Breaking Down the Monoliths
One of the problems that bloggers face is how to handle some of the comments we receive. For me, most of the comments are easy to handle. They either reinforce or expand upon something I said with additional information, or--equally important--point out something I missed or misconstrued. Occasionally, they disagree with my view, but if the disagreement is thoughtful and constructive, I certainly publish them.
In addition, I get a number of comments that say something like, "Great blog. I really liked your comments." What writer doesn't like to hear such accolades? And to let the world know they have an admirer! The first time I got a message like this, I didn't look very hard and I published it, only to have someone point out to me that the link that I'd neglected to check was to a website for bespoke suits, or something like that.
I now look more carefully, and anything with a link to a commercial product gets summarily dumped into the Spam box.
However, I recently received a comment that didn't quite fit any neat category. It started with a comment that built on one of my recent blogs and expanded on one of my points, so I obviously wanted to post it. But reading closely, much of the message promoted a specific product.
It was an energy-related product, and I thought long and hard about whether to post the comment. After all, posting a comment with which I disagree doesn't indicate my endorsement of the comment. By the same token, posting a message promoting a product doesn't necessarily represent my endorsement of the product.
Nevertheless, in the end, I decided that posting such a message moved me into a gray area of commercialization that I wanted to avoid. On the other hand, it still bothered me that I couldn't share the very important observation made in the comment. Therefore, I decided to build a new post around that portion of the commenter's message.
The comment was made by Wilfred Sorensen on my recent post, "Renewable Energy and Reality: Growing Recognition of the Limits and Drawbacks." The objective of that post was to note several recent studies that point out that, as we learn more, renewable energy appears not to be as green and clean as originally thought.
The Mr. Sorensen added an important caveat of which we should all be aware--most of the technologies we speak of so glibly are not monolithic. Let me quote the relevant part of his message:
I have to agree with most of what Dr. Marcus has to say which appears to be 'let's not hide the true cost of renewables'. I will suggest, however, that we recognize and promote those renewables that are cost effective and environmentally beneficial.
Overshadowed as it is by PV electricity generation, solar water heating is being all but forgotten despite its cost effectiveness.
Now, I haven't really examined the economics of different types of solar energy systems myself, so I can't vouch for this statement. My focus is more on meeting large-scale electricity needs. But I heartily agree with his point. There is not just one type of nuclear reactor, or windmill, or solar energy system. Each technology variant may have different benefits and drawbacks. Each may be useful in different places or for different purposes. The only change I might make in his comment is that I would say that we should "recognize and promote all energy technologies that are cost effective and environmentally beneficial."
When I write a post such as the one about the limits and drawbacks of renewable energy, I do not intend to tar all renewable technologies and applications with the same brush. I really intend only to be sure that the record is balanced, that all energy technologies are compared in a fair and holistic fashion, and that energy decisions are made in a realistic and balanced way.
Nor do I think there is one "right" solution to all our energy needs. I personally do not believe the claims that we can realistically satisfy all our energy needs using renewable energy sources. But I also do not believe that we should turn to nuclear power for all our energy needs. For many reasons, in most cases, the best option is a mix of technologies. It is a mix of large-scale electric power plants and small-scale backyard systems such as solar water heaters. It is a mix of nuclear power plants and windmills. It is a mix of PV systems and fossil fuels.
As we consider the right mix of energy technologies for the future, we would do well to keep in mind that we ought to differentiate between different applications, and between different technologies within such broad categories as solar, wind and nuclear power.