A guest post by Jeremy Fordham
For people living both in the United States and across Europe, green issues are becoming increasingly important. Some scoff at it as a fashionable movement, but most people recognize the need to transition away from a dependence on fossil fuels for transportation and generating electricity. Though scientists, researchers and even many students in the process of completing Ph.D. programs have been working for decades toward the development of renewable resources for generating power, it is a movement that still seems quite new to most citizens. In both Europe and the U.S. government entities are setting measurable goals for increasing their respective region’s reliance on green energy production. Studies conducted in both regions indicate strong support for such movements among the people. With such broad approval, it is no wonder that politicians are generally anxious to promote green energy concerns.
Separate studies conducted in the United States and Europe show strong support for developing and utilizing renewable resources. A study conducted in America by the Natural Marketing Institute in Pennsylvania demonstrates that 80 percent of respondents reported caring about the use of renewable energy resources. A separate study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that between 70 and 80 percent of those polled were in favor of the development and installation of wind farms. Such numbers make it easy to conclude that many citizens in a broad range of situations are interested in, and supportive of, the efforts being made to transition to the increased usage of renewable resources for generating electricity.
So why is it that renewable resources are so much in favor over those that are non-renewable? Renewable resources have the advantage of being easily replenished whereas those that are non-renewable can never be replenished. Energy derived from sources like wind, water and the sun are readily available in many regions of the world and can be effectively harnessed to produce electricity and other forms of power. However, people are more accustomed to relying on forms of non-renewable energy – those derived from coal, oil and natural gas, for instance. Despite all of the emphasis placed on green energy in recent decades, the U.S. and Europe still largely rely on such resources to get the power they require. The problem with this situation is that these sources are finite. An oil well may run dry after several years, leading engineers to search out a new deposit to be exploited. Some scientists argue that at some point, there will simply be no more of these non-renewable resources to call upon, making the necessity of learning to exploit renewable resources all the more pressing.
Public support for green energy is strong in both America and Europe, but it seems as though Europeans are moving ahead in realizing the shortcomings of the current technology used to harness renewable resources, such as the wind. As writer Kenneth P. Green points out in the article “On Green Energy: Renewable Energy Fails to Green the U.K. Economy,” the high tech windmills used to harness the power of the wind at many wind farms have a tendency to freeze in severe winter weather. More than that, they also must be shut down during high winds to avoid damaging the blades. Essentially, this results in less power going onto the electrical grid, just when homes and businesses need it most for heat and light. Though such occurrences appear to be widely reported in the European media, they seem to receive little attention in the U.S.
Perhaps this is because of the attitude of U.S. politicians. Sensing the popularity of the green movement, they are loath to acknowledge that there just might be drawbacks to the methods by which green energy is produced. Building a wind farm is very expensive and to then have the windmills there be unable to function on cold winter days when their output is most necessary makes the wind farm seem like a very expensive waste of money. Then again, lobbyists and members of environmental organizations may also be to blame. They are so anxious to push their agenda forward that perhaps they are not willing to examine their cause from all sides of the issue.
On both sides of the Atlantic, there is also debate about whether green energy actually creates jobs. A United Kingdom study suggests that 3.7 jobs are lost in that nation for every single job the industry creates. The numbers hardly look more promising in the United States, but some experts suggest that studies should not be looking to find a rise in manufacturing jobs as a result of the development of green energy production. Instead, they encourage focusing on other areas, such as design and maintenance of clean energy facilities, to find actual job creation.
It may be true that the transition to renewable energy resources just might create jobs someday, but the technology is still too new and not widely enough used to be counted on to transform a nation’s unemployment numbers. Plus, the technology is still flawed. Until engineers can solve the conundrum of windmills that freeze in winter, for instance, they will not be a reliable alternative to fossil fuels. It is positive that the citizens of both America and Europe support the development of green technology and it is also encouraging to see the politicians responding to this support by passing legislation meant to ease the transition. However it will not be until scientists and engineers develop new and better ways of putting renewable resources to work that it will become a viable alternative, one that can be counted on to provide the majority of the power needs of the world.