Instigator / Pro
7
1417
rating
158
debates
32.59%
won
Topic

Alternative energy can effectively replace fossil fuels

Status
Finished

All stages have been completed. The voting points distribution and the result are presented below.

Arguments points
3
0
Sources points
2
2
Spelling and grammar points
1
1
Conduct points
1
1

With 1 vote and 3 points ahead, the winner is ...

seldiora
Parameters
More details
Publication date
Last update date
Category
Science
Time for argument
Two days
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
One month
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
6,000
Contender / Con
4
1480
rating
3
debates
0.0%
won
Description
~ 424 / 5,000

alternative energy: energy generated in ways that do not deplete natural resources or harm the environment, especially by avoiding the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

effective: producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect (in this case, sufficient to replace fossil fuels as an energy source)

fossil fuels: a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

Round 1
Pro
I will combine all my research into one round, as my previous opponent unfortunately forfeited the final round.

Cost:
A study says: "Dramatic fall in costs of renewable energy in the last 24 months has not only accelerated the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy in electricity generation. The low cost renewable electricity is now starting to replace fossil fuels in other sectors....Another reason is that electricity often offer other opportunities, such as cheaper transport, better control, higher energy efficiency in final production of energy services and lower local environmental costs. Remember that, even if fossil fuel based technology seemed more efficient a long time ago, technology improves over time, and the buying of the fuel itself can result in extra transaction cost that outweighs the one time building of the alt. energy source. Let me prove it with another source:

"Between 2010 and 2019, the cost of large, utility-scale solar photovoltaic projects – where energy is converted directly into electricity – fell by 82%.
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Over the same period, the other main type of solar, concentrating solar power – which uses mirrors or lenses to create power through heat – fell by 47%. Falls in wind power costs are also significant: 39% for onshore wind and 29% for offshore." Unless con can refute the first study, and IRENA's recent showing of the progress in the last 10 years, it seems to me he has lost.

Health:

Global warming (CO2 generation) -- to avoid this become *that* debate, here's source that proves CO2 causes rising temperature, pollution (leading to " $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens "), these are crucial problems that cause fossil fuel to be controversial. Not to mention that in terms of jobs, " 335,000 people work in the solar industry and more than 111,000 work in the wind industry, compared to 211,000 working in coal mining or other fossil fuel extraction". That's right, even more people work in alt than fossil fuels. So... Alt. energy is env. friendly, causes no pollution, and is far more stable than fuels overall. Fossil fuel has extra costs other than merely money associated with it, especially with public health and environment. Unless con can refute this, alt. energy not only can replace fossil fuel effectively, it is actually far far superior. 

Trends:

According to a scholarly study, "Total funding for RE has been rising at a remarkable rate. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the amount of RE finance... rose from USD 45 billion in 2004 to 270 billion in 2014 globally (Fig. 2). This represents a compound annual growth rate of 18%. Moreover, in 2014, net investment into new capacity, as opposed to replacing depreciated assets, was twice as large for RE as it was for fossil fuels in the power sector; this trend is forecast to continue for the rest of this decade". Now you see how reasonable renewable energy overtaking fossil fuel is.

Big companies are following suit.  Silicon Angle says, "Meanwhile, Google LLC announced today it’s making what it says is the biggest-ever corporate purchase of renewable energy, increasing its worldwide wind and solar energy portfolio by more than 40%, to 5,500 megawatts." The same goes for Amazon investment. Just a few listed here are Visa, Blackstone, Brookfield Renewable Partners, etc...  "over the next 10 years, $5 trillion to $10 trillion overall will be invested into renewable energy worldwide".  It's clear that financial wise it will be a big market and can effectively replace that of fossil fuels.

Electric Support:

"A thorough analysis carried out by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College concluded that renewable energy could reliably power a large electrical grid 99.9 per cent of the time by 2030, at a cost that matches today’s electricity prices."  Another site supported that with wide distribution of power sources, alternative energy can do well. It's very long of a study, but some crucial facts are: "Dispatchability: Resilient DERs can respond to a disruption at any time with little to no advance warning.
2. Islanding Capability: Resilient DERs have the ability to isolate from the grid and serve load during a
broader outage.
3. Siting at Critical Loads/Locations: Resilient DERs reside at critical loads or at critical points on the grid
(e.g., areas of high residential density).
4. Fuel Security: Resilient DERs do not rely on the availability of a limited physical fuel to provide power..." So on and so forth.

