As renewables are coming to reign in the world of energy, where should we proceed?
Not long ago, most people viewed renewables as a luxury because of their high prices. Yet renewables are now officially cheaper than coal according to a new report by IRENA.
However, another set of challenges is arising. As renewables are coming to reign in the world of energy, where should we proceed?
It’s time to start thinking beyond the technology and asking deeper questions about the development and use of energy in our societies. As renewables become the new norm, it doesn’t mean they are sustainable by default. Even solar and wind require resources that aren’t renewable, while renewable energy storage solutions are contributing to environmental degradation.
Most of the outdated equipment in renewables also remains unrecyclable or unrecycled globally.
So can a further destruction of ecosystems be a legitimate reason for humans exploring their fullest potential? The answer comes only from our shared morality, which is bound to become increasingly global and shaped by the process of cultural negotiation, political debate and the resetting of legal boundaries for action.
And beyond ecosystems’ health, there will be no shortage of other troubles. Renewables will increasingly face the question of justice. Not all the 29 metals required to produce renewables are equally abundant, for example. Thus, at some point, the prices of renewables might well start going up again to a point where large-scale new renewables capacity might stall. A shortage of required materials will then impact already vulnerable groups and nations the most.
The success of the Paris Agreement and resilience of the energy future will depend on how quickly we turn towards renewables. Yet they also depend on the broader impacts of increasing energy availability on shifting lifestyles patterns, pressures of 24/7 human societies in busy urban settings as well as novel challenges connected to the further overuse of natural resources.
In a quest to expand renewables globally, we need to bear in mind that prices are only glimpses of analytical insight. They do help us make better choices, yes, but they are poor guideposts when it comes to many ethical and political choices. To make the future of renewables sustainable, we will need to consider a broader vision of energy and its role in our lives.