Is the Future Really Renewable?
Ponton, J.W.
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How to Cite

Ponton J., 2015, Is the Future Really Renewable?, Chemical Engineering Transactions, 45, 1-6.
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I was an early enthusiast for renewable, or 'alternative' as we then called it, energy. Since 1973 when interest in this area was triggered by the Middle East oil price crisis, I have looked into a wide range of technologies: waves, hydrogen, ocean temperature difference, carbon capture and bioenergy.
All of these failed to live up to initial expectations once carefully evaluated and when side effects were considered.
The fundamental problem with all forms of renewable energy is that in practice they consume the one totally non-extendable resource of the planet - space. A 2 GW nuclear power station occupies about 0.5 km2. Even in windy Britain to produce the same average output we would have to cover 800 km2 with wind turbines. Furthermore the issues of intermittent supply look insoluble with any technology on the horizon.
There are places and situations where the right kind of renewable technology can indeed be effective. However few of these are where politically driven investment is currently directed. The best location for most renewables is in sunny developing countries lacking a good existing energy infrastructure.
For a future world of nearly ten billion by 2050, renewables, appropriately chosen and located, will undoubtedly have a significant part to play, but dispatchable, high density energy sources, i.e. fossil fuels and nuclear, will remain essential.
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