Alex Epstein: Progressive Energy vs. “Renewable” Energy

“Renewable energy” has two fundamental conceptual flaws. It’s not really renewable, and it’s not really energy.

What is “Renewable”?

“Renewable” in most definitions approximates to something like “naturally replenished” and it often contrasted with allegedly inferior, “finite” sources. It brings to mind the image of a pizza where a slice, once eaten, magically reappears. There is no such phenomenon in nature, though. Everything is finite. The sun and the photons and wind currents it generates are not infinite; they are just all part of a very large nuclear fusion reaction. True, that nuclear fusion reaction will last billions of years, but so will the staggering amounts of untapped energy stored in every atom of our “finite” planet.

To obsess about whether a given potential energy source will last hundreds of years or billions of years is to neglect the key issue that matters to human life here and now: whether it can actually provide the usable energy that will maximize the quantity and quality of human life.


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4 responses to “Alex Epstein: Progressive Energy vs. “Renewable” Energy

  1. No one has yet been able to say for sure if hydrocarbons are renewable and are created by volcanic activity on Earth, even though we know hydrocarbons are created on other planets in our solar system.

    • Not from volcanoes.

      However, it is a fact that some oil is from
      abiogenic processes. Biogenic sources
      have unipolar stereo chemistry. Some oil
      doesn’t have that trait, ipso facto, is not
      of biological origin.

    • The late Tommy Gold was a believer in abundant abiogenic hydrocarbons. He believed that methane was trapped in the mantle when the earth formed, and remains there. (He brought in a LOT of dry wells.)
      Methane, along with water and ammonia, was created in abundance when the ashes of a nova cooled and the hydrogen combined with the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen produced in the Protosun (the parent star) long before our current sun was formed. As the cloud cooled, these chemicals condensed to make the outer (larger planets) and the bodies in the Oort Cloud.
      UV light from the child star (our current sun) is sufficient to photolyze methane and ammonia and allow the random recombination that creates more complex molecules.
      Chemical analysis of the constituents of coal and petroleum shows that they were formed by the chemical reduction of organic matter in the presence of low heat and pressure and in the absence of oxygen. Chemists call the process ‘cracking.’
      Volcanic activity is far too hot to allow fragile carbon-based molecules to endure. In particular cracking can happen at temperatures as low as 500° C, but lava can only exists as a liquid at temperatures above 700° C.

  2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us two things: everything we do creates Entropy, and everything we do uses Energy. Given that the entire universe is finite, the amount of *available* energy is always decreasing.
    We may as well make the most of it. We only have a few TRILLION years of energy left.

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