decisions for many years.  It is not in any stakeholders best interest to harm the land.

4.  The best solution may never make economical sense.  I know there are cleaner and more efficient means of generating power and fuels.    If they don't make economic sense they are not going to scale and displace a significant portion of capacity.  This also goes for making environmentally "dirty" processes clean.  Dare I say clean coal technology.

The point is nothing is perfect.  We seem to forget the environmental harm fossil fuels create just because they are widely used and main stream sources of energy.  We also think that renewable energy should cost the same as fossil fuel derives sources.

Renewable energy solutions are not and will probably never be perfect or the lowest cost.  We have to be striving to make each solution better than the last.

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