The Virtues (Or Not) of Alternative Energy Sources vs. Fossil Fuels
York, R. 2012. Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels? Nature Climate Change 2: 441-443.
Using an approach that controls for the principal driving forces of national per capita demand for fossil-fuel energy derived from coal, gas and oil, and which also tests for displacement, York accounted - in four different models - for the amount of energy per capita that is obtained from non-fossil-fuel sources (hydropower, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind, tidal and wave energy, combustible renewables and waste) and that is measured in the same units of energy as that obtained from fossil-fuel sources.
In regard to the question posed in the title of his paper - Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels? - York says that the answer is "yes, but only very modestly," noting that "across most nations of the world over the past fifty years, each unit of total national energy use from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel energy use and, focusing specifically on electricity, each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity."
In the words of the University of Oregon (USA) researcher, "these results challenge conventional thinking in that they indicate that suppressing the use of fossil fuel will require changes other than simply technical ones such as expanding non-fossil-fuel energy production." Apparently, there is nothing that quite compares with good old coal, gas and oil in terms of the "bang for the buck" that they provide.
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