Deconstructing the meaning of “renewable”
Recently, I read an interesting article on the portal SciDev.Net about science and technology for global development. The article, titled “Las hidroeléctricas ¿califican como energía renovable?” (Dams: do they count as renewable energy?), mentions that when hydroelectric energy goes from being a necessity to a tradeable commodity with a massive impact on the local ecosystem, it becomes necessary to ask if it really deserves the label “renewable.” This made me think about what we are being sold and what we understand about this concept and about the fact that we cannot just assume that this never-ending source is the best source of energy.
Like hydraulic energy, new clean energy alternatives can also present negative consequences when they are introduced in poorly planned ways. For example, a study showed that in California (a pioneer in solar energy) various solar plants were located in areas that were not ideal, as they were natural environments. Simply, placing solar panels in the natural ecosystem and placing them on the roofs of buildings, for example, are not the same, as the latter are areas already disrupted by human activity.
Looking for more information on the topic, I discovered that Germany is also having problems with the generation of electricity. Until just a few years ago, the country had great success with the production of wind energy, but later its construction of wind turbines began to stagnate. On the technology portal Xataka, Javier Jiménez writes in an article that “Germany was wind power paradise…until the Germans began to hate wind turbines.” The reasoning behind this hate varies from noise complaints in populated areas to the aesthetics of the landscape.
It’s a fact that the generation of electricity is going to have consequences. However, there’s a possibility that, with organization and a search for solutions, we will come up with alternatives that reduce these consequences. As a starting point, we should be conscious of and respect renewable options that are closest to us. This means that we should stop thinking that we can indiscriminately use “endless” natural resources just because of their abundance. Renewability should be associated with efficiency which, when talking about energy, is about saving and reducing consumption. Using less energy will lead us to build less energy plants.
Second, renewability should go hand in hand with sustainability. We cannot think about energy and development if in order to satisfy the current demand for electricity we compromise natural resources and the lives of present and future human generations, as well as animals and plants. Generation of energy should be thought of in terms of economic growth, but also in terms of environmental health and social wellbeing. Thus, the creation of many small plants instead of a few large plants is key, as the impact will be less harmful.
Finally and as previously mentioned, the generation of energy will have consequences, yes, but this does not mean that it cannot contribute to the restoration of damaged ecosystems. For this, a consciousness of social and environmental responsibility must be present at all times in those who produce energy, not as charity, but as a promise and obligation derived from their economic activity. And, importantly, this social responsibility should be inclusive of consumers. People have to switch from the passive role of just paying their bills at the end of the month to the active role of making their concerns known and contributing to the problem with possible solutions so that the quality of life of all people, not just a few, is improved.