I commend the column in July’s Energy & Power Management magazine by Joe Salimando. As a veteran energy technology blogger, Salimando coordinates http://www.electricalcontractor.com/, which covers the electrical industry. In his column, “Alternative Energy and Belief Systems” Salimando drives home a point that I continuously try to illustrate as I write these entries: blind faith does not guarantee success in renewable energy.
Successful implementation of alternative energy projects is difficult, especially against the backdrop of entrenched fossil fuels that are cheap enough to make new energy technologies prohibitive. I am disgusted by fly-by-night companies installing wind turbines and solar panels just to showcase technology (see “This Wind Turbine Should Be Turning”) or because they are heavily subsidized by government tax credits. Tax incentives are meant to stimulate growth of the renewable energy sector, not feed faux energy companies who don’t have a clue. If a renewable installation cannot provide return on investment without a tax crutch, the project is not viable to begin with and should not be allowed to proceed.
In his column, Joe Salimando provides a refreshing dose of reality as he reviews several emerging energy technologies: PV, plug-in hybrid vehicles, ethanol, compact fluorescents, and wind turbines. Even these relatively established technologies must fight an uphill battle. For example, just as photovoltaic technology is maturing, PV manufactures face a crippling shortage of raw materials. Plug-in hybrid vehicles do not reduce the energy required for transportation; they merely relocate the energy generation. Moreover, compact fluorescents provide illumination that is inferior in many ways to incandescent bulbs, especially for our aging baby-boomer population whose eyes respond poorly to blue-heavy fluorescent light.
Salimando’s conclusion resonates with my convictions about renewable energy. Success in building a nation free from fossil fuels and based on renewable energy will require a blend of many different techniques to generate and distribute energy in a sustainable way. In addition, Mr. America must the willing to live with some trade-offs (a.k.a. inconveniences) to become disentangled from fossil fuel dependency.
Thanks for speaking the truth, Joe, instead of giving us the rosy, glass-half-full spin that seems to be the norm in the renewable energy industry these days.