How we get there
Each technology has some issues it needs to work through before it can be talked about on the same level as wind, solar, or nuclear. This is what needs to happen before we can get these technologies to realize their full potential. It is also important to point out that while we need a mix of energy technologies, and that any of these could compliment technologies like wind and solar, we should keep an open mind to different technologies. We shouldn't expect any of these technologies to be a holy grail of clean energy and should avoid putting an unreasonable amount of time and money into any one thing.
The first issue, as with many new technologies, is price
Tidal and Wave Power
There are a number of problems that these systems currently face, which have kept them from achieving widespread adoption. The first issue, as with many new technologies, is price. These systems involve installing turbines or floating devices at sea and then transporting that energy back to mainland power stations. They also have problems with durability
, having to survive constant salt water exposure and damage from heavy storms. Finally, there is the environmental concern. These devices need to be installed and operated in ways that do not destroy coastal ecosystems.
We need to better and cheaper ways to build wave power systems like this one off the coast of Portugal. It captures energy from the waves that move past it and turn it into electricity.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Geothermal has mostly been limited to areas with a lot of geological activity. While they work well there, there is a new technology being installed called Binary Cycle power plants, that can use temperatures as low as 57 degrees Celsius
, which are found in the ground at many places that up until now have not been able to take advantage of geothermal energy. This technology is starting to be implemented and just needs to be shown to be cost competitive before geothermal can begin spreading. We also need to make sure that these new systems are sustainable in the long term and don't deplete stored thermal energy reserves. Fossil fuels should teach us to be wary of the sustainability of pulling power out of the ground.
Biomass needs to be handled more sustainably and with all indirect carbon emissions and other environmental effects taken into account. Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and electricity from biomass need to be acquired without creating land use changes that result in more carbon emissions. For example, deforestation and then forest regrowth can release carbon in the short term both from burning the harvested trees and if the regrowth effort disturbs the carbon contained in the soil. Another example is the use of biomass that competes with food, raising food prices and increasing deforestation elsewhere in the world. This means being aware of the effects of our biomass consumption and keeping it down to a sustainable level. Sustainable meaning that it has a net neutral or negative effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in both the short and long terms and that it can be done over and over again without other major environmental harm.
Clean coal, if it were ever to be considered clean, would need to capture and successfully store all of its CO2
emissions, putting the carbon back underground where it came from. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
does not believe that this is a likely scenario. If we are going to pursue this anyway, we need to work to find more storage sites and more efficient, cost effective ways of pulling the CO2
from coal plant emissions. This technology would need to be applied to all new and existing coal plants. And, finally, we would need to find ways to mine coal that did not emit CO2
, create major environmental damage, or cause negative health effects. And even if we were able to do all this, we'd be working with a finite fuel, just like with nuclear energy. This would also not deal with the negative health effects from coal burning besides CO2
Wikipedia - Geothermal Electricity
Wikipedia article on geothermal electricity.Click now to view
IPCC special report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage
PDF of a report by special working group on the potential of carbon capture and storage (aka clean coal) systems for reducing carbon emissions.Click now to view
Little known fact: I can produce more hair than several small countries combined