Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society
By Ted Trainer
Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society (Ted Trainer). Springer, 2007; 197pp; ISBN: 978-1402055485
● Each renewable energy source is limited by its energy storage capacity, relative efficiency, and reliability in contrast to fossil fuels.
● At this moment, it is impossible to meet the current demand for energy using only renewable sources. If the energy demand stays consistent, we can integrate renewable sources into our energy production system, but they must be supplemented by fossil fuels in order to maintain a consistent flow of energy that is not influenced by environmental variation.
● A future reduction in total energy consumption will be necessary, and communities must return to the “Simpler Way,” a model in which growth stagnates and communities are largely self-sufficient in terms of energy and resources.
Brief Description of the Book
Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society discusses the inability of renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and others, to fully replace fossil fuels at the current and future demand. Specifically, the greater variability of these energy systems and problems with energy storage and efficiency greatly limit their large-scale viability. For example, in the case of solar thermal energy, Trainer concludes that power stations built in hot regions of the world can make a valuable contribution in the summer months, but not in the winter. From a global perspective, it would be difficult to run long transmission lines from, for example, the Sahara to Europe.
In addition, the lifestyle of developed countries is entirely unsustainable, and as such, any system based entirely on renewable energy sources must supplement a scaled-back society based on self-sufficient regional communities and a dramatic reduction in consumption (“The Simpler Way”). Thus, society must recognize that renewable energy sources are only part of the solution for the environmental crisis. Current behaviors and consumption levels are largely unsustainable and must change in order to allow the adoption of a fully renewable energy system.
“The biggest difficulties for solar and wind energy are set by their variability, especially the occurrence of night time and winter for solar, and the fact that winds can be down for days at a time.”
“Renewable energy sources can fit well into national supply systems while they are only meeting a small fraction of demand.”
“In general, windmills are built in addition to a conventional plant, not instead of it, and their virtue is in avoiding use of coal or gas fuel, not in avoiding building a coal or gas plant.”
“We must develop self-sufficiency at the national level…and at the household level, but most importantly at the neighborhood, town, and local regional level.”
Why is this book important to understanding the environmental crisis?
This book provides an excellent commentary on the types of renewable energy sources currently available and their limitations. The overarching idea, that renewable energy must go hand-in-hand with a reduction in consumption, is powerful, and may prove instrumental to further environmental policies and social movements.
Dr. Ted Trainer is a Professor at the University of New South Wales’ School of Social Work in Australia. He is also the author of many books regarding the transition to a sustainable society, including: The Conserver Society: Alternatives for Sustainability (1995), Toward a Sustainable Economy: The Need for Fundamental Change (1995), Saving the Environment: What it Will Take (1998), and Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society (2007). Trainer is also widely regarded as a leader in the Transition Towns movement, which supports the development of local and sustainable economies to confront future energy crises.
Links to Reviews
Vanek, F. and Albright, L. (2008). Energy Systems Engineering: Evaluation and Implementation. McGraw Hill.