Overreliance on nonrenewable resources over the past few centuries has revealed their inherent vulnerabilities. In the past few decades, mounting environmental problems, increasing worry over secure supply chains, and economic instability due to volatile energy prices have routinely plagued industrialized and developing nations as they strive to meet ever-growing energy demands. Although there are still technological hurdles to clear before renewable energy can be efficiently exploited, the economic and environmental benefits of renewables suggest that this is a sound area of investment.
Collectively labeling renewable energy resources as nonpolluting would be inaccurate; environmental and aesthetic costs are associated with building and operating renewable energy facilities. Renewable resources, though, present fewer environmental problems than fossil fuels. Perhaps most significant is the elimination of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous emissions in using wind, solar and hydro power. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass -- organic waste, such as wood and livestock manure, that can be used as a fuel -- create no net emissions when new plants take up the carbon. (See References 1, page 20, and Reference 3, page 6)
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010 the U.S. imported roughly 1 million barrels of oil per day from Mexico and Saudi Arabia, and nearly twice that from Canada (see References 5). Political and social events often create shock waves through energy markets as risks to the supply are assessed. Associating energy prices with abundant renewable resources reduces exposure to the riskiness of depending on a depletable energy resource that must be imported to meet demand. Additionally, the need to continually locate and secure new nonrenewable energy deposits places the economy of the supplier and the consumer in jeopardy. The nondepletable nature of renewable energy resources and the capacity for domestic production --- the U.S. has within its borders tremendous solar and wind power potential --- provide a more stable supply system. (Reference 1, page 20)
For aesthetic, health and economic reasons, national, state and municipal governments have increasingly sought to protect the environment. While reducing soil, water and air pollution produces long-term benefits, and the costs associated with cleaning up pollution can be staggering, industrialized economies must also consider how regulations can negatively impact economic growth, especially in the short term. Renewable resources can bridge the chasm between environmental protection and economic growth. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies coal-burning power plants as a major source of the compounds that lead to acid rain. Title IV of the Clean Air Act seeks to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to levels below those recorded in the 1980s. Conversion to renewable energy sources would enable the U.S. to meet the demands of this act while continuing to generate the electrical power that a growing population requires. (See References 4)
The utilization of renewable energy resources is far more decentralized than that of nonrenewables. Underdeveloped areas can capitalize on local renewable resources to promote development that was previously restricted to areas with greater access to the large-scale infrastructure needed to support fossil fuel power plants. Other industries can benefit from the switch to renewables. The travel industry, which is often a major player in regional growth, particularly in developing nations, is greatly affected by the environmental damage caused by worldwide reliance on nonrenewable energy sources; for example, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill effectively crippled tourism along the U.S. Gulf Coast (see References 6). At the same time, tourism is highly dependent on abundant energy resources. Unfortunately, that energy must be imported at great expense or produced locally, which can impair an area's desirability. Renewable energy resources, on the other hand, can provide the energy needed to support tourism while protecting the aesthetic qualities required to entice travelers and minimizing the amount of emissions and pollution created in the process. Additionally, renewable resources, especially decentralized ones, tend to create more jobs than their nonrenewable counterparts, which further boosts regional employment. (Reference 1, page 24)
- Commission of the European Communities; Energy for the Future: Renewable Sources of Energy; 1996
- Parliamentarium Forum on Energy Legislation and Sustainable Development; Experience with Promotion of Renewable Energy: Successes and Lessons Learned; R. Ottinger; 2005
- U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Dollars and Sense: The Economic Benefits of Renewable Energy; 1997
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency' Acid Rain Program; March 2011
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Crude Oil and Total Petroleum Imports
- CNN.com; Gulf Coast Tourism Suffering; May 2010
David Chandler has been a freelance writer since 2006 whose work has appeared in various print and online publications. A former reconnaissance Marine, he is an active hiker, diver, kayaker, sailor and angler. He has traveled extensively and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida where he was educated in international studies and microbiology.
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