Concept of earth protection day or environmental protection hands to protect the growing forest


Concept of earth protection day or environmental protection hands to protect the growing forest

Photo by: Surasak Suwanmake

Surasak Suwanmake

Doing Renewables Right

By: Lucy Sherriff

Having a “net-zero future” – where the world isn’t emitting excess carbon dioxide – can seem like a far-off pipe dream.

With sea levels still rising, wildfires becoming more and more frequent – alongside other extreme weather like floods and storms – and biodiversity rapidly dwindling, it’s imperative we focus on expanding renewable energy across the world, increasing energy sources to help mitigate the impact that fossil fuels have on the climate.

February 22, 2022

There’s already much underway to help curb global warming, including an ambitious plan announced last year which involves expanding renewable energy use across the country.

However, these renewables may not always be as green as we think - and so it’s important to do them right.

One of the primary issues with electric vehicles, for example, is where the battery materials are sourced. Cobalt, nickel, and lithium are the main materials that are used, and these are mined across the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Argentina and Australia. There are very valid concerns over unethical labor in these mines, as well as the long-term impact on the environment. Are electric vehicles really better than diesel and petrol-powered cars if their batteries are from an unsustainable source?

Electric car in charging


Electric car in charging.

Photo by: seksan Mongkhonkhamsao

seksan Mongkhonkhamsao

Electric car in charging.

Scientists are racing against the clock to develop sustainable materials, and make existing technology more environmentally friendly, such as renewably powered charging stations that aren’t reliant on coal, better energy storage systems, more efficient car batteries, and batteries that are made from sustainable materials, such as polypeptides.

But that’s just the automobile industry – what about the rest?

Developing a green future means a vast increase in renewable energy sources, but the new infrastructure will take up vast swathes of land. Unless that is, planners use “smart siting”. This means protecting communities living near developments, conserving land, and not harming biodiversity. Offshore wind plays a big part in reaching goals, but when it comes to onshore energy production, the Princeton Net Zero America report estimates a 228,000-square-mile footprint, greater than Colorado and Wyoming combined.


Wind turbines

Photo by: Abstract Aerial Art

Abstract Aerial Art

Wind turbines

Certain places should be avoided when developing renewable energy, and so finding land such as mine sites, landfills, and contaminated land – all known as degraded land which is hard to use – is key. Globally, there is enough of this land in the world to meet the Paris climate goals 17 times over. In the US, there is enough of this land to supply 1.3 million megawatts of solar energy.

It’s vital to plan ahead if we really want to “go green”. More than half of US states have already developed siting guidelines; Massachusetts for example has adopted a program to incentivize renewable energy development on brownfields, whereas Nevada, Virginia, and West Virginia are identifying ways to harness solar power to bring jobs to coal communities. But that also means many haven’t prioritized responsible siting.

Many challenges come with ramping up renewable energy, and it’s paramount that these are addressed now, while these technologies are being developed and the transition is taking place, rather than in years ahead when we are looking back on what we should have done

Next Up

Waste Heat Can Be Transformed Into Abundant Clean Electricity

Waste heat is a worldwide energy problem most people have probably never heard about. Every machine and power station, even renewable energy like wind and solar, creates heat that is simply lost in the atmosphere. Thankfully, scientists and engineers are devoted to capturing heat and transforming it into useful electricity.

Extreme Weather Tests the Durability of Solar and Wind Power

As category four Hurricane Ian swept across the Caribbean into south west Florida on 28 September 2022, knocking out Cuba’s electricity grid along the way, hundreds of thousands of homes were hit by flooding and power loss. In contrast, the solar-powered community of Babcock Ranch 24 miles to the north of coastal town Fort Myers survived intact.

Green Hydrogen Will Fuel the World’s Zero-Carbon Industries

One of the challenges in establishing a zero-emission green hydrogen network in the US is stabilizing supply and storage. Hydrogen (H2) is a carbon-free fuel and an $8 billion ‘H2 Hubs’ program from the Department of Energy aims to ramp up production. But keeping the industry environmentally neutral is difficult.

Supercomputers and Artificial Intelligence Create Future Green Industries

Supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) are indispensable tools for cooking up the next generation of advanced materials. Advanced computers allow scientists to rapidly design better alloys, chemical catalysts, and plastics using millions of potential candidates. Tomorrow’s high-tech materials are being road-tested this way to cut down human trial and error.

Mining e-Waste to Recover Precious Metals and Save the Planet

Electronic waste, or e-waste, has reached unsustainable levels. More efforts are needed to reclaim precious metals from discarded laptops and smartphones.

Bitcoin Code Switch Could Clean Up Crypto’s Dirty Image

Bitcoin has been told to clean up its act and drastically cut its environmental impact for the sake of the planet. Annual energy use for the Bitcoin blockchain is estimated to be more than Sweden’s national total. But campaigners say a simple software fix could slash its power use.

Sustainable Aviation Will Reduce Jet Fuel Emissions to Zero

Zero carbon flights are the ultimate goal for an airline industry that relies heavily on fossil fuels. Aviation pumps out at least 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions today. Sustainable aviation fuels will shrink the industry’s climate risk by 2030, but zero-emissions fuels like hydrogen are beginning to emerge.

Solar-Powered Robots are the Sustainable Answer to a Cleaner, Connected Planet

Solar energy is virtually unlimited and one of the cleanest forms of renewable power. So building machines driven by the sun makes perfect environmental sense.

Melting Glaciers Could Flood Society with Problems

Earth’s glaciers are both a precious resource and a fragile ecosystem that is disappearing quickly due to global warming. Scientists warn that glaciers will vanish from the mainland US within decades. And their rapid melting is dangerous to society and the natural systems we rely on.

London’s River Thames Has Risen From the Dead

Now teeming with life, this once ‘biologically dead’ river is home to sharks, porpoises, and seals.