Environment: Renewables: A simple solution?

22nd Feb 2013

By Sarah Marshall, University of South Florida

Renewable energy is the primary transition environmentalists advocate for globally in order for countries to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, which pollute the air and water. Yet, there are a host of issues that must be accounted for when assessing which renewables should go where in order to make the projects cost effective. That is to say, a constantly foggy area has no business investing in solar panels to generate electricity, and a virtually wave-less body of water should not bother with tidal energy projects.

Presently, a controversial proposal to build “giant” wind turbines in the bogs of Ireland, a virtually windless place, is being made. The energy would be exported to the UK because of the turbines’ higher efficiency as compared to offshore wind capture. The power would be transferred through the subsoil, submarine East West Interconnector, a high-voltage direct current power cable adjoining the Irish and British electricity markets.

Many Irish citizens see the massive turbines as an eyesore, at over 600 feet high! The argument from political leaders is that the project will boost the Irish economy and create much-needed jobs. An obvious environmentally negative component of the proposal is that larger turbines mean more material used in the manufacturing process. Yet, the structures will be so tall that more energy will be produced by the dense cold air at that altitude than that of shorter turbines, according to Peter Harte of Element Power, a company with major stake in the project.

Some of the controversy over the construction of the wind farms is that a country should be self-sufficient in creating its own renewable energy sources, especially as the UK is trying to attain fifteen percent of its energy production from renewable sources by 2020. That percentage aspiration will only increase in the coming years for nations addressing the impending energy crisis, as the effects of climate change are still unpredictable.

Sustainability has to do with self-sufficiency, and relying on another nation’s turbines by expecting continuous importation, may be a risky bet for the UK, as a major economic world player.

Another point is that the UK has other potential sources of renewable energy to tap into, such as its coastal waves through tidal energy. During October last year, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, Guy Shrubsole, recommended investing in tidal and both on and offshore wind projects for an increase in jobs at home as well as self-produced energy. It could be a win-win for the British, and the Irish would not have to see their land disturbed, as citizens who use much less power to begin with.

The balance between jobs and sacrifice for citizens of economically-deprived countries is a protruding phenomenon. Though the aesthetic argument to keep such pristine land beautiful is strong, the potential ease of financial instability has become an ever-stronger one, and with prices discussed, companies involved, and major Government support, the project looks like a go. According to the BBC, Element Power claims that the wind farm project would save British consumers seven billions of dollars over a fifteen year period.

The progression of the so-called “Green Revolution” may very well lead to seemingly impractical projects for the sake of an apparent transition off the grid. Yet, sustainability has yet to be discussed as a mindset and therefore, still remains a metaphorical bandage. Source reduction of energy consumption would make billion dollar wind farm projects unnecessary, but the promise of job creation looms in every politician’s argument. The need for energy to supply an ever-growing population is undeniable, as modern infrastructures have been built on it, but the practicality of that energy’s source leads to difficult questions regarding accountability, compromise, and necessity.

Perhaps the wind farms in the Midlands of Ireland will stand as a beacon of job creation and another step higher on the totem pole of Europe during a time of economic insecurity, or perhaps they will wonder if the aesthetic sacrifice was worth more electricity for their neighbours. Regardless, failing to address the root of a problem allows for it to rise up and bear fruit once again. Sarah S Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy.

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