As you can see more distributed energy sources are quite reliable.  National Renewable Energy Lab has a famous quote, "Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050. "

Con
Forfeited
Round 2
Pro
Brutal.
Con
I would like to thank PRO for hosting this thought-provoking debate.

(C.R2.01) Cost:
Although the financial cost of solar and wind and batteries has been declining, the net-energy-gain from these "alternatives" remains negative.

Based on data from our NH home and a worst-case scenario, it would take 29 years for a panel to recoup this 100% energy investment. [01]
Think of a solar panel or a wind turbine as a battery.

Now think of all the (oil and coal) energy you use to mine the materials, build and operate the manufacturing plant and equipment, cook the food for the designers and scientists and miners and drivers involved in the process, not to mention the (oil and coal) energy you use to heat and cool the facilities and vehicles involved.  If you take all that energy and you compare it to the energy you get out of the solar panel or wind turbine, it would violate the laws of thermodynamics if you were able to generate OVER-PARITY (more energy output than you input).

Not to mention the energy cost of disposal (or "recycling" at end-of-life-cycle).

Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. “Approximately 90% of most PV modules are made up of glass,” notes San Jose State environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney. “However, this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass due to impurities. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony.”

Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue.” [02]
(C.R2.02) Health:
Although solar panels and wind turbines emit much less pollution LOCALLY, the manufacturing process still emits the same amount of pollutants as conventional sources (per watt of energy yield).  Especially if you consider the disposal (or "recycling") cost.

(C.R2.03) Trends:
Certainly these "alternatives" are becoming more popular and more dollar efficient.  This trend does not however magically violate the second law of thermodynamics.

(C.R2.04) Electric Support:
Round 3
Pro
So con has decided to drop everything and try to focus on net problems as well as waste disposal. I have remarkable questions about his use of Quora, and exactly whose source he is referring to. The former physics and engineering teacher remarks in his final paragraph, "a fossil fuel generator can make enough energy to produce itself in just a couple days, but we don’t know how to make fossil fuels stop polluting at a similarly quick pace. However, we do know how to use that dirty energy to make a lot of solar panels that don’t pollute. That example gas turbine generator could make a solar panel every 30 minutes it runs; the Merrimack Station generates enough to make 50 panels every hour. How many panels could have been made in the hours since 1968? (Answer: 22 million solar panels!) Yes, it may realistically take a few years for one solar panel to collect enough electricity to make another one just like it, but then we’d have twice as many solar panels that don’t pollute. I think that means we better stop fooling around and make more solar panels!"

The one man who agrees with con is a Sales professional, not energy expert, so it's hard to say for sure. SolarCraft confirms pro side by saying: " A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory conclusively demonstrates that the manufacturing energy cost versus the energy production payback for solar modules is generally less than 4 years." So it's very clear that over time it works out for renewable energy, and con side is not a problem. 

Secondly, Forbes is a news site and that article was two years ago. Since then we have made much progress on research. Turkey had been able to recycle a lot of the metal toxic waste, and scholar resource suggests this is key to solving con's problems. There is still a little more work to be done but overall there is a net positive impact on the environment.  (" Considering the full life cycle of the panel, the energy produced by the panel grants the most significant environmental benefits. However, benefits due to high-efficient recycling are relevant for some impact categories, especially for the resource depletion indicator. The article also points out that thermal treatments are generally necessary to grant the high efficiency in the recycling.")

Applying second law of thermodynamics does not work in terms of trends or support.
Con
(C.R3.01) THE INVISIBLE ENERGY COST OF DISPOSAL/RECYCLING

(C.R3.01.A) RECYCLING SOLAR

It's significant to note that the energy cost of disposal/recycling of photovoltaics is shockingly absent from all net-energy-gain estimates.

“We believe the big blind spot in the U.S. for recycling is that the cost far exceeds the revenue,” Meng said. “It’s on the order of a 10-to-1 ratio.” [01]

Interestingly, studies by Latunussa et al., 2016, Wambach, 2017, Aryan et al. (2018) and Corcelli et al. (2018) agree on the environmental significance of incinerating the halogenated plastics in the backsheet. Unfortunately, as reported by Wambach (2017), if the ‘halogen content is too high, then incineration in a specialized hazardous waste plant must be carried out’, in order to minimize the emission of potentially toxic air pollutants such as hydrogen fluoride (HF). Moreover, the above-mentioned studies provided little information on the impacts of incinerating PV plastics. For example, Corcelli et al. (2018) estimated that the incineration of waste panels releases 0.87 g/m2 of HF, while Latunussa et al. (2016) considered life cycle inventory data for general plastic incineration. [01.b]

