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Renewable Energy: Enough to Fight Global Warming?

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Renewable Energy: Enough to Fight Global Warming?

The shift from our current fossil fuel based economies to sustainable renewable energy economies is usually presented as a great challenge. That is also the message coming from the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Oil companies tell us that it can be done but that we need decades to get there. The numbers tell a bit of a different story. Total world energy consumption is about 15 terawatts (2005).

All that energy can be generated by today’s solar panel technology on a sunny piece of land of about 550 by 550 kilometers (340 square miles). That is for instance about 3 percent of the surface of the United States and China, 4 percent of the surface of Australia, 3.5 percent of Brazil and 9 percent of India. And we just need to capture about 20 percent of the solar energy that hits such an area. Of course the beauty of solar energy is that it can be generated locally. So we are not going to see such a centralized production. But the numbers clearly convey that the challenge is not as huge as it is often presented.

Some people argue that renewable energy is not always available where it is needed. That is true. There are places where there is not enough sunshine, not enough wind etc. But again that challenge is not as big as it is made out to be. Scientific American recently calculated the renewable power available in readily accessible locations. The numbers are staggering: there is 2 terawatts (TW) hydro energy easily available, 40-85 TW wind energy and 580 TW solar energy. So there is about 40 times more clean energy available than we need for the present world consumption. All that energy can be captured with technology that already exists! From that perspective the generation of renewable energy is hardly the huge challenge that we are told it is.

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Jurriaan Kamp

The Intelligent Optimist is a community centered around a magazine, a website and online events and courses. We focus on the people, passion and possibilities changing our world for the better.

59 comments

+ add your own
1:21AM PDT on Jun 22, 2010

Thanks

5:44PM PDT on Mar 15, 2010

any little bit helps

3:38PM PST on Feb 22, 2010

While it's not a be all end all, the fact that we have the ability to replace fossil fuels that pollute the Earth with renewable energy is a dramatic step forward, and will ultimately be a blessing.

12:54PM PST on Feb 6, 2010

The problem is not about finding another 5 Earth's to solve this (although I favour the idea of discovering them). We live on THIS Earth and changing for sustainability and exploiting renewable resources is the way forward and needs more support and government backing on a global scale.

11:14AM PST on Jan 31, 2010

Right, it's about Sustainable Development.
If we go on like we have done for the last hundred years,
we won't stand a chance.
(If we can't find 5 more Planets Earth, that is)

10:59AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

My position is unique. I am writing after Copenhagen went bust. The question now is how can we convince goverments that all of humanity has a vested interest in sustainable clean energy.

2:27PM PST on Jan 26, 2010

if u live in md, usa, check out cleancurrents.com to get windpower for a little cheaper than coal

1:09PM PST on Jan 26, 2010

Thanks for the info.

12:24PM PST on Jan 26, 2010

Solar Power! Wind Energy! Wave/Tidal Energy!
Geothermical Energy! Yes!
Sustainable Development...
Reduce - Re-use - Recycle. Low energy bulbs.
Public Transportation. High speed trains. Bike Lanes.
Electric cars. Airpowered cars. Zero emissions!
Passive Houses.
Organic food. A compost in every garden.
Go vegetarian!
Let's jump off the train to the Point of No Return!

7:18PM PST on Jan 22, 2010

good article!

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