Second thoughts on alternative energy

September 23, 2009
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Wind and solar have always seemed like the über energy. Clean, seemingly limitless and potentially cheap—what’s not to like?

Biofuels offer a different, but also powerful appeal. Turn the Midwest, one of the world’s plumpest areas of prime farmland, into a big ethanol and biodiesel factory. Consumers never run out of fuel, new industries are stimulated and farmers make more money, so everyone wins.

Each type has always had its unique drawbacks, but their overall prospects nevertheless seemed reasonably bright.

However, a new study from The Nature Conservancy tempers some of the enthusiasm. If the United States wants to create enough alternative energy to meet the carbon cap-and-trade legislation now before Congress, we’d have to devote an additional 79,500 square miles to the task by 2030. That’s a footprint twice the size of Indiana.

Even if the study exaggerates the impact, it’s still a lot of land.

Most of the space would be allocated to growing crops for biofuels. But some of it also would be pockmarked with wind turbines and paved over with solar collectors.

Delving further into alternative energy is fine and good, the Nature Conservancy says, provided damage to natural habitat is minimized and projects are located on marginal land or brown fields. But the conservation organization emphasizes Americans should make improving efficiency the first priority.

What are your thoughts? Are we leaving efficiency on the sidelines in our enthusiasm for alternative energy?

  • The first time something is done is probably the most inefficient way it will ever be done. One day we will be recycling aluminum cans from orbit. But right now the job gets done by bending over and picking them up. Just because its not the most efficient way to do it, doesn't mean its not a job worth doing. This is the first time since the industrial revolution that we are trying to become energy independent using alternative energy. Its not going to be that efficient, but it is a job worth doing. Years from now when they recycle aluminum from orbit they will have much more efficient ways to create alternative energy. Right now the task is in front of us and we should just get doing, and find the efficiencies along the way.
  • Yes, energy efficiency should be priority one ahead of marginally economic resources (wind and solar). What's the status of the Governor's plan to increase the building code requirements in the state?
  • There are several alternatives for energy, among them, nuclear. We, as Americans, seem to fear nuclear energy, while every US Naval Vessel is a floating nuclear power plant. The French generate about 80% of their enery grom nuclear energy, and I would assume that if they are smart enought to do it, we are too. We are too dependent on fossil fuels. The issue of green house gases is the production of carbon dioxide during the burning of fossil fuels. We must develop an alternative energy source that does not produce carbon dioxide as a by product to the production of energy.
  • Are the The Nature Conservancy's data based on current levels of consumption and lifestyles? Energy costs will eventually drive people to consumer less and live differently. Alternative energy production will be essential, as will lifestyle changes. The latter will reduce the demand for energy.

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