Dark Side of Renewable Energy - Yüksel Yasemin Altıntaş


Consumption of hydrocarbon resources not only makes states dependent on one and another but also harms the environment by increasing carbon emissions. Shifting to renewable energy consumption can help the mitigation of climate change by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of energy security concerns, global warming, and advancements in intelligence technology (IT) sector, states started to invest more in renewable energies like solar panels, windmills, and nuclear plants. With the progress in the IT sector, since minerals like cobalt constitute the critical component of electric devices batteries, demand for these minerals also increased. A new market already established for some metals like copper, silver, silicon, cobalt, and nickel. Yet the usage of other minerals like tellurium, indium, gallium, selenium, and molybdenum are not that common yet.


In his, the mineral foundation of the energy transition, article Morgan D. Bazilian indicates that 75% of the world’s production of cobalt comes from developing countries; studies show that Latin America owns a regional potential for minerals such as copper, nickel, and lithium. Africa is rich in terms of platinum, manganese, bauxite, and chromium stratums. When it comes to Asia, like Malaysia and Indonesia, they have good deposits of nickel and others, and it is foreseen that China deposits rare minerals.


Development and democratization vise, for me, the biggest problem is the locations of these minerals. As it’s mentioned in Bazilian’s article, the majority of these precious minerals are located in developing countries. Under the lack of proper legal consulting systems, working conditions in the mineral mines are significant uncertainty. Labour security, working hours, regulations needed to be kept under control in these countries; otherwise, these natural resources will create an adverse effect on the development rate of the country. In 2016, much of the world’s cobalt, more specifically 63% of I was produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Still, the mining industry constitutes a significant rate in Congo’s export income. United States Geological Survey indicated that Congo owns approximately 1 million tons of lithium reserves.


Raconteur reports that an estimated 35,000 children work in unsafe conditions in Congo to extract cobalt only. Due to the lack of democratic political structure, rules and regulations in specific sectors, and precise mechanisms to force to fallow mine owners to act under international labor rights future of the Congo does not look that bright. If we consider the working conditions, violence, and payments these workers receive (many of these labors working less than 2$ per day ), international regulations must be set for such mineral supply chains. It is likely to come across a similar scene in other mineral-rich countries.

To break this paradox setting international regulations is not enough on its own. If companies do not invest in mineral-rich states, this exploiter and exploited dynamics can never be changed. As O’Sullivan, Overland, and Sandalow indicate, if these developing countries convince that they can advance their technologies and can use these minerals in their markets, then they may stop exploding mineral mines and labors. Right now, the majority of these states, like China, are importing their minerals for processing and then re-importing them. If the reliance on renewable energy increases, states may decide to hold their rare metals for themselves.


Minerals can be traded among countries located in different geographies; however, it is harder to trade energy obtained from renewable energy resources among the states. Due to its nature by constructing pipelines, oil and gas can be transferred over far distances. LNG can also be transported across the continents via ships. When it comes to renewable sources such as electricity produced by solar panels, bio fossils, windmills, or geothermal energy, it is harder to export them. To export or increase the usage of renewable energy, states have changed in the current infrastructure. For instance, for electric cars, countries need to construct electric vehicles charging systems.


Currently, based on their charging and traveling capacity/time, these vehicles are not efficient enough. To make these vehicles more demanded products, manufacturing companies are producing hybrid cards. Some may claim that seeing such hybrid systems is normal for the transition period; however, it is a fact that the storage of these renewables is problematic. Set up locations for large solar panels, and windmills also are selected cautiously. American Institute of Physics indicates that living close to wind turbines (within a range of 600 meters to 10 kilometers) negatively affect human life, due to windmills audible sounds.


On the contrary to that, renewable energy can open up new markets, job options for locals and makes states less dependent on other countries, energy provider firms. In terms of energy security, more countries produce their energy more dependent they become to other states. Due to storage limitations, solar panels may not be the best alternative for long term usage, such as heating. Promoting renewable energy states can decrease the power of energy monopolies.


In addition to that, states would become less vulnerable to cyber-attacks. If a household can sustain itself electricity via solar panels, it won’t be affected by electricity cuts in its neighborhood. The same logic applies to regions and cities. “In India, more than a million households are benefiting from solar energy, with over 10,000 remote villages securing basic electricity through distributed renewable power alone.” In terms of security, it is always a good idea to expand your options and try to be dependent on one particular recourse or state as less as possible, but the cost of this transformation should not be avoided too.


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