In our daily Zoom meeting this morning, a colleague posed an interesting and thought provoking question. How can we really achieve energy transition, when the alternative and clean power generation systems are still leaving a ‘dirty’ mark on the environment?
The reason behind the question is an article concerning DeepGreen Metals Inc. announcing partnerships with scientific research institutions and universities to research the potential impacts of lifting polymetallic nodules up from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
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This might seem like a random study topic. However, these nodules are used in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries and harvesting these elements may have an impact on the seabed and ocean ecosystem. As with many other types of ‘cleaner’ technologies, electric vehicles are becoming more popular as people become more committed to reducing their carbon footprint – indeed a novel pursuit. But how many people know about the environmental impact of harvesting polymetallic nodules?
After the question was posed in the meeting, the team launched into a brief yet passionate discussion about how the technology and equipment used to generate cleaner, renewable energy could have an adverse impact on the environment. It’s difficult to imagine how a seemingly innocuous wind turbine, solar panel or tidal energy turbine could be anything other than planet-friendly. The truth is that we also need to consider what goes into manufacturing this equipment, the materials used, the sustainability of the entire value chain, and what happens at the end of the equipment lifecycle.
What is the carbon footprint of wind turbines and solar panels?
Is the world sufficiently focused on recycling and are the materials used even recyclable?
Are we going to end up with a clean tech graveyard full of old, useless power generation tools equipment?
Are the materials sustainably sourced or are we exploiting labour and the planet to achieve our renewable energy targets?
The fact is our earth is polluted and we do not have time to waste over-analysing and planning the perfect energy transition. The above-mentioned considerations should not be an excuse for apathy and can not induce paralysis. We can not afford to take our foot off the pedal.
However, it is important to consider the sustainability of our energy transition and the holistic impact our move to a clean energy future can have on people and the environment.
Until next week,