Today the world derives the vast majority of its energy from non-renewable resources like oil, coal, and natural gas. There is a finite amount of these fuels, and at the current growth rate of usage they will all be used up within 100 years. That means that some of the young babies of today will live to see the end of the age of hydrocarbon fuels. What will they use to fulfill their energy needs?
There is a strong push to replace hydrocarbons with “green” energy sources, using so-called renewable resources such as sunlight, wind, or thermal energy. While I can see that these resources could be considered renewable given their current levels of usage, I fear the impact on our environment if we scale usage up to the point where they could provide most of the world’s energy needs.
Consider wind power, which today consists of a few wind farms in a few places, and which have no discernable impact on weather patterns (or the energy supply, for that matter). However, if you scale up wind power so that it is ubiquitous, and you remove all of that wind energy from the meteorological realm, what would be the resulting long-term impact? I have been unable to find any estimates of this, nor do I see a logical way to predict such an impact, even if one were to attempt to figure it out. Today we see huge, wild shifts in the world’s weather with each degree of temperature change — what would be the impact of reducing wind energy by one mile per hour around the globe?
The same with sunlight. Today people have solar cells or solar water heaters on the rooftops of their homes, and there are a few large-scale commercial solar energy farms, but again nothing noteworthy in relation to the overall world energy supply. And these few solar installations really have no impact on global weather, as they are so small as to be inconsequential. But, again, imaging scaling up the production of energy from sunlight, with vast farms of solar cells or solar water heaters absorbing energy from sunlight, energy that would previously have hit the ground and contributed to the natural forces of our biosphere. What if large-scale solar energy farms reduced the global temperature by one or two degrees?
The same can be said for geothermal energy, as well as other “renewables” such as biomass or flowing water. These may seem to be potentially endless reserves of energy, but when one uses one’s imagination to extrapolate usage up to providing any significant portion of the worlds energy needs it becomes much less clear as to the long-term effects and actual “renewability” of these resources. Keep in mind that if you take a long enough view of the world, oil is a renewable resource, we just have to wait a few geologic millenia for natural forces to replenish the oil supply naturally (just like it was created in the first place). An energy source is “renewable” only