Ever think about how many people there are in world today, and about how fast the world’s population is increasing? The per day increase is estimated to be about 204,000. That’s a lot of people.
Next question: ever think about the resources all those people are using and will continue to use in increasing amounts each day, month and year? Best not too really, especially if you want to sleep well. Here’s the basic fact or people v resources: people numbers are increasing, resources are dwindling, at least the ones we love to use, like oil and carbon fuels such as coal. Most experts also accept that these fossil fuels are heating the atmosphere, creating global warming. So, although these resources are getting scarcer, either actually or economically, they’re doing more and more damage on the way out! Doesn’t seem fair, really.
All of this raises a pretty obvious question: why on earth (pun intended) don’t we use fuels and resources that are renewable, such as the sun, water and wind. Now, you might say that we are, and to an extent I’d have to agree with you. After all, we’ve had hydro-electric energy for decades. But the downside of this is that we’re running out of rivers to put dams on, plus the fact that by damming rivers we often create huge environmental problems, such as flooding of towns, destruction of natural habitats and so on. (Not to mention that many countries don’t have rivers to dam anyway!).
Nuclear energy is good, efficient and kind on resources, but it does have its own set of issues which are fundamental, such as where to put spent fuel rods. Not in my backyard, thanks. There are also wind farms and solar heating sites, but they do not contribute hugely to energy supplies.
So, is it all doom and gloom? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the answer is to stop thinking big, and instead think small. Renewable energy sources, such as the sun and the wind, can be used in small scale as well as large scale operations. (In fact, there is large scale resistance to large scale wind farms, because of their perceived ugliness and adverse environmental impact.)
Small scale ie home or community sun and wind power schemes, however, do not impact on the environment in nearly the same way, and therefore are, or certainly ought to be, much more acceptable. There are renewable home energy systems available, and some countries subsidise homeowners to install them. However, it’s more than fair to say that there is no huge uptake of such systems, as any of us can see from simply driving around our neighbourhoods. I think this is partly inertia on most of our parts, and partly because the upfront cost is unaffordable to many of us.
Let’s address some of the ways in which such systems might gain more public acceptance:
* couldn’t governments divert funds on a much greater scale to home/community rather than national energy solutions? Of course they could. Yes, there will be resistance from existing energy companies, but aren’t they becoming dinosaurs anyway?
* More funding allied with public education campaigns (“Think Small!” “Save on Energy Costs!” etc) would likely have a very positive effect.
* More subsidies for those households who use renewable energy would be attractive, perhaps in the form of reduced local body taxes.
* Tax breaks and assistance for the companies supplying the systems would attract innovators and entrepreneurs into the market, resulting in smaller, more efficient renewable energy systems.
* Make the installation of renewable energy systems compulsory in new homes. Increased home costs? Yes, but look at the huge saving on energy operating costs.
It is a mantra to many that there are no problems in life, only solutions. I’m not sure that’s always true, but with respect to energy we all have to make the current problem an opportunity, because we have no choice. The energy sources we have taken for granted all our lives are running out and/or are environmentally unacceptable. Unless we address the issue in a meaningful way, lack of energy could be a real issue for succeeding generations. I applaud all the work going on to develop new energy sources (such as battery or hydrogen powered vehicles) but to a very large extent the ability to turn our energy problems into solutions already exists: sun, wind and, to a lesser extent, water.
Imagine a future where every household has its own renewable energy source. Sounds great to me!