By Karen Schaufeld
When I started Powered by Facts, my goal was to create a source for accurate, up-to-date information on energy production and the costs and benefits of a varied energy production mix in Virginia. Unfortunately, if you don’t understand the different types available to you, as well as their pros and cons, it is difficult to know the best course.
Joe Baker, Vice President of Editorial and Advocacy for Care2 and ThePetitionSite, recently shared a post with The Energy Collective that I found helpful. It outlines the pros and cons of some of today’s most popular energy sources, from solar to fossil fuels. Here are the top points Baker made for each in Demystifying the Energy Source: Is One Better Than Another?:
Strengths: Solar energy is clean, unlimited and inexpensive. According to Baker, “the cost of solar has dropped by 70 percent since 2009 and the price is only expected to drop further as technology advances.”
Weaknesses: Distribution of costs. “With your energy bills, you pay not only for the actual energy you use, but also for the system that gets it to your home,” and most people don’t have the money needed upfront to buy a system.
Strengths: Wind energy is clean and abundant and could provide needed jobs to rural communities, and supplement incomes on existing farms.
Weaknesses: Transmission across long distances is hard, there are storage problems, and wind strength and patterns are unpredictable and don’t always align with power demand. Baker states that wind turbines also pose a hazard to wildlife; however, this data can only be judged relative to other threats to wildlife such as pollution or outdoor cats (it’s true… look it up).
Strengths: This is the most widely used renewable energy in the United States, according to Baker’s post. A big selling point for hydropower is that it’s local and … “creates local jobs both managing the dam and power generation … and can provide power on demand.”
Weaknesses: It’s two biggest drawbacks: location and environmental impacts. You need lots of water year-round to make it work, and dams severely disrupt natural habitats.
Strengths: Geothermal energy can be deployed at the utility scale or in a single building, using heat pumps and a network of pipes to regulate indoor temperatures. It’s also reliable and “ridiculously” efficient, according to Baker.
Weaknesses: Utility-scale geothermal sites are location specific and rarely close to where people live, so much of the energy is lost in transmission. It also requires a great deal of water, which is then polluted with toxic minerals, and it has been linked to earthquakes. Smaller scale, home-based geothermal does not pose these risks.
Strengths: Nuclear power production has a low carbon footprint, is a reliable energy source that can operate on demand and has unique economic benefits. Nuclear power plants can be built anywhere and offer job opportunities.
Weaknesses: Nuclear reactor meltdowns are uncommon, but the impact is devastating. Chernobyl and Fukushima. Enough said. (Author’s Note: Here at Powered by Facts, we value cheaper energy and nuclear power is now among the most expensive to be placed into the rate base borne by ratepayers. Estimates for new nuclear generation are pegged at double the cost of solar. In addition, environmental impacts related to production of nuclear fuel and safekeeping of spent nuclear fuel are concerning.)
Strengths: Fossil fuels are cheap, historically abundant and meet on-demand needs, according to Baker. It also has the advantage that the US energy infrastructure is built for fossil fuel power plants.
Weaknesses: Fossil fuels are damaging the planet and changing the climate (and are more vulnerable to price fluctuations).
Regardless of which type of energy you decide to support, it’s important to understand the options and what they can do for you and for the Commonwealth.
I hope you will continue to educate yourself about energy options for our state and our nation and visit Powered by Facts often.
Share your comments and thoughts with me here.