After reports that nuclear capacity will soon be exceeded by solar capacity were released, it left many hopeful. However, it also hid the defining distinction that will help us understand the true context of the production of energy, as well as the correct use and choices we may be facing in the future.
A lead author of Equinox Blueprint Energy 2030 and Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE) executive director released a statement saying that he understands why people don’t understand the many low-carbon electricity options that the future holds. Simply put, it’s down to the confusing terminology.
As an example, kilowatts (kW) are not equal to kilowatt hours (kWh). The type of services we pay for – entertainment, heating/cooling, cooking, typical around-the-house stuff – are all measured in kWh. However, industrial, large-scale output usually falls under either megawatt hours (MWh) or gigawatt hours (GWh).
He explains that by this measure, the electrical capacity and efficiency of energy conversion provided by solar energy is actually unimpressive. He uses the idea that a plethora of solar arrays combined should make 1,000 MWs. However, they actually output only 10%-12% of their capacity. In stark contrast, nuclear plant’s output 80%-90% of their rated capacity.
Currently, the global installed capacity is 224,684 megawatts, and it outputs 253,593 gigawatts. This accounts for an annual 11%. Because solar energy puts out 8 – 9 times less, that means that to produce the same 11%, there would have to be 8 – 9 times additional solar arrays. This is much harder to achieve and doesn’t even touch on concerns that revolve around bad weather or angles that might render some solar panels and arrays all but useless.
In his statement, the executive director implores people to look at the facts rather than just go with the hype. He states that his desire isn’t to diminish the good and valuable contribution of solar energy but to stress that solar energy alone cannot free us from our dependence on fossil fuels.
He asks that we temper our hype with facts based on realistic assessments of the ever-growing energy demands. These demands are looked at on a global level, and so we must look at an effective and capable way of meeting those demands on a global scale.
He reminds us that it’s important to not look to just any single energy option as a “sole answer”. With the world recognizing that fossil fuels aren’t a viable source of power, the time is ticking on finding a way to quickly end our dependence on it. Solar alone simply isn’t quick enough.
To truly end our energy crisis before it becomes a catastrophe, we must look to diversify our energy options. We should employ solar, yes, but also natural gas rather than coal, nuclear, geothermal, and hydro options.
By diversifying our energy resources, we can eliminate the standard power plant. Imagine a world where your house is not just a power generator (likely from solar and wind energies), but a battery that can store the energy. You would also be able to sell your unused energy as it was profitable to do so. The best part would be that this whole system could be entirely virtual.
The best part is that that future may not be too far away. Elon Musk, technology entrepreneur and owner of Tesla, Inc. is already working on making that vision a reality.
Some may worry that this will lead to ditching the grid. However, distributed energy resources are an overall positive force which many think will help to up the dependability and strength of the big grid. This is truly an opportunity to change the world for ourselves and our futures now. This can provide new jobs, new ideas, inspire future creators, and will definitely provide cleaner energies on a global scale.
So why would we even still need centralized generating stations? That’s simple. With upward shifts from poverty and a forecast to scrape nine billion people by 2050, as well as climate changes, we have to find a solution that works for all of us today.
To put it most plainly, we have to find an answer to the energy crisis of tomorrow now because we are quickly becoming an urbanized world. One that is churning out a larger and larger population. One that is growing financially. One that is consuming energy we already struggle to provide at alarming rates. This is not a negative thing – we aren’t acting like energy hogs. We simply strive to provide a better quality of life not just for ourselves, but for everyone worldwide. To do this, we need energy. And to provide that energy, we need safer, healthier, low-carbon energies that work well together.
Author bio: Writer, traveler and freelancer who enjoys his garden in the spare time. I have a strong interest in ecology and sustainability and I believe that the global changes can happen one small step at a time.