5
$\begingroup$

If Humanity were to suddenly come to its senses and stop relying all together on fossil fuels and start relying on wind powered and solar energy sources, wouldn't this lead to some sort of climate change?

The reason why I am wondering if this would happen is the following:

  • Large scale reliance on Solar energy means that a lot of heat that was being absorbed directly by the earth would now be channeled into energy useful for humans. Presumably this would be lead to a non-negligible decrease in the temperature of the surface of the planet, as well as to a decrease in the amount of solar energy being reflected back into the atmosphere, both of which would lead to some changes in the climate.

  • Large scale reliance on Wind powered energy sources would lead to changes in global wind patterns - pulling energy out moving air masses that use to lead to tropical storms and hurricanes, maybe even effecting things like the trade winds and large ocean currents like the Gulf Stream. This would effect ocean temperatures and rain fall patterns and lead to dramatic climate change as well.

Are these realistic scenarios, or are solar and wind powered energy sources truly safe?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Your dot points are not realistic scenarios. Posted as a comment and not an answer. @ZachThe Pilot's answer covers the main reasons why. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 11 '17 at 3:55
4
$\begingroup$

Solar energy collectors turn light which otherwise may have been reflected back into space (if the underground is lighter than the collector surface) into heat. Either directly (thermal plant) or indirectly, via electrical energy which ultimately will land as waste heat in the environment. (Note that this means that the heat will be transfered to a different region, the area directly under the collectors is indeed cooler, it's in shade after all. This can be used to advantage in hot regions).

The only relevant question is the effect of the collectors on earth's albedo, which is presumeably reduced by large scale solar farms. This will lead to an increase in temperature, not a decrease.

Wind power can only extract a small percentage of the wind's energy - the useable cross-section of the moving air mass is miniscule. So i don't believe you'll get any large-scale effects from that.

A much bigger "concern" is the end of all fossil fuel burning. That will certainly have an effect, since all the burning we do now does have one too.

Hopefully this will be an advantageous one.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

The real question isn't how the energy is being generated, but rather how efficiently is the energy being used? Since no system is 100% efficient (the Second Law of Thermodynamics), there is going to be waste heat generated, and this low grade heat is released into the environment.

At the current level of energy consumption on Earth, this amount is ridiculously small compared to the insolation received from the Sun (if you compared the total energy output of Earth's civilizations to the energy received by the Sun in the same unit of time, the difference could be visualized as a car moving at 60KPH being passed by a satellite moving at orbital velocity). We still know that this is true, both through experience (the heated surface of your laptop is waste heat from the CPU doing mathematical processing, and you have felt the heat of a car's exhaust), and perhaps have heard of the phenomena of urban heat islands, where the concentrated output of all the machinery and people in a compact area increases the local temperature of the city's microclimate.

Now multiply this effect into the future, as millions of people crowd into massive megacities and everyone is working hard to get the benefits of a middle class lifestyle, including a car, house with appliances, electricity and running water etc. As more energy is being consumed, more and more waste heat is being released into the environment.

The ultimate expression of this was described by Larry Niven in his Ringworld series of books. The fictional "Puppeteers" havre been civilized and industrialized for millennia, and their home planet is so crowded and filled with high tech equipment that the planet has been moved away from the home star, and radiates heat directly into the cold of interstellar space.

So climate change due to industrial overdevelopment is possible, but requires the use of massive quantities of devices, all radiating their waste heat into the environment.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Yes, but those aren't the biggest issues

While these may seem like the most logical issues, there are far more concerns associated with today's clean energy.

Solar

Presumably this would be lead to a non-negligible decrease in the temperature of the surface of the planet, as well as to a decrease in the amount of solar energy being reflected back into the atmosphere, both of which would lead to some changes in the climate.

First of all, solar panels absorb photons from light, not heat. This process produces heat. This however, would be negligible compared to the cost and inefficiency of large scale solar. More about that here In today's world, large scale solar would certainly be possible, but scalability in regards to cost, and climbing energy demands, may become an issue.

Wind

Large scale reliance on Wind powered energy sources would lead to changes in global wind patterns - pulling energy out moving air masses that use to lead to tropical storms and hurricanes, maybe even effecting things like the trade winds and large ocean currents like the Gulf Stream. This would effect ocean temperatures and rain fall patterns and lead to dramatic climate change as well.

Wind power has been shown to have little to no effect on large scale climate change. However, it has been shown to affect the local climate somewhat. More on that here

While wind is far cheaper per kilowatt hour, the space necessary to have large scale wind farms is far greater than that of solar. This is a concern for many reasons. (Habitat loss, farming space etc.)

In conclusion

Green energy is certainly cleaner than fossil fuels. However, reliance on one type of power generation is problematic. So, perhaps a healthy balance is all that we need for a sustainable, and energetic future.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.