Scientists have been very successful in understanding and finding unifying principles. Many people take the resulting technology for granted and do not understand the limitations of humans as being part of the physical world. There are moral laws (or principles), civil laws, and physical laws. Moral laws have been broken, such as murder and adultery, and everybody has broken some civil law, such as driving over the speed limit. However, nobody breaks a physical law. Therefore, we can only work with nature, and we cannot do anything that violates the physical world. Another way of stating this: you cannot fool mother nature.

2.1.1 Advantages/Disadvantages of Renewable Energy

The advantages of renewable energy are that it is sustainable (nondepletable), ubiquitous (found everywhere across the world in contrast to fossil fuels and minerals), and essentially nonpolluting. Wind turbines and photovoltaics (PV) do not use water in the production of electricity, which is another major advantage in dry areas of the world, such as the southwest and most of the west of the United States. This is in contrast to thermal electric plants, including nuclear power, which use large quantities of water.

The disadvantages of renewable energy are low density and variability, which results in higher initial cost because of the need for large capture area and storage or backup power. For different forms of renewable energy, other disadvantages or perceived problems are visual pollution, odor from biomass, avian and bats with wind farms, and brine from geothermal. In addition, wherever a large facility is to be located, there will be perceived and real problems to the local people. For conventional power plants using fossil fuels, for power plants using nuclear energy, and even for renewable energy, there is the problem of not in my backyard. In the United States there is considerable opposition to a wind farm offshore of Cape Cod, and there are areas off limits for drilling for oil and natural gas, such as the coasts of Florida. Also notice the infrastructure problems associated with transmission lines for electricity and pipelines for oil and gas.

2.1.2 Economics

Business entities always couch their concerns in terms of economics. The following statements are common:

We cannot have a cleaner environment because it is uneconomical. Renewable energy is not economical.

We must be allowed to continue our operations as in the past because if we have to install new equipment for emission reduction, we cannot compete with other energy sources. We will have to reduce employment, jobs will go overseas, etc.

The different types of economics to consider are pecuniary, social, and physical. Pecuniary is what everybody thinks of as economics, dollars. Social economics (sometimes called externalities) are those borne by everybody, and the externalities may be negative or positive. Many businesses want the general public to pay for their environmental costs. A good example is the use of coal in China, as any city of any size has major problems with air pollution. They have laws (social) for clean air, but they are not enforced. The cost will be paid in the future in terms of health problems, especially for today's children. If environmental problems affect someone else today or in the future, who pays? The estimates of the pollution costs for generation of electricity by coal range from $0.005 to 0.10/kWh.

Physical economics is the energy cost and efficiency of the process, energetics. Others refer to energetics as energy returned on energy invested. A system for producing energy must be a net energy gainer. What is the energy content at the end use versus how much energy is used in the production, transport, and transmission? Therefore, the energetics of the process has to be calculated over the life of the system, and the energetics must be postive.

There are fundamental limitations in nature due to physical laws. In the end mother nature always wins, or the corollary, pay now or probably pay more in the future. On that note, we should be looking at life cycle costs, rather than our ordinary way of doing business—low initial costs and then payments over time.

Finally, we have to look at incentives and penalties for the energy entities. Each energy entity wants incentives (subsidies) for itself and penalties for its competitors. Incentives come in the form of reduced or no taxes, not having to pay social costs on a product, and the government paying for research and development, while penalties come in the form of taxes and environmental and other regulations. It is estimated that we use energy sources in direct proportion to the incentives that the source has received in the past. There are many examples of incentives for fossil fuels and nuclear power. At one time in the United States, there was a hugh incentive for the production of oil, a 27.5% depreciation allowance taken off the bottom line of taxes.

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