Crossposted from the Climate Solutions blog.
Watch out – using energy is a risky business.
At any moment, clean energy might spill across your neighborhood – wind! Or explode from the sky – sunshine! Or roll along our coastlines on an extremely predictable schedule in waves and tides. And energy efficiency (opportunities) are lurking behind every dark and drafty doorway.
Sure, clean energy sources carry a few risks, especially as we’re perfecting our new abilities to harness these age-old sources. Rural wind turbines have thrown a blade in heavy storms. Solar concentrators can zap a bug in the desert. Early geothermal techniques have genuine seismic effects, and tidal arrays add to the bay buoys that fishermen’s nets must navigate. And efficiency, hoo boy – don’t squirt that caulk in your eye!
But strangely, no clean energy source spills, explodes, melts down, or crumbles and entombs our miners and our mountains like oil, natural gas, nukes and coal. And history is littered with violence, repression and genocide fueled by oil and atomic bombs. But clean and efficient energy? I dare you to name the nation or paramilitary arming for war with caulking guns.
To build a cleaner energy economy is to shield ourselves from risk, not only because the sources are durable and tame, but also because they’re spread out. Commercial nuclear has to be giant to be viable, as do oil and gas refineries and coal mines. That means when a deepwater well blows a gasket or a tsunami overtops a nuclear reactor, we’re not just looking at rolling black waves or rolling blackouts. We’re looking at an existential threat.
But clean energy sources do best if they’re more evenly distributed across our geographies. A local dairy farmer’s biodigester can power a rural town of 500 homes. Community solar arrays on neighborhood rooftops can power the local grid. Downtown, a manufacturer’s waste heat can warm dozens of office buildings. Whatever risk clean energy sources pose, they automatically spread it out.
It’s been an awful few years for anything exposed to risk – financial markets, job security, gas prices, global security operations, political fault lines, seismic fault lines. But turning on the lights doesn’t have to risk explosions or war. It’s time we built a cleaner energy economy.
Bonnie Frye Hemphill is the Business Partnerships Associate at the northwest advocacy group Climate Solutions. She is also pysched for PowerShift.
Tags: Japan, solar, wind, wave, tsunami, Japan, earthquake, efficiency, war, security, risk, insurance, distribute, Climate Solutions, PowerShift