Is renewable energy really sustainable?

Català: Planta de concentració fotovoltaica a ...

Català: Planta de concentració fotovoltaica a Torregrossa (Lleida) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well we just assume it is. after all renewable means its sustainable doesn’t it? But is it?

Well the definition of sustainable is balancing economic, social and environmental needs without compromising the needs of future generations. On the face of things it seems like renewable energy meets these criteria but if you look closely we cannot be so certain.

Take solar energy for example. It can be very expensive to set up, a large solar farm would need a large area of land to be purchased, as well as this, the cost of installing solar panels and the cost of manufacturing them will mount up significantly. Also for enough energy to be generated to make such an investment worth while, very specific conditions are needed such as long, uninterrupted hours of strong sunlight for days on end. In countries where the weather is variable this cannot be for certain, meaning the potential profits from saving money on energy bills will be reduced. This also create another problem, as due to the unreliable supply of energy from solar power, energy supplies connected to solar power will still have to be substituted by energy created by non renewable energy sources. this means that solar energy cannot be environmentally sustainable as it cannot exist on its own; it will still be responsible for the burning of fossil fuels. Then we have to come to the issue of manufacturing the photovoltaic cells in the first place. this takes a lot of energy and could take more energy to produce than the energy created from them would give out, so there would always be a loss in the levels of sustainable energy that is being produced.

But what about being socially sustainable. well solar energy falls short here too. Whenever large solar farms are built they receive lots of opposition from local residents who have to look at the solar farm on a daily basis. If a renewable energy does create opposition it cannot be considered socially sustainable. We are always hearing of opposition from local residents when a new wind farm is proposed. residents claim that they spoil their view or the natural landscape, and that they make a loud noise that would disturb them. Whether or not these claims are over the top or not, it just adds another example of how renewable energy is not socially sustainable.

Off course I know that renewable energy does have less environmental impacts than non renewable fossil fuels, but it doesn’t have zero emissions. You have to consider the conditions they were manufactured in and what powered this. Also renewable energy is often only small-scale, it will be very hard for renewables to be the main source of energy in a country, in the UK renewables account for only 3% of the UK’s energy mix, most of which comes from wind power. It is expensive to set up and faces too much opposition to become a success.

So although renewables do have positives, I think that as long as they have problems with being either, socially, economically or environmentally sustainable, they cannot be viewed as being 100% sustainable just because they are  considered to be ‘renewable’.


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