Perspective on Renewable Energy from a Non-engineer or Physicist

Let’s face it: we are going to run out of fossil fuels. Although the exact predictions might differ, there is little doubt that between 15 and 60 years from now our fossil fuel sources will be depleted. But that’s not our only problem: the water level is rising as well. A recent study shows that we can expect the water level to rise between 0,8 and 2 meters by 2100; more drastic predictions even talk about a rise of 7 meters (!) by the year of 2100.

We might not be alive any more by the year 2100, or much sooner for that matter: so why would we care? ‘Think about our children,’ is an argument often heard. ‘We have to leave the world behind in such manner that they have the same opportunities as we had.’ To be honest, I don’t think we should be too worried about our children’s destiny. Humanity has managed to do pretty well in coming up with all kinds of solutions for all kinds of problems, especially when we had to. Our children will do fine. But there might be another reason, next to an economical one, why we should focus on coming up with new sources of energy. And that reason is: we simply can, so why wouldn’t we try it? Also, it has to happen sooner or later, right? We can put our heads in the sand and hope the storm will pass by, but that isn’t going to solve the problem. So: let’s take a look at what we can do.

I am not an engineer or a physicist. Neither do I have any (decent) technical knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems fair to say that the storage of electrical energy in batteries is difficult, to say the least, to implement on a global scale. So we must look for other ways to store (electrical) energy. Because that’s what we need: storing energy is required as long as we cannot exactly match supply and demand. And that’s the way it is: people aren’t going to watch television at night simply because there is an oversupply of electrical energy at that point in time. No, people want their needs met right now. It might be possible to mold people’s desires into a form that better matches the (electrical) energy supply at a particular point in time; for example, by charging the use of electricity on peak hours. However, this, like tax on smoking, seems to hurt us in our self-determination: we want to decide what to do and when to do it, not the government or any other party.

So what options are left? Dams? Sure: that could be possible. We could use excess electrical energy to pump up water, so that we can use this potential energy at a later point in time (at peak hours, for example). But that’s expensive, right? Building dams? So what about this bold conjecture: since the water level is getting higher and higher, why can’t we use the rising water level as a potential energy source? I understand that using the rising water level is not going to lower the water level: the water comes, one way or another, always back in the oceans. It’s not like we can deplete the oceans by using its water. However, that is not to say that there might not be a win-win situation available: what if we could mitigate the rise of the water level and at the same time create (potential) electrical energy?

Again: I am not an engineer, but the following plan seems pretty cool to me: what if we could use holes in the ground, like the giant holes created by depleting coal mines, in order to create waterfall like structures that drive generators. Then we could come up with electrical energy, right? Furthermore, we would mitigate the rise of the water level. Think about it: why do we have to build dams up high? Why can’t we use the depths of nature, the natural spaces in the ground, in order to let gravity do what it does best, and supply us with energy?

Another, possibly far-fetched, idea is a smaller one: it is about freighters (ships) crossing the oceans. Why do these ships always have to run on fuel? They don’t seem to be in that much of a hurry, right? Can’t we just use the power of the wind to blow them forth? Or solar energy, for that matter.

I don’t know how to save the planet, but I do know one thing: we should let our imagination do the work: be wild and think about it. When the point is reached at which the economic benefits of renewable energy are more profitable than fossil fuels, the paradigm shift will be made: we will all go green. And the great thing about this paradigm shift is: you can see it coming.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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