Finite fossil fuels have been accused of contributing to global warming, a factor that has led mankind to seek for alternative sources of power. And this he seems to have achieved through investment in green energy. Most countries in the world have signed treaties to reduce or eliminate reliance on hydrocarbons as much as possible. Hence the increased global investment in green energy, which is billed as the antidote to the vagaries of global warming.
The New Challenge
The emergence and upsurge in green energy investments poses a new challenge for humanity. Renewables may be infinite and inexhaustible indeed, but lots of resources are required, including minerals and metals, which, unfortunately, are depletable, just like the fossil fuels we are running away from.
As of 2013, renewables contributed only 1% of global energy supply, while hydro power amounted to only 7%. Research carried out by three French scientists, Aixe Masseille University’s Bruno Goffe, Nicholas Arndt and Olivier Vidal, both of the University of Grenoble, showed that the renewables sector will require immense resources to match fossil and nuclear energy. According to their research, construction of wind and solar farms will consume 50 times more copper, iron and glass, fifteen times more concrete, and 90 times more aluminium.
By 2013, global renewables were equal to 400 Terawatt hours. For this figure to rise to 25,000 Terawatt hours by 2050, 3,200 million tonnes of steel, 40 million tonnes of copper and 310 million tonnes of aluminium will be required to establish ultramodern green energy production systems.
This means that global production of these resources has to increase to 18% from 5% for the next 40 years. Take note that global demand for these resources, including smart battery options, has been on the rise due to demand from other sectors, both in the developed world and developing countries.
It is said that the world spends at least 10% its global energy budget on mining and refining mineral resources. This is likely to rise sharply in future due to a decrease in high quality ores, whose extraction has increasingly become difficult. One challenge revealed by this research is the rational use of the global non-renewable resources. The transition to renewables can only be effective if all required resources are managed simultaneously as an integral, global whole.
However, Richard Herrington of London’s Natural History Museum has a different perspective. He argues that resources are not in short supply, but they are unevenly distributed globally, a factor that is cause for serious political problems. Already, stiff competition for supply of the resources has led to serious ethical challenges, both humanitarian and environmental. Herrington reasons that one way to avert crises emanating from the rush for mineral resources is enhanced recycling of valuable minerals from such equipment as discarded electronics.
Rational management of the available resources is inevitable. Investment in the renewables sector must be sustainable. This means that increased scientific research is necessary. New, less capital intensive, yet efficient ways of tapping renewables have to be invented. This is because there must be a balance between the push for renewables and resource investment, to curb any crises or shortages that may arise in other sectors of the economy.