Renewable energy OK, but not too close to home

Almost no one wants to live near fossil fuel power plants, but renewable energy sources can be nearby

When it comes to moving from carbon-based energy systems to renewable energy systems, Americans are on board. However, they are less inclined to have these new energy infrastructures – wind turbines or solar parks – being built close to their homes, which creates obstacles for decision-makers. It is according to a study by University of Georgia researcher Thomas Lawrence.

Lawrence and an international team conducted surveys in the United States, Germany and Ireland to assess people’s attitudes towards renewable energy technologies and their willingness to have the necessary infrastructure built nearby.

Thomas Laurent

“The Germans and Irish were more open to the idea of ​​having renewable energy technologies closer to home, perhaps because they have less space than in the United States,” said Lawrence, professor of practice at the College of Engineering. “In the United States, I was pleasantly surprised to see overall support for a transition of energy sources – particularly solar and wind – into the power grid, and it was stronger than I expected. would have guessed. “

Cold reception for fossil fuels

Respondents from each country were asked to rate five energy sources: wind turbines, solar power technology, and more traditional power generation using biomass, coal or natural gas as an energy source. They were also asked about the distance from their home that would be acceptable for the corresponding infrastructure and these energy sources. (The surveys were conducted using the local unit system of the three countries: miles for the United States and kilometers for Ireland and Germany. Five kilometers is approximately 3 miles.)

In all three countries, respondents were overwhelmingly opposed to having coal or natural gas power plants located near their homes. Over 80% chose ‘greater than 5 km / miles’ and ‘reject any distance’ as the preferred distance for coal-fired power plants (89% in Ireland, 91% in the US and 81% in Germany) . Over 50% chose ‘greater than 5 km / miles’ and ‘reject any distance’ as the preferred distance for natural gas power plants (80% in Ireland, 77% in the US and 51% in Germany ). They were generally more in favor of having renewable energy technologies located closer to their homes.

Respondents in Ireland and the United States were less willing to accept biomass energy technology in their immediate vicinity, with over 70% choosing the ‘more than 5 km / miles’ options. or “reject regardless of the distance”. German respondents were somewhat more tolerant, with 55% accepting biomass at distances less than 5 km / miles from their home. Perhaps the American result, according to Lawrence, is because people here don’t understand “biomass energy,” which essentially involves burning biomass such as wood waste to power a production facility. more traditional electricity.

A warmer response for renewable energies

Americans were more open to having renewable energy technologies located close to their homes, compared to traditional energy technologies, with 24% agreeing for solar infrastructure and 17% for wind turbines located 0-1 km / miles from their residences. Irish respondents had higher acceptance rates for solar power, with 42% agreeing for solar infrastructure 0-1 km / mile from their home, and slightly lower rates for wind turbines, with 13% agree for wind turbines at the same distance. German respondents were much more open to these energy sources, with 74% agreeing for solar and 33% for wind turbines located 0-1 km / miles from their homes.

Greater acceptance of renewable energy sources in Germany is no surprise, according to Lawrence.

“Germany has led the charge in the transition from carbon-based energy sources,” he said. “More than 30% of their electricity currently comes from wind or solar power. People there are used to seeing wind farms and solar panels on the roofs. “

The study, published in The Energy Journal, also examined the preferences related to the different objectives of the national energy policy: economic viability, environmental sustainability, reliability of energy supply and social acceptance.

The results revealed that social acceptance is a more important energy policy concern for Ireland compared to Germany or the United States. Respondents in Ireland rank social acceptance as more important than environmental sustainability or reliability of supply. They also place more importance on these three variables with respect to economic viability.

In contrast, German respondents rank all of the national policy goals examined as more important than social acceptance, although similarly they place greater importance on environmental sustainability and reliability of supply than on social acceptance. to economic viability. Respondents in the United States place much less importance on social acceptance as a national policy goal, compared to the other three policy goals.

“Respondents in all three countries were generally more in favor of having renewable energy technologies close to their homes, as opposed to conventional energy technologies like coal and natural gas, but“ close to home ”was different in the United States than in Europe, ”Lawrence said. “Five miles was the limit, at least in the United States. Once you get past that point, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Germans and Irish often don’t have the luxury of traveling five miles.

Co-authors include Jason Harold, National University of Ireland Galway and Trinity College Dublin; Valentin Bertsch, Trinity College Dublin and Ruhr-University Bochum; and Magic Hall, University of Nebraska Omaha (now with Vienna University of Economics and Business).

This project was funded in part by the CREDENCE project (Collaborative Research of Decentralization, Electrification, Communications and Economics), a research and development partnership program between the United States and Ireland (center to center), funded by Northern Ireland Department of Economics (USI 110), Science Foundation Ireland (16 / US-C2C / 3290) and National Science Foundation (0812121). Bertsch and Harold acknowledge funding from ESRI’s Center for Energy Policy Research. The US study was funded in part by a grant from Georgia Power / The Southern Company.


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Lois Mendez

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