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  • Wendell Brock

The Green Energy Gaps You Don't Always Hear About.

As the cost of energy continues to climb, many believe the current energy crisis will help push green energy into the leading role of energy production, but is that possible or even responsible? Often when discussing renewable “green” energy people only refer to the actual output, they do not include the manufacturing, transporting, or waste aspects.

As gas prices increased, people started to consider the benefits of electric cars. We’re told that they are more economical, cheaper to run, and that they are better for the environment. However, an independent study done by Anderson Economic found that, contrary to most information provided, it can actually cost more to drive an electric car; with the increasing cost of electricity it’s going to become more and more expensive to charge your electric vehicle.

The batters for EVs are also controversial. Not only are they expensive to replace, typically costing between $5,000 and $9,000, but the impact of mining and producing the batteries brings in to question just how “green” they are. There are several environmental impacts of mining battery components, like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. These operations strain the local agriculture and disrupt ecosystems. And while the components of EV batteries are highly recyclable, only about 5% actually end up being recycled, leaving the other 95% as very un-green waste.

Solar panels have also become very popular recently. As with EV batteries, solar panels are a manufactured product which have an environmental impact, including the chemicals used, the emissions involved in transporting the product, and other factors.

At best solar panels last about 40 years, so what happens once they’re spent? They end up in landfills, leaching toxic chemicals, potentially contaminating ground water. This is especially true in third world countries where much of this hazard waste is sent. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that waste produced by solar panels will make electricity from solar panels four times more expensive than the world’s leading energy analysts thought. Now that energy costs are so high people are being told solar will save them money, especially with the government subsidies. However, in the U.S. we pay one-quarter of the cost of solar through taxes. And when you purchase solar panels it takes years to break even.

As mentioned with batteries, very few panels are ever recycled. The cost to recycle is 10 to 30 times more than to send the panels to the landfill.

It's not just solar panels filling up our landfills. More than 720,000 tons worth of wind turbines will end up in U.S. landfills over the next 20 years. While wind farms have become an important way to generate electricity in “off-grid” areas, there are still serious draw backs.

Wind energy only works when there is wind. This leaves a pretty big gap in production when the wind dies down. They also freeze over and can’t operate in severe weather. When the turbines are in operation the blades rotate at high speeds, killing many flying creatures. The U.S. Fish and wildlife Service estimate that there are between 140,000 and 500,000 birds killed by wind turbines every year. This can seriously impact ecosystems.

While the operating cost of turbines is low, the manufacturing, installation, and transportation of wind turbines, as well as creating the infrastructure is a hefty investment. It typically takes 10-20 years to break even. The initial setup also requires large machinery, which operates on fossil fuels. Some windfarms require clearing before installation can take place, this means cutting down trees. This poses an additional issue, when the land is cleared there is nothing holding the soil in place and results in erosion.

Renewable energy technology is more expensive than traditional fossil fuel generation. Wind, water, and sunshine might be renewable, but they are also inconsistent, and when there isn’t enough supply, something needs to fill the gaps.

Photo 1 by Markus Spiske

Photo 2 by Matt Artz

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