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From Solar to Nuclear, Energy Myths Explored
We're all about myth busting here at TreeHugger — from Matthew's trashing of 5 dire green myths earlier today, to John's classic post deconstructing the wind turbines kill birds argument. But we're not the only ones who can play that game — Chris Goodall over at The Guardian is tackling the 10 big energy myths, and while some of it will be popular with our readers — there are a few positions in there that may raise some treehugging eyebrows too.
First up are some big and familiar themes. Goodall nixes the idea that solar power is too expensive straight off the bat — pointing out that efficiency is improving all the time, and solar thermal is already cost competitive with fossil fuels in many parts of the world. (In fact some predict solar costs could plummet by as much as 40% in the coming years!) He also gives little weight to the argument that wind power is too unreliable , explaining that smarter grids could easily help balance supply and demand, and move energy across larger areas (smart fridges anyone?). Nuclear power doesn't score too highly in the analysis either — with the new Olkiluoto plant in Finland's spiraling costs being cited as an example of the commercial risks involved. So far so treehuggery — and the author's take on electric cars, micro-combined heat and power (CHP), marine energy are all unlikely to stir up much controversy here.
However, a couple of sacred cows of environmentalism also come under the spotlight. Goodall questions, for example, whether organic agriculture can really help feed the world — arguing that yields are only just over half what can be produced through other methods, and with meat consumption, biofuels demand and populations rising, organics will need to step up to the plate if it is to be part of the solution. Of course I would argue that we need to both tackle rising meat consumption andimprove the yields of organic agriculture and decrease the impacts of conventional farming if we are to achieve sustainability — fortunately there are plenty of ideas to help us on our way without reaching for the pesticides just yet, from vegetarian and low meat diets to urban aquaponics to wireless soil sensors. And of course agrichar, which Goodall is a big supporter of, offers great opportunities to increase yields while producing energy and also sequestering carbon in our soils.
The UK government's much trumpeted support of 'zero carbon homes' is also unlikely to yield the desired results if Goodall is to be believed — costs are simply too high and the turnover of housing stock simply too slow — instead Goodall suggests money would be better spent on aggressive retrofits of existing stock, and tighter, though not as extreme, energy requirements on new stock. While he may be right that zero carbon homes can't be the whole answer — surely pushing the bleeding edge of what is possible in new housing stock will also help us develop alternatives for retrofits — driving down costs of materials and knowhow as the industry moves towards sustainability.
Inevitably, any roundup article like this will provide scant room for discussion of the gray areas either for or against a particular myth — so its hard not to come away with an "electric cars good, organics bad" view, that both simplifies the issues, and undoubtedly Goodall's own position on these things. But it is certainly good to see critical thinking going on into all aspects of sustainability — we can't afford not to question both the myths of the naysayers, and also the technologies and methodologies we find ourselves supporting. The stakes are just too high.