Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The scourge of renewable energy

One of the mantras of the CoGW is that we must transition from a petroleum-based society to one based on renewable energy sources. We've already looked at the adverse environmental impact of the burgeoning ethanol market. Now, LiveScience reports on a new study which asks if we're really ready for the impact of other proposed renewable sources:
Renewable energy could wreck the environment, according to a study that examined how much land it would take to generate the renewable resources that would make a difference in the global energy system.

Building enough wind farms, damming adequate number of rivers and growing sufficient biomass to produce ample kilowatts to make a difference in meeting global energy demands would involve a huge invasion of nature, according to Jesse Ausubel, a researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York.

Ausubel came to this conclusion by calculating the amount of energy that each renewable source can produce in terms of area of land disturbed.

“We looked at the different major alternatives for renewable energies and we measured [the power output] for each of them and how much land it will rape,” Ausubel told LiveScience.

Land grab for energy

The results, published in the current issue of International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, paint a grim picture for the environment. For example, according to the study, in order to meet the 2005 electricity demand for the United States, an area the size of Texas would need to be covered with wind structures running round the clock to extract, store and transport the energy.

New York City would require the entire area of Connecticut to become a wind farm to fully power all its electrical equipment and gadgets.

You can convert every kilowatt generated directly into land area disturbed, Ausubel said. “The biomass or wind will produce one or two watts per square meter. So every watt or kilowatt you want for light bulbs in your house can be translated into your hand reaching out into nature taking land.”
What's interesting to me is that, according to the article, others have countered this reasoning with the argument that the land that must be set aside for such use is still awfully small compared to the total land mass of the U.S. I wonder if these are the same folks who scream murder because some shopping center will inconvenience some rare species of gnat.

Ausubel also opines that the most efficient non-polluting energy source -- nuclear -- would be far preferable to solar, wind, biomass or hydroelectric as a large-scale solution, since nuclear's carbon and overall environmental footprint is minimal. That opinion is sure to get him crossed off of the Sierra Club's (recycled) Christmas card list.