Clean energy is a current buzz word and rightly so, we shouldn’t stop till we have fully transitioned to renewables. I know what you’re thinking, if I am advocating for clean energy, why am I being not all positive about it in my opening statement? I am pro-renewables.
This article isn’t about fossil fuels. It’s about a danger, that might be imminent if we are not careful enough. And relax guys, I am not here to cause panic.
Last week, I was talking to a friend about solar energy and something came up. The manufacture of solar panels and by extension, wind power utilities is hinged on minerals extraction. If we are to transition fully to renewables, the numbers are staggering. The amount of minerals required to produce say 14-15 terawatts of global electricity are 34 million metric tons of copper, 162 million tons of aluminum, 50 million tons of zinc, 4.8 billion tons of iron and 40 million tons of lead. This is according to a 2017 World Bank report.
When discussing renewables, we can never ignore the amount of batteries needed. The above figures only touch on electricity with other aspects such as vehicles pushing the numbers further up.
There’s a problem here and it’s with the fact that at present, the world is already at a point of mineral over-extraction. Pushing these numbers will only worsen the situation. The rate at which we are currently mining is way beyond sustainable. One might argue that, the problem foremost is exhaustion of the mineral deposits. It is a problem but it scratches on the surface.
The mineral extraction problem also morphs into the water debate. In order to produce one ton of lithium, we need close to half a million gallons of water. This is for a mineral that we are just realizing it’s immense potential. It is already driving us into a crisis.
This is just the transition bit, we are yet to account for actual growth in energy demands.
I’m not here to discourage us from adopting clean energy. The urgency and need for this cannot be stated enough. We need clean energy, now! What we need to do is to move away from the idea that the world can sustain our ever increasing desire for energy. If we are to talk about the Green New Deal, we must call on world leaders to align the transition to a reduction of the aggregate energy use.