United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) confirmed that the warming of the climate system has caused by the world population. Since climate warming is an explicit threat, the solutions are searched for. One of the most popular and widespread solutions is renewable energy. But is it as useful and non-problematic as declared?
A widely acknowledged solution to global warming is to transition to renewable energy. The concept has gained so much popularity that it became a medium to affect the policies all around the world. Nonetheless, the downsides of this concept are often overlooked. To be able to criticize this concept, we need to understand the definition of it.
The term was found in the literature since the early 1900s. Up to this date, the meaning of the concept does not indicate any changes. International Energy Agency (IEA) defines it as “energy derived from natural processes that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed,” which includes solar, wind, hydro, and biomass as renewable energy. It is a broad but clearly defined the concept. Thus the problem is not related to its definition or what is renewable energy and what is not. Atte Harjanne and Janne Korhonen indicate several issues existing with the concept.
First, renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable. Although they seem to be linked, it is crucial to comprehend what sustainability means. The Brundtland Report (1987) defines it as a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future to meet their own needs. Nonetheless, within the renewables, biomass usage, which has a crucial role, contradicts with sustainability. Biomass has three major environmental issues. It can threaten the biodiversity in the area that is produced and can affect the quality of water. Second, biomass combustion can cause net emission. And lastly, biomass burning can increase pollution, which can lead to an increase in diseases.
Secondly, renewables differ from each other. The definition of renewable energy is clear, but it is a broad umbrella that includes many different sources. Harjanne suggests, this variability of energy sources are widely recognized issues of renewable energy production. Excluding biomass, all of these sources are dependent on local conditions. Wind power and solar output solely depend on local weather conditions. Hydropower is directly linked with the water levels, which can vary hourly.
Last but not least, the problem of renewable energy is that there is no renewable energy. I want to introduce the second law of thermodynamics to explain the contradiction within the concept itself. The total entropy in an isolated system will always increase, and the changes in the universe can never be negative. Hence, energy cannot be renewed. Another aspect of addressing this issue is that to produce renewable energy, the machinery has to be from the non-renewable materials, which increase this problem. Or even to produce bioenergy, biomass is the source; however, the negative impacts of biomass are irreversible.
Harjanne indicates the problems with the concept. Renewable energy is often associated with sustainability, but they are often contradictory to each other. The incoherent nature of renewable energy comes from its wide variety of energy sources. And eventually, the concept of renewable energy does not exist. The concept gains praise is not only problematic but has the potential to be harmful. It is very crucial to understand the detrimental outcomes of this concept and find a better alternative for it.