Can Renewable Energy Power the World?
One of the most common nail-biting question related to renewable energy and renewable energy sources is can humankind provide their energy necessity solely on renewable energy resources.
Today, we will discuss this topic and try to find out what is the reason that we are still using fossil fuels. The popularity of the Renewable energy phenomenon is increasing day by day. Before that, we have to give some statistics on energy usage such as oil consumption.
Humankind uses 35 BILLION barrels of oil each year. I wrote the “billion” on capital letters because I wanted to highlight that. By the way, one barrel of oil is about 119 liter which means we use more than 4 TRILLION liter oil per year. This massive scale of oil dependence pollutes our planet, besides it will be over in 50 years, according to scientists. They also say that we’ve consumed approximately 40% of our planet’s oil reserves. Other than oil, the coil will also deplete about 100 years later.
Why don’t we use only renewable energy sources?
On the other hand, we have huge alternative energy sources like sun, wind, and water. These three are renewable energy sources which means they can’t be depleted over time. So, why don’t humankind use unlimited and renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels? This question has been asked for decades. However, we haven’t managed to switch to renewable energy sources completely. Today, renewable energy provides just 13% of our needs. Because, unfortunately, using or producing renewable energy is still expensive and inaccessible.
The Challenges of Using Renewable Energy
Excepting politics and laws, if we focus only on science and engineering, increasing accessibility of renewable energy is a huge challenge for us, at least for now. To be able to understand the problem, we should understand how we use energy first.
We won’t go into so many details, so we will discuss two major branches: electricity and liquid fuels. Some of the areas that we use electricity are elevators, computers, blast furnaces and all other things in homes, enterprises, and factories. On the other hand, we use liquid fuels in all forms of transportation. Let’s deal with the electrical portion beforehand.
Solar Power as a Renewable Energy
The good news is that our technology is developed enough to seize all the energy from renewable energy sources which are an abundant supply. If we could use all the solar energy that comes to our planet, we would get about 173 quadrillion watts of energy which is x10.000 times our current needs.
To supply the total energy consumption need of humankind we would need several hundred thousand kilometers of solar panels. Then, why don’t we just build that panels? Because there are other obstacles in our way, i.e. efficiency and energy transportation. Solar panels or plants must be located in sunny places like desserts to get maximum efficiency. However, we need to send the obtained energy into crowded places like big cities which reduces the energy efficiency significantly.
Other Renewable Energy Sources
Other than solar power, we have also some alternative energy sources such as bio-masses, hydroelectric, and geothermal, but these problems that we mentioned apply these options, too. We have to develop more advanced technologies if we want to use efficient renewable energy sources.
We need to use an advanced tool such as superconductors, however, this material can be used only on very low temperatures. To benefit from this technology, we have to develop new superconductors that can work at room temperature.
And what about liquid fuels? The scientific difficulty is to restore energy on a liquid form which is transportable in an easy way. We now have lithium-ion battery technology, which is lightweight and dense in terms of energy. But even with the best technology, we can only store 2,5 megajoules per kilogram.
One kilogram of gasoline, a version of liquid fuel, has 50 megajoules per kilogram. To be able to use these types of batteries on cars, these batteries have to store much more energy without additional cost. And this is only for cars, now think about a jet. The jet would need 1000 tons of battery to pass the Atlantic ocean with our current technology.
Possible Solutions for Renewable Energy
Nowadays, scientists are trying to find a solution for it. They are trying it by converting solar energy into chemical energy. They are already doing it in labs, yet the efficiency is too low to compete against liquid fuels.
To find unprecedented solutions, we will need lots of creativity, innovation, and funds. But we should be optimistic about these solutions because our top scientists around the world are working on these issues and reaching milestones all the time. And many governments are investing in these types of technologies to not harm the planet anymore.
In conclusion, as a famous American inventor, Thomas Edison said: I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. This quote can also indicates to invest in renewable energy stocks.