Fossil fuels burn inefficiently. They are non-renewable energy sources, which means we only have a finite amount to work with on the planet. They produce pollutants and toxins that harm our environment. Yet, despite these major disadvantages, they continue to be used throughout the U.S. (and around the world).
Wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy have made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, both in terms of energy production potential and in terms of practicality. These sources of energy are clean, efficient, and infinitely renewable, so why aren’t we making more progress toward making them the primary sources of energy?
Limits to Growth
The following are some of the main reasons renewable forms of energy haven’t yet taken off:
1. Bureaucratic decision making. As consulting firm Triniti notes, corporate latency is a major problem (and for more than just adoption of renewable energy sources). Bureaucratic decision making tends to slow progress down, and since renewable energy sources are still relatively new, businesses and government bodies are still slow to shift developmental resources to them. A transition is occurring—it’s just occurring very, very slowly.
2. Cost of renewable energy. Despite all the advancements we’ve made to renewable energy technology, it’s still somewhat expensive to pursue. Solar energy systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install, and with no efficient way to store solar energy (for periods of cloudiness or night), it’s just not feasible to execute these renewable methods exclusively or on large scales.
3. Lack of available technology. In the previous point, we alluded to the storage problem with solar power—that’s just one of the technological hurdles preventing us from moving forward. Nuclear fusion technology, for example, has the hypothetical power to generate all the world’s energy needs, many times over, cleanly and relatively safely—but we’re still not sure if it could ever be feasible.
4. Cost and profitability of fossil fuels. Even if we had reliable forms of clean energy that were relatively cost efficient, it would be hard to match the cost efficiency of fossil fuels. Mining, producing, and refining things like coal and oil for energy is incredibly cheap, and therefore incredibly profitable for corporations. As long as people want to make money (and they always will), fossil fuels will always be a primary target of the energy industry.
5. Lack of public demand. We also aren’t doing ourselves any favors by not speaking up about the benefits of renewable energy. There’s a stunning lack of public demand for the development and institution of renewable energy sources, and that means major decision makers aren’t motivated to make any big changes. Raising our voices and demanding more progress—especially from lawmakers and politicians—could have a substantial effect here.
6. Dependence on fossil fuels. It’s also important to remember, as TheGuardian points out, that our society is highly dependent on fossil fuels as part of our daily lives. Think about the car you drive—how often do you refuel it with gasoline? How likely are you to trade your car in for a fully electric model in the near future? It’s hard to replace the systems we’ve come to rely on for decades, especially all at once, and especially when the other above factors are also interfering with the feasibility of renewable energy.
How to Overcome These Obstacles
Unfortunately, there’s no fast or easy solution to overcome these obstacles—if there were, we probably would have taken it already, and we wouldn’t have to write this article in the first place. The best thing we can do is raise our voices, and speak up about our need and desire for renewable energy resources. Talk to your kids. Talk to your parents. Talk to your neighbors, teachers, coworkers, peers, bosses, and especially your politicians. The more we talk and the more we demand renewable energy, the more motivated our corporations, scientists, and lawmakers will be to develop and implement more forms of renewable energy in our society. It will still take years or even decades to build this momentum, but it’s worth it for the future of our planet.