Jul
26
2007

It’s more of a dirty-green, really.

A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on flickr.com)
A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on flickr.com)
According to Dr. Jesse Aubusel, the Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, renewable energy isn’t a super good idea. That is to say, he thinks it’s a pretty bad idea.

Using math and numbers, Dr. Aubusel figures that the amount of land necessary for “green” energy sources makes them extremely impractical, especially when compared to nuclear energy. According to Aubusel, were we to flood all of Ontario (900,000 square km), it would only provide 80% of the energy that Canada’s 25 nuclear power stations could produce. I guess that’s the end of my plans to flood Ontario. Or, to provide enough electricity for New York City, all of Connecticut would have to be turned into a wind farm (although, who’s to say that Connecticut would mind). Also, to grow a single pot of basil, it would take more dirt than there is in my whole room. So no basil.

Aubusel, in this article, always brings the issue back to the matter physical space required for renewable energy, and the number of watts produced per square meter. “Nuclear energy is green,” he states. He’s not referring to its radioactivity, I think, so much as to its relatively small physical footprint, and the potential to use already existing infrastructure.

It might seem to some that this is a pretty simplistic way of looking at things, but we should all make sure that we’re doctors before we disagree.

When asked if he could imagine technology that uses and creates energy more efficiently than those he based his research on, Doctor Aubusel states, “No.” When asked if he could possibly try, he replied, “That’s not really my style.”

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Antonio's picture
Antonio says:

America’s Roof Top Revolution - SolarPower(Green Energy)
All revolutions have there beginnings because of civil injustices or societal evolution that occurs to upset the fabric of life. It divides people at first but, then tends to unify them toward a common goal or cause. Our problem is the energy shortage and the using of coal in power generation that’s at the heart of climate change debate, not nuclear. So what, that the sun provides enough solar energy to the earth in one hour, to power the world for one year. People don’t care Solar energy is the most abundant natural resource we have, even though that technology has been around for awhile, until it effects them directly and personally. We need a cause that will motivates us and bring us together as a force to resolve these problems.

We are all overlooking an important issue here, what we can do as individuals to have an effect on the global energy problem we face today. The answer is simple “Make Solar Power Affordable to the masses”. Alternative energy is moving in the right direction to meet the demand but, what effect will it have on homeowners who can not afford it. I recently ran across a company that has removed the tradition cost to Solar Power. They do it with a rental agreement and with an electric rate locked in at or below what you are paying to your electric provider now. They provide a worry-free system; they install it, and maintain it without any addition fee. Imagine every homeowner producing their own electric Solarpower on their roofs without going broke, what a concept. Now the average homeowner in America can take the power back and take action as a collective force with solar power. Think of all the energy savings multiplied by 100, by 1000, or a million, what impact would that have all across this country not to include the money saved for the homeowner. http://www.solarforusa.com

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 7:59pm
bryan kennedy's picture

While I am a BIG proponent of nuclear energy I think this argument pretty much ignores investing in the technology behind solar energy.

  • We could meet entire US energy needs by covering only 7% of our nations cities. This could be easily achievable by putting solar panels in dual use spaces like roofs and along side highways.
  • Even if we could do this in the cities. We would only need 10 million acres or 0.4% of the United States elsewhere to generate enough electricity for the entire nation each year.

(source - US Department of Energy)

Right now solar panels are too expensive to roll out on this massive of a scale but investing in research to improve efficiency and lower costs would be one of the smartest energy decisions we could make.

Oh and I saw one little funny remark on a website about solar energy. Did you know that solar panels require nuclear power? Yeah, their nuclear generator is just 93 million miles away....har har, get it?

posted on Fri, 07/27/2007 - 10:20am
Wayne's picture
Wayne says:

I don't think a proper distinction is made here between what constitutes a "green" energy source or not. Are we referring to how much waste is produced in use, in manufacture? How long does that waste last, and what is it's toxicity? What does it cost to process that waste? How long will the resource last? What does it cost to utilize that resource?

Taking all of these factors into account, the sun comes out on top in several categories, of course. It's projected to last another 4 billion years, any physical waste it produces is 93 million miles away from us, and most estimates show that the sun sends more than enough energy our way. The big factor, of course, is cost. Solar panels are still quite expensive if they're designed with any kind of efficiency, and some of the compounds used in them are toxic or require a toxic process to produce. I have heard of a European center that uses mirrors instead of solar cells, making a kind of giant lens that focuses light to boil water, but again, the cost on a large scale would deter most energy companies.

Naturally, there are other resources besides the sun. Fission meets many of the criteria, if only the waste was not so toxic or had some practical use. Fusion still hasn't become efficient enough, geothermal energy requires so much drilling, wind power is expensive to harvest and unpredictable, fossil fuels combust imperfectly and are running out, and hydroelectric plants have a limited potential and affect the climate. If only we didn't need electricity so much...

posted on Fri, 07/27/2007 - 11:31am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

What you guys are saying is more or less the impression I came away with - for as smart a person as Dr. Aubusel no doubt is, in these statements he seems to be ignoring development that's happening to make green and renewable energy sources much more viable.

It seems silly to make a bunch of hyperbolic estimates (flooding Ontario) in regards to future energy use and production based on current technology, technology, as I understand it, that is rapidly developing. It felt as though Dr. Aubusel was attempting to be a little contrary just for the sake of it. Or for the sake of something.

And, right, nuclear technology isn't without some problems of its own.

posted on Fri, 07/27/2007 - 1:10pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options