A critical view at the green transition

If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and achieve the emission goals set forth by governments and international treaties, we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels.

But mainstreaming renewables requires a steady hand and critical focus. Because while their uptake brings clear benefits, avoiding tunnel vision is crucial. Both when it comes to developing a versatile energy mix and remaining mindful of the inevitable shortcomings of different technologies.
Identifying and addressing these challenges is the first step towards a successful transition to a sustainable and renewables-based energy system.

The CO2 question

Just because a technology or fuel is labeled sustainable, carbon-free, or carbon-neutral, decision-makers shouldn’t be ignorant of its disadvantages.

Biomass is promoted as a carbon-neutral fuel because its emissions can be offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the trees grown to replace those burned. Yet these carbon-neutral credentials are not straightforward, especially when wood pellets are made from living trees rather than waste wood products. Biogas is similarly complex and by no means CO2-free.

Carbon costs

Another elephant in the room is the carbon cost of renewables. For example, building and erecting a wind turbine requires hundreds of tons of steel, concrete, fiberglass, and copper that first need to be extracted or produced. The same is true for solar panels, which require their own set of materials.

The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, the world will need to deal with 78M tons of solar panel waste and tens of millions of tons of old turbine blades.

The need for storage solutions

Technologies like solar and wind are excellent sources of clean energy. Unfortunately, their production is intermittent by nature. Fluctuations in sunlight and wind levels mean that supplies are simply less consistent than those derived from fossil fuel plants.

If we are serious about transitioning to renewable energy sources, considerable investments are needed in efficient and economically viable storage solutions. Until recently, the lion’s share of investments and innovations have gone towards batteries and power storage, while heat storage has received surprisingly little attention.

Since 50% of the world’s energy usage relates to heating, this naturally needs to change.

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