The sooner we stop using, and trying to define, terms like “clean energy” and “green energy,” the better off we’ll be.
The terminology is the issue. The technology – including wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectric, cogeneration, fuel cells and so on – may be fine. Most studies have found these energy technologies to be “cleaner” and “greener” than traditional fossil fuels, but they can still have a significant environmental impact and unintended consequences. Even the most ardent supporters of these technologies have to realize that “clean and green” over-promises and under-delivers – it may work in the short term, but, ultimately, hyperbole will get in the way of long-term, full-scale, highly successful deployment.
Energy use = environmental impact. It’s left to the scientific community, policy makers, the private sector and consumers to measure and prioritize the risks and rewards. In some cases, for example, locally produced oil and gas may prove to be one of the most responsible energy sources – to the benefit of all Three Ps of People, Plant and Prosperity.
The more we know alternative energy sources almost always leads to the more we know about the potential downside.
Take wind turbines, for example. Concerns about birds and noise have been around for quite some time. However, a new study out of the University at Albany links large Texas wind farms to higher surface temperature.
The study said the turbines act like fans to pull down warmer air from the atmosphere. The researchers insist that the warming effect is localized and small, and is more of a redistribution of warm air, rather than warming. They say there is no concern about such redistribution contributing to climate change, but with enough turbines in a small area, the local impact could be significant, I suppose.
One environmentalist even suggested that one possible outcome could be extended growing seasons for crops grown near wind turbines. But, careful, it’s a slippery slope.
The pursuit of “cleaner and greener” and “renewables” remains a wonderful thing. Chasing the perfect “clean and green” solutions will almost assuredly end up as a frustrating waste of time and resources.