Clean energy requires closer analysis
Clean energy has long enjoyed a fairly positive public image. Vague notions that itâs impractical or expensive are generally dispelled by the assurance that itâs the key to our future, will keep our planet healthy, etc.
In recent weeks, however, thereâs been an influx of negative publicity for certain forms of clean energy. Fox News happily promoted the inefficiency of electric cars while The Wall Street Journal led a combination expose/crusade against wind energy.
The Washington Examiner also jumped on the tar-and-feathering of the wind turbine, while the generic rumblings that solar power is too expensive got a little louder. Passionate defenses of the electric car and company have poured forth in return, cropping up across the Internet from personal blogs to National Geographic.
Understandably, thereâs been some confusion.
It would be easy to brush aside all the criticism with the blanket excuse that conservatives simply badmouth clean energy because they have other priorities. In some cases, this might be true. In others, theyâve actually made some valid points.
This is the green initiative that has recently come under the most fire, thanks in part to an Energy Policy paper. The paper contends that in countries already saddled with high levels of CO2, like China, battery powered vehicles have a greater carbon footprint than your standard Hyundai. The publicity that followed got somewhat carried away, claiming that BPVs might actually speed global warming.
The absurdity that allowed the blog to be picked up by everyone from Red Dog Report to Fox News is a little unsettling. The criticism discounted both the significant carbon offsets that electric cars provide in other areas of the world and the fact that they can still be effective in heavily-polluted countries.
Investing in an electric car ultimately comes down to whether or not itâs worth it to you personally. Theyâre expensive, you canât buy them used and their safety is somewhat unproven. On the other hand, theyâre easily maintained and can come with tax credits in the realm of $7,500.
A BPVâs batteries need to charge for anywhere from six to 12 hours each night, but if we can incorporate our cell phone, iPod, laptop and camera chargers into our daily lives, we can probably work our way around one more.
The Journalâs beef with wind energy had to do with taxpayers kicking in more than they should have to, and with âimpatient Democratsâ raiding the loans associated with wind energy for other endeavors.
Itâs not improbable that the Obama administrationâs clean energy budget has its kinks to work out. But that doesnât entirely discount wind turbines from the clean energy equation.
Wind energy as a whole is not inordinately expensive; according to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report, the price tag is comparable to that of natural gas or coal, and in some cases itâs actually a cheaper alternative.
The problem with wind energy, aside from whatever current pork-barrel scandal is making its way through Congressâ version of the tabloids, is its inconsistency. Without a breeze to ruffle the smog, turbines wouldnât keep a single city block of Los Angeles going. Given a strong wind, however, the worst that can really be said about turbines is that theyâre noisy and might off the occasional passing bird.
Itâs not a fix-all. Solar panels can run more than $1000 a pop, and they donât work well in pollution. Theyâre still fairly efficient, though, and the expense seems clearly worth it in the long run. But theyâre not necessarily feasible everywhere; attempting to make them a prominent source of energy in downtown Los Angeles, where you can ask for a smog check with your car wash, might actually not be worth the hassle.
Still, solar energy is an incredibly promising medium for areas in which the panels would function well. And the more we invest in them, the cheaper theyâll eventually become.
Clean energy has its problems â we knew that before Energy Policy told us.
On the whole, the negative publicity isnât much of a revelation. We know clean energy is expensive, that it can be unreliable and that our government has a long way to go before we could use it on par with natural gas or coal.
That simply leaves us to decide which forms of clean energy, and at what cost, can be efficiently implemented.
The same decisions weâve been making for years.
Kastalia Medrano is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism and associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column, âGreen Piece,â runs Tuesdays.