THE ‘POWER PARADOX’ OF CLEAN ENERGY

In “Power paradox: Clean might not be green forever” (newscientist.com, Jan 30, 2012), Anil Ananthaswamy and Michael Le Page write about the “power paradox,” a term which describes how our sources for clean energy like wind, solar and nuclear fusion are actually creating climate problems of their own. Our American Dream lifestyle, they write, with its spacious air-conditioned homes, three cars, jet setting to exotic vacation spots, you get the picture, consumes a lot of power. And a lot of that power comes from fossil fuels which warm up the carbon dioxide and this affects the climate. According to Eric Chaisson of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “Whatever you use energy for, it almost all ends up as waste heat.” Yes, professor, but what do we do?

Chaisson tells his students what his mentor Carl Sagan always told him–that any planet will eventually use energy from it’s parent star. “The only energy that is not going to additionally heat the Earth is solar and its derivatives,” says Chaisson, referring to sources driven by the sun’s heat – wind, hydro and waves.

But the wind power affects the climate and not always in a good way. According to Somnath Baidya Roy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, surface temperatures behind the wind turbines at a wind farm at San Gorgonio, California were higher than in front during the night, but as much as 4 °C lower by day. Apparently the turbulence caused by the turbines effects the temperature of the air. A system of geoengineering needs to be utilized where wind power can support the inherent climate changes. Wind farms, if strategically placed, could work with the climate as opposed to working against.

Ken Caldeira of Stanford University in California suggests that high altitude winds can be used to engineer temperature shifts between the equator and the two poles. Extracting winds slows down the heat transfer between the equator and the poles. This warms the equator which, in turn, causes the poles to cool. Sea ice covers more earth thereby possibly counteracting global warming. We know that the Arctic is warming faster than any other area on Earth. Pictures of polar bears crouching atop mushroom sized ice caps remind us of this daily. So this is a good thing, yes? Not so fast. Axel Kleidon and Lee Miller of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, argue that Caldeira and his colleague Archer overestimate the amount of energy extracted from the jet stream winds. They claim the high winds come from low friction rather than an input of energy. Although the debate continues, there is no doubt as tothe effect of all this on the climate. More research is needed into climate conditions. However, in the end, it is clear that geoengineering is an important tool for solving the power paradox.

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