Renewable energy is not our savior... yet

by Lou Covey, Editorial Director

Every week or so I get a news story in my feed about how some country, or state or city is making incredible strides toward converting to 100 percent renewable energy use. Deep in my heart I want to believe that to be true, but after observing the renewable energy industry for more than 40 years I know in my head that it just ain't so. 

Then today from Green Tech News, one of the major rah-rah sites for renewables came a very sobering bit of reality. We are not making the progress we think we are. The article gives many valid reasons for this but continues to ignore some of the deepest reason: That we are really not making any progress on innovation in green energy technology. We need to start admitting we are gong nowhere and need to change how we think about energy conversion.

(Note: all energy sources are merely conversions of one form of energy to electricity, be they mechanical (turbines) or physical reactions (solar). There is nothing else.)

Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and tidal sources are wonderful supplements to our energy production are still based on technologies developed around a century ago with only incremental advances in those technologies. Despite trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars in private and government funding, these technologies are still the most inefficient forms of energy conversion we have.

By comparison, internal combustion engines have evolved by leaps and bounds over renewables, which is why they remain the most popular and cheapest form of energy conversion, and they are only 33 percent efficient at best (in other words, they only extract a third of the potential energy from fossil fuel). The automotive industry has done more for reducing climate change than any other, even as they hold the greater blame for it. You might argue with the first part, but from a strictly scientific/engineering view, it is inarguable.

And the catastrophic damage to the planet, as I wrote about last year, may be greater than the damage done to atmosphere. We haven't seen a fraction of what that potential will be, but it is coming soon.

Should we give up? No, of course not. But we need to change our thinking and realize we have not yet found the answer. We need to stop bowing down to the false prophets of climate change (Elon Musk and Al Gore are two of them) and realize that our public funding of inefficient conversion is not helping. We need our government to start funding wild-eyed "maniacs" who are trying to do something different. 

One place to start is in the area of iron-flow aqueous battery technology. It is more reliable, lasts longer, is completely recyclable and has zero environmental impact compared to the more popular and incredibly toxic lithium-ion technology (that powers mobile devices, electric and hybrid cars, and cameras, and will soon be rolled out in solar powered homes and businesses across the country).

There is technology that can transform our societies power conversion in the world, but it isn't like anything we have seen before. We need to stop throwing money and pipe dreams and start thinking differently.