The Experts (Wall Street Journal blog): Why Most ‘Renewable’ Energy Sources Aren’t Really Renewable

September 24, 2013

September 23 – What is the single biggest misconception people have about renewable energy in the U.S.? And why do you think they have this misconception?

ROBERT RAPIER: I believe the single biggest misconception is the extent to which most of our “renewable” energy technologies aren’t really renewable. After all, what do we actually mean by the phrase “renewable energy?” In a nutshell, we generally mean energy that is produced within the annual solar budget of the planet, that doesn’t increase pollution and that doesn’t deplete natural resources.

This is an idealized definition, and practically none of our existing renewable energy sources would strictly meet this definition. In some cases, it is not even clear that some renewable energy options would be viable sources of energy without the fossil fuel inputs on which they currently rely.

In such cases, these options are not truly renewable due to their fossil fuel dependence, even though many of them are treated as renewable.

Wind turbines are made from steel, the production of which is heavily dependent on coal. They are anchored by concrete, the production of which is a major global source of carbon dioxide emissions. Wind turbines and solar panels are both produced with scarce rare earth elements.

Crops for fuel production are typically grown with fertilizer made from natural gas, as well as pesticides and herbicides derived from petroleum.