Green energy is is most important in today's world
How limitless green energy would change the world
Limitless renewable energy would offer tantalising benefits: emissions-free heating, greener fertiliser and electric transport. But overcoming the obstacles will not be easy.
What would we do with an abundant, cheap, inexhaustible supply of renewables?
Perhaps the desalination of seawater, suddenly cost-efficient, would relieve Earth's water shortages. Rubbish might be recycled on a massive scale, allowing for the extraction of precious trace elements such as rare earth metals, while carbon dioxide (CO2) could be vacuumed out of the atmosphere to slow climate change. People could live comfortably in Earth's polar regions or travel far and wide in battery-powered vehicles. Goods and services that require electricity might become cheaper, even free. Our emissions footprint could soon be undetectable.
While exciting to contemplate, this sustainable world would be incredibly costly. It would also hinge on a wide range of political, economic and technological factors to ever make it a reality.
Green energy's success depends on people's willingness to adopt the technology in the first place – renewable alternatives would have to promise more convenience, speed, savings and security than the oil, coal and gas on which we've grown so reliant. Lawmakers would also need to combat legislative gridlock to ensure that sustainable energy policies could be implemented. The facilities that combust this green energy – be it solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, or even nuclear fusion or some undiscovered technology – would need to be built and maintained as the planet continued to warm and resources dwindle.
And assuming these obstacles could be overcome, how could limitless green energy change our own consumption, innovation, our economy, public policy and the environment? And what factors might make this hypothetical planet temporarily worse off?
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electricity demand is set to grow by 40-60% in some regions in the next 10 years. Researchers predict that mounting prosperity in both the developed and the developing world will continue to drive increased consumer demand for key resources up to at least 2040. At the same time, constraints in energy, water and other natural resources will bring about new and difficult-to-manage instabilities.
Current electricity generation – primarily by fossil fuels – is the single biggest contributor to climate change, responsible for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Green energy could thus represent a radical deviation from business-as-usual, promising a path towards zero-carbon emissions and international energy independence. Without the concerted efforts of policymakers, investors and citizens, however, limitless green energy could also lead to a world of increased waste and shortages.
"Green energy may be limitless, but certainly not limitless without cost," says Victor B Flatt, professor of environmental law and head of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Legal Center at the University of Houston. From the enormous capital outlay required to build renewable power plants – or convert existing ones – to the marketing investments needed to incentivise its use to the emissions-emitting extraction processes needed for new infrastructure, free green energy comes at a high price.
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