Paradigm #2: Why alternative energy is not alternative

Change the world? Change the way you see it

I write about a series of energy related paradigms that require shifting. One paradigm every week, ten weeks in a row. This is the second one:

Paradigm #2: Why alternative energy is not alternative

The first things that come to mind when we hear the term “alternative energy” are wind and sun. And we could not be more wrong:

Whatever we have come to consider “alternative” energy resources are in reality conventional. Humanity has relied on wind, water, sun and other renewable resources such as biomass for thousands of years.

Sometimes our dependence on uncontrollable -sun and wind and water tend to be like “You'll see me when you see me, and I am never going to adjust my schedule to you humans"- had us come up with pretty nifty solutions, such as this one:

The Dutch and their double redundant windmills

Around 1650 the Dutch town of Zaandam had as many as 650 windmills that ensured energy for all the inhabitants and their businesses. There was enough power to grind wheat, make paint, mustard, and even build ships. Some of their windmills were not directly used for industrial purposes, but pumped water to higher levels. On windless days these water reserves flowed back to lower levels again, powering water mills so that they could keep on going with their attempts to conquer the world. The system was even one notch smarter: when both wind and water were not available, a few of their mills were powered by horses: horse-mills. In 1650, the Dutch had a double redundant energy system that fully functioned on renewable resources. This propelled the Dutch into their “Golden Era”, and caused the Russian Tsar to visit Zaandam, Turkish tulips to be considered Dutch, and the Dutch VOC to be the richest company in the world, worth ten times more than Apple.

Fossil fuel peek-a-boo

Some 150 years ago, everything changed. At the dawn of the industrial revolution we found out that setting fire to pieces of the earth’s crust could save us a tremendous amount of time, and fossil fuels quickly took the lead in fulfilling our continuous need for energy. This can however not last forever. Within the next few generations fossil fuels will no longer play a role in our society. If we plot fossil fuel consumption in a chart it would look like this: 

As you can clearly see, during our existence as mankind non-renewable energy resources play a small and temporary role, making them the real “alternative resource”. Renewables have always been and will always be our “conventional” solution for fulfilling our energy needs.

Read Arash’ first paradigm shift here: No energy savings will save us,
and stay tuned for paradigm #3 next Monday: "There's nothing wrong with fossil fuels" 

Arash (1977) is an international speaker, energy entrepreneur, and wishes to contribute to a culture of empowerment in an economy of abundance. Watch his TEDx here.