Ideology, Solar power, Technology, Wave power, Wind power

“Dear Aunty, why do we even need fracked gas? Can’t we meet our needs with renewables?”

Well, sweeties, I really wish we could, but renewables simply can’t deliver what we need right now and so we continue to need gas. And because our North Sea reserves are running out, we need fresh sources.

I know that groups like Friends of the Earth (FOE) would like us all to think that a renewable energy future awaits us just around the next bend in the road, cherubs, and that we can afford to turn our backs on fossil fuels, nuclear power and energy-from-waste (EfW) but that’s really not true at all for many reasons.

Here are just a few to be thinking about, my dears:

Firstly, and importantly, renewable energy sources like wind, wave and solar can only supply electricity, and yet most of us use gas to heat our homes and to cook with. You could pepper the land with wind turbines, darlings, and yet it still wouldn’t solve this problem.

*Remember: energy doesn’t just equal electricity*

Secondly, renewable electricity sources are intermittent. I know, I know, it’s a line trotted out all the time, but it’s true sweeties – the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine (not only do solar panels not work at night, but according to the fabulous free book by Dr David MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, in a typical UK location the sun only shines for 34% of daylight hours). This problem of intermittency works the other way too: sometimes, it’s so windy that turbines have to be switched off (yet the wind farm operators still get paid, for electricity they’ve been asked not to supply).

Thirdly, the conversion of energy into electricity is low, my dears, because of the latent inefficiencies and limitations of the technologies used – wind turbines typically only put out 30% of their installed capacity as electricity, solar panels even less at between 10-20%. So, when you hear about a new wind farm with 195 MW capacity, remember that may on average only actually provide 59 MW of electricity…

Fourthly, renewables suffer from what’s known as low power density (allied to the point above about capacity factors). Put simply, to get any meaningful output requires a large area of land to be sacrificed.

And lastly for now my little munchkins, renewable energy developments are not as popular as some people would have us all believe. Onshore wind farms regularly meet stiff local opposition during the planning phase (and get turned down as a result); large scale solar farms are starting to meet opposition too, this one planned for Suffolk being rejected after a high profile campaign that starred actor Gryff Rhys-Jones; offshore wind isn’t always popular as this website at will attest; and even tidal energy has proven unpopular as the Severn Barrage project shows.

So, my darlings, renewable energy isn’t the reality waiting in the wings that some people claim it is, and we will continue to need lots of other power sources alongside more wind turbines and solar panels. If we are going to continue using gas to run our homes, pumpkins, it’s better for everyone if we get our own out of the ground here rather than expensively pipe it in from one of our neighbours or, worse still, ship it half way around the world in liquefied form. That really won’t do at all.

Until next time xxx


One thought on ““Dear Aunty, why do we even need fracked gas? Can’t we meet our needs with renewables?”

  1. Pingback: “Dear Aunty, are you SURE we need fracked gas? Can we really not succeed with renewables alone?” | Aunty Frackers blog

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