The Problems of "Clean Energy"

When God created mankind, He gave us dominion over the creation (Gen. 1:26-28). With the delegation of dominion comes the responsibility of stewardship. As Christians, we want to be good stewards of the environment.

We are often told that “clean energy”—solar power and wind power—is the best way to power our economy. Photovoltaic cells and windmills generate power without emitting any pollutants into the environment.

What isn’t generally emphasized is how increasingly efficient we are in utilizing the fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, and coal. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels has declined dramatically since 1970, even as the use of fossil fuels has increased by 40%. (You’ll note in the video below that the “pollutant” in red, the largest one, is C02, which is actually plant food, not really a pollutant.) Since 1970, vehicle tailpipe emissions have been reduced by 99%.

As to “clean energy,” little attention is paid to the environmental damage caused by producing solar energy panels, in part because they are usually made in China, and the pollution happens there. Solar and wind energy also use a lot more land than fossil fuels. Giant wind turbines kill millions of birds and bats, and create noise pollution and shadow flicker. Take a look at this short video, from the Clear Energy Alliance:

There are costs to every form of energy, including those that do not emit any pollutants when they are generating power.

Here is a video that highlights a case in China where the pollution from a factory producing photovoltaic panels was so bad that the Chinese, even knowing that their infamously repressive government would crack down hard, engaged in massive protests.

It turns out that there is fairly low limit to how much solar power can be used on a grid. Electricity cannot be reliably stored, so it has to be produced when it is being used. Solar energy is produced during the day, and goes offline about the time that people get home from work and crank up the heat/AC, TV, dishwasher, washing machine, etc. Fossil fuel power generators have to come online and carry the load by themselves until the next morning when the sun comes up, and the solar generators come back online.

But by generating power during the day, solar energy producers divert revenue away from the fossil-fuel generators. This doesn’t matter much when solar is providing only 1 or 2 percent of the power. But, by some calculations, if solar goes beyond about six percent of the power mixture, it begins to de-stabilize the economic model of the fossil-fuel generators. If they cannot make a profit and close, there is no one to generate power at night when the solar generators are offline. Hence, having more than a small percentage of the electricity on a grid generated by solar power does more harm than good to the overall energy delivery system:

UPDATE: Here is an interesting article on wind turbines killing birds. The author is a wildlife ecologist who has worked on bird conservation in Portugal.

“That was when I came across a deadly form of human infrastructure that silently kills millions of birds each year. What is that killer? Wind turbines.”

“My fellow bird enthusiasts in Portugal were livid with the turbines. At first I found it hard to understand why. Then I began to research bird mortality caused by wind turbines and other energy infrastructures. My master’s thesis was on turbines’ impact on bird life in the Special Protected Wildlife Area of Portugal. I have personally radio-collared ‘protected species’ of birds that have died when they collided with wind turbines.”

“In the U.S. alone, conservative estimates are that an average of 234,000 birds are killed annually by collisions with monopole wind turbines.”

“The species with high risk from wind turbines are those that are long-lived, slow-reproducing, and wide-ranging or migratory. . . . Some species, especially raptors like the bald eagle, have been pushed to the brink of extinction exclusively by wind turbines.”

“Even an ardent promoter of renewable energy like Bill Gates openly stated that windmills cannot support the electricity demands of cities like Tokyo or New York, as they cannot produce on-demand electricity. . . . Why support an energy source that is unreliable, intermittent, and expensive—all while it kills millions of birds?”

“Anyone with a true heart for nature, anyone who would love to preserve nature, cannot support wind energy. It is unethical and immoral to support windmills just because they reduce a minuscule amount of carbon dioxide emissions and cannot guarantee any beneficial influence on Earth’s climate.”