As demand grows every day, the challenge to provide enough energy is huge. Just by the end of the 21st century, the global energy consumption is predicted to triple. In order to prevent increasing global temperature by more than 2 degrees, the world’s energy emissions have to be limited to nearly 0 by 2050. That is why in the last few years companies have turned their focus on clean and abundant sources of energy – the sun and wind. However, they aren’t ready to transform the way we live.
Solar and wind energy depend highly on the weather in the area, which makes them unreliable for the steady energy production required for the base load power plants. Also, sun and wind are free, but the process of capturing their energy is not. To produce one unit of concentrated energy from these sources requires the use of specific materials to capture and convert their diluted energy.
Examples of specific materials used in the solar industry are silicon, boron, and phosphorus. In wind turbine construction, a rare earth metal called neodymium, steel, and concrete are used. The acquirement of these materials comes with its own environmental impact and energy input.
The intermittent nature of wind and solar represents one of the main barriers to their exclusive use. The problem lies both in the storage and the immediate distribution. Some scientists believe that the issue of intermittency can be solved by connecting diverse renewable sources of energy together in one grid, a so-called “smart grid”. Currently used grids can run without changing technical components with maximum 10% of renewably produced power. With a higher proportion of renewable energy, the grid has to be optimized to be able to switch between different renewable systems. This might be a difficult and pricey quest for the developed countries with complex energy infrastructure already in place.
The development of new and more efficient solutions is an on-going process, as there is still a plenty of space for improvement. As the 2011 Energy Report of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states, such a transition is technically possible within the next 40 years, including even saving $5.5 trillion per year through improved energy efficiency combined with renewable energy use.
Until then, the safest way to transport the fuel we need is through pipelines. The pipelines that bring natural gas throughout the U.S. ensure the resource reaches homes and businesses without trucks, trains, or ships, essentially cutting down on the possibility something could go wrong en route to your home or business. In the U.S., 70% of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline. 23% of oil shipments are on tankers and barges over water. Trucking accounts for 4% of shipments and rail for a mere 3%.