NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Renewable Energy Sources Really "Green"?

May 26, 2011

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), renewable energy sources generate about 13.8 percent of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.  It turns out that the great majority of this energy, 10.2 percent out of the 13.8 percent share, comes from biomass, mainly wood (often transformed into charcoal) and dung.  Most of the rest is hydro.  Less than 0.5 percent of the world's energy comes from wind, tide, wave, solar and geothermal put together.  Wood and dung are indeed renewable, in the sense that they reappear as fast as you use them.  Or do they?  It depends on how fast you use them, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • One of the greatest threats to rain forests is the cutting of wood for fuel by impoverished people.
  • Haiti meets about 60 percent of its energy needs with charcoal produced from forests.
  • Haiti has felled 98 percent of its tree cover and counting; it's an ecological disaster compared with its fossil-fuel burning neighbor, the Dominican Republic, whose forest cover is 41 percent and stable.
  • Haitians are now burning tree roots to make charcoal.

You can likewise question the green and clean credentials of other renewable.

  • The wind may never stop blowing, but the wind industry depends on steel, concrete and rare-earth metals (for the turbine magnets), none of which are renewable.
  • Wind generates 0.2 percent of the world's energy at present.
  • Assuming that energy needs double in coming decades, we would have to build 100 times as many wind farms as we have today just to get to a paltry 10 percent from wind.

All in all, once you examine it closely, the idea that "renewable" energy is green and clean looks less like a deduction than a superstition, says the Journal.

Source: Matt Ridley, "Inconvenient Truths About 'Renewable' Energy," Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2011.

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