If you have read the weather blog over the last couple of decades you know that I have followed the development of clean energy with great interest. It seems like the best win-win scenario for keeping the air and water clean while also allowing for continued human progress.
Unfortunately, the development of "clean energy" has not been as promising as hoped-for. While renewable sources such as wind and solar currently produce 3 percent of the world's energy needs, further development (without increases in efficiency and construction with much more recyclable materials) could be more harmful than helpful.
The first form of renewable energy that turned out to have more costs than benefits is grain ethanol. The loss of large bio-diverse natural areas in the pursuit of grain ethanol is just one of the many problems, according to the Yale school of the environment.
Wind, solar, and batteries have similar problems, even though they are not as visible. I highlighted a study by the Manhattan Institute a while back. The study details why the expansion of current renewables are probably much worse for the environment in the long run. Here is an easy to understand video about the reality of current renewables. At the 2 minute point of the video, you will see the mammoth problem of getting all the materials needed for current renewable solutions. Also, for political balance, other people have highlighted the problems with current renewables as well.
Where do all of the materials come from? We don't have big mines in Wisconsin and not many in the U.S. yet our modern technology requires incredible amounts of materials. Besides solar panels and wind turbines, we consume incredible amounts of materials with all of our phones, appliances, and other technology - most of which is not recyclable. The problem is "out-of-site-out-of-mind". If we could see all of the destruction our consumption causes, we might think twice about being wasteful.
I am still hopeful for solar and battery technology. Watching current developments in materials engineering and physics make me hopeful that the solar panels and batteries of the future will be more recyclable with higher efficiency. In addition, solar panels do not have to take up more natural space. They can be mounted on rooftops. Otherwise, one of the ultimate solutions could be nuclear fusion. The good news is that many engineers and researchers around the world are testing fusion power. Maybe a clean energy source is just around the corner.