Over the week I have become convinced of the ability of renewable energy to help provide our ever increasing energy needs. As I discovered from interviews with the general public and then with industry experts, people’s concerns and fears are often unfounded or can easily be overcome. Renewable energy already makes a large contribution to world primary energy needs; in 2009 it amounted to 13% (Boyle, 2012). Renewable energy production is growing, and this is likely to continue.
On the plus side there is mounting concerns over climate change and limited fossil fuel reserves (Boyle, 2012), as well as technological advancements improving cost and efficiency. However, altering the existing energy production and distribution systems and matching supply and demand over time and space are still large scale barriers that do not have simple answers.
An area of the renewable energy industry that really requires more attention is the carbon footprint of renewable energy installations themselves -that is the total greenhouse gas emissions it is responsible for over its lifetime.
One aspect of this is considering where the technology comes from.
Although a solar panel will generate more energy over its lifetime than it requires for production (CAT, n.d.), the carbon pay-back time is often not considered. If people did take it into consideration along side the financial pay-back time, companies would have an incentive to try and reduce their panels’ carbon costs.
I consider that a lot of improvements still need to be made if the renewable energy industry is to become as eco-friendly as it is tries to present itself. This includes reducing energy use altogether and leading by example in terms of how offices and businesses are run.
Natural Generation in Perranporth does just that by using electric cars, a biomass boiler, solar PV and solar thermal panels, as well as recycling waste into furniture.
A National Geographic article on the environmental impact of solar panels
Boyle (2012) Renewable Energy: Power for a sustainable future, Oxford University Press: Oxford.
CAT Center for Alternative Technology (n.d.) What is the energy and carbon payback time for PV panels in the UK? accessed 10/06/15 from CAT Information Service http://info.cat.org.uk/questions/pv/what-energy-and-carbon-payback-time-pv-panels-uk
Wilson (n.d.) It’s not where your solar panels came from that matters, it’s where they are going that counts, accessed 10/06/15 from shrink that footprint