Finally, it is confirmed that the low quantity of PV waste collected so far is discouraging investments in industrial processes for PV recycling. However, this situation is not a justification for delaying research in this field, or the problem of managing PV waste is simply postponed to the near future. Claims about the sustainability of PV technologies cannot be fully supported until efficient and environmentally-friendly recycling processes for them have been developed and are deployable. [01.b]
(C.R3.01.B) RECYCLING WIND

It's significant to note that the energy cost of disposal/recycling of wind-turbines is shockingly absent from all net-energy-gain estimates.

Xcel Energy estimates conservatively that it will cost $532,000 (in 2019 dollars) to decommission [NOT RECYCLE] each of its wind turbines [02]
(C.R3.02) EROEI & ESOEI

Here's some good news.  When comparing energy-return-on-investment for both energy production methods and energy storage methods there are some interesting winners and losers.

(C.R3.02.A) EROIE (Energy Return on Energy Invested) [03]

EROEI 106:1 - Nuclear 
EROEI 51:1 - Wind 
EROEI 50:1 - Hydroelectric 
EROEI 31:1 - Coal 
EROEI 28:1 - Natural Gas 
EROEI 21:1 - Parabolic Solar 
EROEI 7:1 - Photovoltaic 
EROEI 3.5:1 - Biogas 
EROEI 1:1 - Ethanol 

(C.R3.02.B) ESOEI (Energy Saved on Energy Invested) [04]

ESOEI 5:1 - Lead acid battery
ESOEI 32:1 - Lithium ion battery
ESOEI 704:1 - Pumped hydroelectric storage
ESOEI 792:1 - Compressed air energy storage

I would once again like to thank PRO for hosting this thought provoking debate.

(C.R3.03) SHOCKING CONCLUSIONS

Let's examine the debate resolution: "Alternative energy can effectively replace fossil fuels"

Don't get me wrong, I wish we could all switch to solar and battery powered cars and call it a day, I really do.

But that's not going to get us to the promised land.  We tend to forget about all the strip-mining required to gather all those rare & precious rocks.

It does look like (based on the EROEI & ESOEI data) we need to focus on WIND and COMPRESSED AIR (both surprisingly efficient).

Also, there's a very strong case for microreactors. [05]

Let's examine the debate resolution: "Alternative energy can effectively replace fossil fuels"

Right, I'm going to still say "NO".  No they can't.

Solar + batteries is shockingly inefficient.  Wind looks promising, but we're still going to need oil and coal and natural gas in order to produce the metals and glass and resins and high-performance plastics required to produce turbines (not to mention all the energy we're going to need to dispose of/recycle the materials).
Round 4
Pro
Con says that recycling costs too much, but forgets that I already acknowledged this and that highly efficient recycling, for example, that existing in Turkey's, can generate more revenue than costs. His own source says US is horrible at Recycling and must reform that policy rather than stop using alternative energy:

When solar panels do reach their end of their life today, they face a few possible fates. Under E.U. law, producers are required to ensure their solar panels are recycled properly. In Japan, India, and Australia, recycling requirements are in the works. In the United States, it’s the Wild West: With the exception of a state law in Washington, the U.S. has no solar recycling mandates whatsoever. Voluntary, industry-led recycling efforts are limited in scope. “Right now, we’re pretty confident the number is around 10 percent of solar panels recycled,” said Sam Vanderhoof, the CEO of Recycle PV Solar, one of the only U.S. companies dedicated to PV recycling. The rest, he says, go to landfills or are exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections.

Also, he uses the same scholarly source as I did but fails to copy the entire abstract where it says that the efficient recycling with PV can manage waste relatively well. 

