Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy

The modern energetic system which relies predominantly on fossil fuel is considered to be dangerous for the environment. Two major drawbacks of non-renewable sources of energy, such as coal or petroleum, are Carbon emissions and their limited reserves. As Chau et al. (2015) claim, “energy generated from fossil fuels produces remarkably higher carbon emissions than those generated from renewable energy” (p. 396). Still, the argument persists that the implementation of alternative energy technologies on a large scale requires a high input of costs, energy, and material. Despite the complexity of constructing infrastructure for renewable energy power plants, it is a necessity, as the exhaust of the non-renewable sources of energy is a matter of time.

The building sector requires improvement concerning its impact on the environment and resource distribution. Chau et al. (2015) provide the analysis of the assessment methods applied to life cycles of buildings LCA, focusing on such factors as LCEA (Life Cycle Energy Assessment), and LCCO2A (Life Cycle CO2 Assessment). The last two provide the data for estimating energy inputs and Carbon emissions on every stage of the buildings’ life cycle.

According to Chau e al. (2015), “Life Cycle Energy Assessment (LCEA) is a simplified version of LCA which focuses only on the evaluation of energy inputs for different phases of the life cycle” (p. 398). Environmental problems arise when a large amount of non-renewable energy is used in buildings, which is the restrain from constructing the facilities for producing renewable energy.

To have its effect on global energy, alternative sources should be able to provide large-scale amounts within time and cost limits and quickly respond to the demand increase. Commercialization is another issue closely tied to scalability as it demonstrates that time is needed to transfer from a laboratory demonstration to large-scale, profitable energy manufacturing. Moreover, the implementation of “green” energy technologies requires infrastructure to bring it from where it is produced to densely populated areas with high consumption.

According to Fridley (2010), “alternative energy relies on engineering and construction of equipment and manufacturing processes for its production” (p. 2). The challenges the alternative energy faces are not only cost-related, as some technologies highly depend on the material input, which usually means rare-earth elements with limited reserves.

Dealing with the intermittency of alternative energy requires resource and cost input in building storages for the inconsistent supplies of wind and solar energy as well as biofuel, which is produced seasonally. As major sources of “green” energy have a lower density than most fuels, they require more land, as solar or wind power plants employ extensive areas. Water is also a limiting factor when concerning the production of biomass fuel.

The Law of Receding Horizons demonstrates how the prices of fuel and alternative energy correlate; still, it focuses solely on the financial aspect, disregarding the input of energy and material. EROI (Energy Return on Investment) formula demonstrates the relation of the output of energy to the input of it, disregarding monetary investments. If EROI falls substantially, the production of energy will require significant social and economic resources. It can undermine the current labor market, as more people will need to be involved in the process.

The implementation of alternative energy production depends on the building sector for its infrastructure. Currently, the building business is characterized by high energy consumption and extensive use of such resources as land, water, and raw material. This is one of the central issues of alternative energy that negatively influences the process of commercialization. Such challenges as commercialization, intermittency, and scalability can be tackled by proper management of infrastructure.

Works Cited

Chau, C. K., et al. “A Review on Life Cycle Assessment, Life Cycle Energy Assessment and Life Cycle Carbon Emissions Assessment on Buildings.” Applied Energy, vol. 143, 2015, pp. 395–413. Web.

Fridley, David. “Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy.” The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises, edited by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, Watershed Media, 2010, pp. 1–12.