Monday, August 25, 2008

Problems are blowing in the wind

As attention gradually shifts away from climate change and towards the more progressive topic of diversified energy policy, more and more basic questions are being asked.

For example, this post highlights three fundamental issues that renewable energy sources must address:
  1. neither wind nor solar can supply of continuous power
  2. lack of power concentration: both wind and solar are useful for individual, dispersed dwellings (see Amish communities, recreational cottages) but inefficient for large urban communities in terms of the amount of land required and transmission efficiencies
  3. only a select number of places are suitable for wind and/or solar power generation (from the brief amount I saw of the Beijing Olympics, the ambient conditions did not look conducive to either wind nor solar: why is China investing so heavily in coal generating power stations? for all the reasons renewables are not suitable to their situation).
So O.K., no wind nor solar safety net for China nor India: countries still developing, with large urban populations and access to cheap coal supplies and little to no inducement to worry about their carbon emissions -- poverty being a more rampant problem.

But what about developed, prosperous, not to say, green-aware countries like Canada? Well, even in politically tame Canada, questions about the suitability of more wind farms is being raised -- even by green politicians.

Not only are wind and solar still expensive options, they remain very limited in their ability to displace existing sources of energy production. And, here, as with all aspects of sustainability, economics is a key component of policy determination. Economics are not more important than social or environmental concerns: but sustainability requires the integration of economics with social and environmental imperatives, not an ignorance of, or a failure to consider, any economics that green ideology finds distasteful.