4.1 Assessing for Energy Resources
While the use of renewable energy (RE) technologies has been with humans for a very long time, the integration of RE into large scale energy infrastructures and systems is a relatively recent development. As most of global the energy infrastructure is built on fossil and somewhat on fissile (nuclear) source, RE systems will need to integrate and be readily comparable to fossil equivalents.
Pay careful attention to Table 2.1 and Table 2.2 (pages 54 and 59 of Sust. Enrg., respectively), where you will find various useful energy units and conversion factors (2.1) and a list of energy conversion efficiencies across a variety of everyday energy conversion processes. Study both of these tables carefully. These will help you to develop scoping figures that will be useful when calculating the value of a potential resource.
Life Cycle Assessments as Opposed to Market Only Assessments
When conducting a market analysis alone, based solely on price, fossil fuels will come out ahead or equal in just about every case compared to a renewables source. The overarching emphasis of renewable energy is in reducing and bringing close to zero the overall output of CO2, from exploration to recovery/destruction of wastes resulting from energy production. The most important and overarching nonmarket argument for renewables is the overall reduction of CO2 output, even though some is generated through the process. The reading based on the IPCC will help to significantly frame the argument, that, if the overall costs of using fossil fuels are taken into account, we are seriously facing a global deficit with the environment that we may be unable to pay.
As a way to attempt to capture the overall costs of CO2 output, there have been a number of relatively successful and completely failed attempts at developing a market for CO2. (These costs still do not including many of the environmental problems we continue to see that are not directly related to climate change, whatsoever.) While it remains to be seen whether or not a vigorous carbon market ever will emerge, or if some other form emerges of rectifying market prices with actual costs to the environment, the fact remains that the current energy markets do not yet, in any significant way, take into account the "bottom line" of continuing to use these energy sources without using the surplus capital generated by their use to invest in renewables. Most any nonmarket strategy for renewables will need to include a significant assessment for CO2 outputs, whenever it may happen in the lifecycle of an energy capturing technology or strategy. The main tool for conducting this kind of analysis is the "life cycle assessment" (LCA). (We will cover LCAs in more detail in Lesson 5 and 6). For now, understand that selection of RE resources will produce significantly different LCAs.