Sustainability is a buzzword in today’s business and personal routines. However, even as the amount of information about sustainability continues to increase, the question of putting sustainability concepts into practice remains extremely problematic. Sustainability by itself is an extremely vague concept. Added to this are problems encountered by communities, individuals, and businesses in the development and implementation of various sustainable systems. As of today, the use or renewable energy source exemplifies one of the simplest and most convenient ways to translate theoretical sustainability into practice. Wind and solar energy stations, hydrothermal resources and biofuels are gradually becoming an essential ingredient of broader sustainability strategies. The purpose of this paper is to help readers understand that the use of renewable energy resources does have its benefits and limitations. Based on everything currently known about renewable energy sources, only with the presence of efficient energy production and storage systems can these sources become truly effective and put the sustainability concept into practice in communities and individuals’ personal lives.
Sustainability and Renewable Energy Sources
Present-day society is facing serious ecological and energy issues. “The challenge facing current and future generations is curbing CO2 emissions while satisfying an increasing demand for energy, water and food” (Jagusztyn 522). Consequently, individuals, businesses, and whole communities are engaged in the development and implementation of various sustainable initiatives. Renewable energy sources occupy one of the central positions in contemporary sustainability strategies. Sustainability requires that present-day society uses its energy and other resources in ways that meet their energy needs and do not discriminate against the needs of the future generations. In this sense, renewable energy sources are believed to have the potential to curb CO2 emissions and provide a sufficient amount of energy, which is both efficient and ecologically safe.
Renewable energy is one of the best ways to translate the sustainability concept into practice. Renewable energy sources have already proved to be extremely beneficial for individuals and communities. Recent research findings suggest that renewable energy strategies bring numerous commercial and non-commercial benefits to communities (Jagusztyn 522). Hydrothermal energy is one of the principal sources of such benefits. According to Jagusztyn, drilled hydrothermal energy and hydrothermal cooling represent essential sages of the organic electricity-producing cycle (526). Hydrothermal energy is successfully used by island and coastal communities to produce fresh water and generate fuel (Jagusztyn 527). Fuel to power air, land, and sea vehicles is generated by exposing cold seawater to a closed circuit, thus driving off the molecules of hydrogen from the water (Jagusztyn 527). Hydrothermal energy gives rise to the rapid development of cold water mariculture and agriculture (Jagusztyn 528). Hydrothermal resources can even be used to promote human health: in Thalasso therapy, seawater, rich in minerals, becomes an effective supplement to traditional medicine. Human skin absorbs the useful mineral elements found in the seawater (Jagusztyn 528).
No less beneficial for communities is the use of solar energy sources. Most Europeans realize the importance of shifting from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies (Eicker 73). In one German community, cogeneration plant has already managed to cover as much as 70% of all energy sources and provide energy for as many as 3,000 households (Eicker 75). The creation of new biomass plants increases the fraction of renewable energy supplies in the country (Eicker 75). The results of the renewable energy field study in Zambia confirm that renewable energy sources have a great potential to transform the sustainability concept into a practical solution even in the most disadvantages communities (Camco 3). Unfortunately, all these benefits and contributions in the current sustainability strategies are rather misleading, as without effective energy production and storage systems, communities and individuals will hardly manage to put the sustainability concept into their lives.
Renewable energy does have the potential to drive sustainability across communities, but the development of renewable energy systems is one of the main cornerstones to making these communities truly sustainable. Renewable energy sources are not as perfect as they seem; very often, people, who choose to use renewable energy sources, must either give up their comforts or simply reduce from using these resources because of their costs (Adair). Apart from the fact that renewable energy power stations display slim profits, they also demand huge monetary and material investments (Adair). It is easy to believe that renewable energy benefits communities, and it is difficult to admit that, in a long-term perspective, these energy sources may not justify their costs. “The point is very simply that an enormous amount of fossil energy is required to manufacture, install, and operate all forms of renewable energy systems” (Adair). Simply stated, renewable power systems creaate a vicious circle of interdependencies, which make sustainability extremely unpractical and rather problematic. Building new sustainable projects is impossible without a huge input of fossil fuels (Adair). Moreover, in most cases, fossil fuels are required to maintain the discussed systems in operation (Adair). Modern renewable energy systems are developed in fossil-fuel factories that use the tools and equipment produced by other fossil-fuel factories (Adair). Thus, the creation and implementation of renewable power stations merely adds to the existing fossil fuel dependencies in society.
Another problem is in the way renewable energy is stored. It is not uncommon to hear that electric vehicles and their batteries are too small to keep sufficient amounts of renewable energy and guarantee continuous operation (Tawney 14). Storage for renewable energy is very important, simply because its options are variable: renewable energy can be produced only when the wind blows or the sun shines (Tawney 14). Without reliable storage systems, the energy produced, when the conditions are favorable, will simply go into nowhere. Today’s markets offer several storage solutions to sustainability problems, but these solutions are too new and complicated to be used by all communities. For example, centralized thermal storage based on molten salt or compressed air systems hold a promise to expand the existing sustainability opportunities in communities (Tawney 15). Based on this knowledge, it is clear that only with the presence of efficient energy production and storage systems can these sources become truly effective and put the sustainability concept into practice in communities and individuals’ personal lives.
Renewable energy is believed to be one of the best ways to translate the concept of sustainability into practice. The effectiveness/economic gain of renewable energy sources at the present time can be achieved by the use of efficient energy production and long-term storage systems. The last will allow communities and individuals benefit from the implementing the sustainability concept into practice. The development of renewable power stations and renewable energy storage remain the two major barriers to achieving the desired level of sustainability in communities. The production and use of renewable energy in communities is impossible without huge financial and material investments. Consequentially, in order to translate sustainability concepts into practice, engineering professionals and sustainability researchers will have to focus on the development of cost-efficient renewable energy solutions.
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