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Are Renewable Energies Reversing Progress on Climate Goals in Some Ways?

JackSawyer MA, United States 0 Ratings 23 Discussions 0 Group posts

Posted by: JackSawyer // Student

Renewable energy sources have seen great progress in the last decade, with significant innovation and growth, especially since the Paris Agreement was signed lasted fall. However, with their embracement, we are starting to see that clean energy may be bringing about unforeseen problems that may hinder our efforts towards a carbon free future.

The issue stems from renewable energy making energy cheap, and under the right conditions, creating excess energy. These more and more frequent occurrences of surplus energy has been leaving alternative sources like coal and nuclear obsolete. When this happens energy becomes very cheap, too cheap in fact, as nuclear power plants struggle to stay operational as they cannot compete against the price of solar and wind. This is a problem because, later in the night for example, solar cannot provide for the same demand and so alternative sources must step in. But with nuclear unable to stay economical we are starting to see them being fazed out of our grids. This has been happening in California, the Diablo Canyon is the last nuclear plant in operation and has already planned to shut down in 10 years. With nuclear plants shutting down it creates two serious problems.

Firstly the grid loses a carbon free back up power, which in turn, means a less stable and clean grid. And secondly, it leaves coal and natural gas plants to take their place. This is a problem because they are energy sources that produce a lot of carbon. By aggressively pushing renewable energy with policies, we have inadvertently created a situation where we could end up producing more carbon. We have forced the integration of renewable sources onto the grid, and subsequently, created a disorganized infrastructure that stems new issues. We need to come up with smarter methods to implement renewable sources into grids.

There are solutions. We could build grids around the capabilities of renewable energies and cater to their shortcomings. An example of this is by creating storage facilities to store excess energy created during peek conditions that can then be used later. Furthermore, grids could bring in alternative sources that can complement energies like solar and wind. In order to do this they would have to be able to switch on and off quickly as this is one of the main issues facing current alternatives like power plants. Smarter grids in general would just make things more streamline for the growing presence of renewable energies and, at least in the U.S., the energy infrastructure needs innovations as it is outdated in many cities - but that is a whole other issue.

What can we do to fix this issue? Where have we gone wrong in our mass implementation of renewable energies?

Porter, Eduardo. "How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 July 2016. Web. 19 July 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/20/business/energy-environment/how-renewable-energy-is-blowing-climate-change-efforts-off-course.html?_r=0>.

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