The future is greener than you think

Concerns about the environment may be driving the evolution of energy production and battery storage technologies. Despite some argument whether climate change is the result of human activity, how we generate power is progressing regardless — shifting away from legacy carbon-derived generation, to sustainable and renewable sources.

windfarm_sunset

photo courtesy: Will De Freitas

Sure it’s trendy to put solar panels on your roof, then you no longer need to feel guilty about running the air-conditioning during sweltering summer afternoons. Reducing the sting of your power bill might be the way you justify your ‘green’ behaviour to your conservative friends, though you really do it because you care about the planet, even if you don’t want to admit it.

roof_solar

photo courtesy: Michael Coghlan

The buzz of this energy revolution is probably most evident in the media hype surrounding electric cars, notably those produced by Tesla. Gone are the days when this was the image that came to mind when you heard the words ‘electric car’:

ecar_for_rent

photo courtesy: David Gilford

Now, thanks in large part to Tesla, electric cars are stylish, luxurious and fast.

tesla_showroom

photo courtesy: mangopulp2008

But hold on; is the trend toward green energy really that clean? After all, solar panels, wind farms and high-capacity electrical storage devices don’t grow on trees. Manufacturing renewable energy consumes energy and resources. Is a future of electric cars, solar power and wind farms really any better for the environment?

The ‘dirty truth’ about green energy, is a reoccurring theme, one that you may have seen in social media or mainstream publications. Consider this recent story that aired on Today Tonight:

 

Today Tonight might have left you feeling just a bit guilty or confused when it comes to renewable energy, but don’t despair too quickly. The ABC program Media Watch, has exposed a few of the shortcomings, selected facts and omissions that almost completely invalidate the premise of the Today Tonight story.

It is difficult to imagine that flicking a switch and getting the lights to turn-on has existed for less than 150 years, yet almost everything we are accustomed to depends upon this innovation. When it goes wrong, when the lights go out and the Internet is not available — we notice. We demand that political heads roll.

South Australia has suffered a crisis of reliability regarding its electricity distribution, and many are blaming the state’s move away from carbon-generated electricity as the culprit. It is likely that Today Tonight was trying to exploit a wave of negativity toward South Australia’s renewable energy, when it fashioned its story about the dark side of ‘clean’ energy.

According to a December 2016 report by the Australian Energy Market Operator, South Australia leads the nation in renewable energy production, with about 40 per cent of its electricity grid supplied by renewable energy.

South Australia’s electricity problems relate in part to challenges managing the variable output of wind and solar-electrical generation. What an opportunity for Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, the crusading white knight of electric cars and battery storage, to step in as the hero. Musk offered to solve South Australia’s electricity woes through a tweet, promising a unique delivery guarantee….

Right — so Tesla can fix South Australia’s power woes, but what about the environmental costs of manufacturing green energy technologies? By now we might suspect that even electric cars are not as green as we have been led to believe. And what about those batteries, they just throw those away don’t they?

The Union of Concerned Scientists, recently examined all aspects of manufacturing, use, and disposal of today’s electric cars, and determined it can take as few as six months of driving to offset the additional emission costs of production of electric vehicles. Despite negative press and un-researched social media posts, today’s electric cars are in fact 50 per cent lower in end-to-end global warming emissions, compared to even very efficient petrol or diesel cars.

The very existence of these misrepresented stories that portray cleaner forms of energy and transportation as ‘dirty’, indicate that we are demanding accountability, even of products that promise a greener future. As a society, we are beginning to look beyond the limited interaction of just buying and consuming; we are seek accountability in a long, complex chain of processes that impact on our planet and the environment.

Feature Image courtesy: Phil McIver

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