Dropped arguments: current trends are looking to replace fossil fuels and big companies no longer want to use coals energy, despite con's claims. The support for electricity is entirely possible and can efficiently replace fossil fuels. Vote for pro.
Con
(C.R4.01) PRO CLAIMS RECYCLING "PROBLEM" IS SOLVED

Exhibit A:

Con says that recycling costs too much, but forgets that I already acknowledged this and that highly efficient recycling, for example, that existing in Turkey's, can generate more revenue than costs. His own source [also PRO's own source, both exactly the same source] says US is horrible at Recycling and must reform that policy rather than stop using alternative energy:
Here's what PRO chose to highlight,

When solar panels do reach their end of their life today, they face a few possible fates. Under E.U. law, producers are required to ensure their solar panels are recycled properly. In Japan, India, and Australia, recycling requirements are in the works. In the United States, it’s the Wild West: With the exception of a state law in Washington, the U.S. has no solar recycling mandates whatsoever. Voluntary, industry-led recycling efforts are limited in scope. “Right now, we’re pretty confident the number is around 10 percent of solar panels recycled,” said Sam Vanderhoof, the CEO of Recycle PV Solar, one of the only U.S. companies dedicated to PV recycling. The rest, he says, go to landfills or are exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections.
This highlighted quote (from PRO) is evidence that recycling is a major problem that is NOT currently solved.

Also, even in countries where photovoltaic recycling is mandatory, PRO fails to mention anything about the ENERGY cost and or TOXIC byproducts.

PRO continues,

Also, he uses the same scholarly source as I did but fails to copy the entire abstract where it says that the efficient recycling with PV can manage waste relatively well. 
PRO also fails to "copy the entire abstract".  I'm really not sure why PRO expects me to build a case for them, but here's "the entire abstract" as requested,

Although the amount of waste photovoltaic (PV) panels is expected to grow exponentially in the next decades, little research on the resource efficiency of their recycling has been conducted so far. Conversely, high-efficient recycling can meet these targets and allows to recover high quality materials (as silicon, glass and silver) that are generally lost in base-case recycling. The benefits due to the recovery of these materials counterbalance the larger impacts of the high-efficiency recycling process. However, benefits due to high-efficient recycling are relevant for some impact categories, especially for the resource depletion indicator. The article also points out that thermal treatments are generally necessary to grant the high efficiency in the recycling. Nevertheless, these treatments have to be carefully assessed since they can be responsible for the emissions of air pollutants (as hydrogen fluoride potentially released from the combustion of halogenated plastics in the panel’s backsheet). The article also identifies and assesses potential modifications to the high-efficiency recycling process, including the delocalisation of some treatments for the optimisation of waste transport and the introduction of pyrolysis in the thermal processing of the waste. Finally, recommendations for product designers, recyclers and policymakers are discussed, in order to improve the resource efficiency of future PV panels. [01]
Certainly this study aims to show that the recycling process can be improved, but it does absolutely nothing to suggest that recycling is anywhere close to energy neutral and or non-toxic.

The primary focus of this study (and PRO's argument in general) is purely in dollars cost and dollars recovered.

I believe we would all be much better served with a focus on gross energy cost and net energy recovered.

We could conceivably build wind turbines out of 100% steel and aluminum (both materials easily recycled).

People seem to be completely blind to the fact that toxic materials are REQUIRED for the production of photovoltaics (and computers and electronics).

People seem to be completely blind to the fact that fiberglass (used in wind turbines) is impossible to recycle.

(C.R4.02) PRO'S COMPLAINTS

Dropped arguments: current trends are looking to replace fossil fuels and big companies no longer want to use coals energy, despite con's claims.
I never disputed what "big companies" want or don't want.  They only care about "consumer demand" and "making money".  PRO's pursuit of this line of reasoning is immaterial to the debate resolution.

(C.R4.03) PRO'S FINAL STATEMENT

The support for electricity is entirely possible and can efficiently replace fossil fuels. Vote for pro.
PRO has failed to present any evidence that "alternative" sources of electricity can replace ALL fossil fuels (much less "efficiently").

(C.R4.04) SHOCKING CONCLUSIONS

Let's examine the debate resolution: "Alternative energy can effectively replace fossil fuels"

Don't get me wrong, I wish we could all switch to solar and battery powered cars and call it a day, I really do.

But that's not going to get us to the promised land.  We tend to forget about all the strip-mining required to gather all those rare & precious rocks.

It does look like (based on the EROEI & ESOEI data) we need to focus on WIND and COMPRESSED AIR (both surprisingly efficient).

Also, there's a very strong case for microreactors. [02]

Let's examine the debate resolution: "Alternative energy can effectively replace fossil fuels"

Right, I'm going to still say "NO".  No they can't.

Solar + batteries is shockingly inefficient.  Wind looks promising, but we're still going to need oil and coal and natural gas in order to produce the metals and glass and resins and high-performance plastics required to produce turbines (not to mention all the energy we're going to need to dispose of/recycle the materials).