If there’s one thing that every expert and their dog seems to agree on it’s that the current means of energy production is killing the planet.
So far, the solution to this appears to be a huge investment in renewable energy projects but is this really the way forward?
Is renewable energy really sustainable? (We define “What does sustainable mean?” on this site).
Or should we be looking deeper for solutions to the planet’s problems?
Renewable Energy Sources Vs Sustainable Energy
Before we go any further it might be useful to take a look at what we mean by each term here.
Renewable energy is energy that comes from a source that naturally renews itself and at a sufficient pace that we can meet our energy needs from it. Examples of this include solar power, wind energy, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric energy.
On the other hand, sustainable energy sources are those that fulfill the needs we have for energy without affecting the future of the planet. Thus you might consider this to be “green energy” or “clean energy”.
It is important to note that the collection, distribution, and disposal of such energy must also not affect future generations which is why many will say that nuclear energy is not sustainable even if it is clean and, of course, the use of nuclear energy is highly controversial too. Natural gas is also a clean source of energy that isn’t renewable or sustainable.
The problem is that renewable energy is often not fully sustainable. Solar panels, for example, once their lifespan is over, end up in landfills. There is almost no thought given to creating renewable solar panels and thus, though they generate electricity from a completely renewable resource, there’s no doubt that solar farms are, not yet, fully sustainable.
You can find similar problems with other renewable resources, such as wind turbines, which create electricity very effectively when there’s plenty of wind, but which also kill billions of birds each year and use large quantities of non-renewable metals to manufacture them.
You might expect wind and solar to be the perfect forms of renewable energy but in reality solar and wind energy need a lot of work if we want them to be fully sustainable.
Renewable Energy Is It Really Better Than Fossil Fuels?
Yes, renewable energy is still better than fossil fuels and that’s, at least in part, because it’s clean energy. Future generations will be grateful for a cooler planet.
As is the kind of energy made by nuclear power plants for that matter.
A renewable energy source will reduce climate change even if the overall energy efficiency is not as great as we might like.
These energy sources are a step in the right direction and they reduce the production of greenhouse gases which are major contributors to the climate crisis.
Is Renewable Energy Economically Sustainable?
Perhaps. The truth is that if we want renewable electricity production then we need to carefully consider the influencing factors on that production.
- Local geography – how can we reduce the environmental impact of, for example, solar energy production, and do so efficiently while working in a given location?
- Economics – how can we afford the transition to a sustainable form of energy production? If there is an increased cost, is this affordable to the end-user? What can be done to assist places where the production of sustainable energy is simply unaffordable?
- Availability – how can we make energy sustainable in places where this is never going to be economic? Think, for example, at the North Pole or in the Arctic Circle.
- Politics – how do we handle those with vested interests either for or against this kind of energy production?
At this moment, much of the world’s sustainable energy production is not particularly economic. Wealthier countries are subsidizing much of what is taking place and there’s a focus on renewability rather than sustainability.
However, there will be commercial incentives for this to change in the future.
Final Thoughts On Renewable And Sustainable Energy
So as you can see not all renewable energy resources are sustainable and while they are definitely better than coal-fired power plants the energy produced isn’t without an environmental cost.
We expect this to change over time, however, and we think that soon we will produce electricity from renewable sources that are also sustainable.
If you’d like to get involved in exploiting renewable sources, then we can recommend our list of the best portable solar panels, these fascinating facts about solar and if you’d like to better understand sustainability may we also recommend our sustainable glossary of terms?