Over the last decade politicians have adamantly lobbied for more renewable energy sources to combat global warming. More and more wealthy countries have devised plans to limit their emissions by increasing their reliance on renewable energy. From the Green New Deal to the Paris Climate Accord, the richest countries with the cleanest air have proposed radical, unrealistic ideas to shift our economies away from fossil fuels. The most well-known renewable sources are wind and solar, but a primitive renewable energy source has recently made a comeback, and it’s not exactly clean.
Since humanity’s origins, people have been using “biomass” as source of energy. Biomass energy is energy obtained from plants, trees, dung, and other harvestable biological sources. Most people used to rely on burning biomass to heat their homes and cook their food — and half still do. But just because this energy is renewable, in that vegetation can be regrown, does not mean it is safe for the environment or humans.
According to the World Health Organization, around 4 million people per year die prematurely due to household biomass use, which releases toxic airborne pollutants in closed quarters and exacerbates COPD and lung cancer. In addition, biomass emits 150% of the CO2 emitted by coal and 300% of the CO2 emitted by natural gas. And yet, despite these health and environmental concerns, biomass is booming in countries now fixated on radical environmental policies.
In 2018 the European Union adopted the lofty goal of consuming 32% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In order to meet this goal, the EU began handing out large subsidies to renewable producers so they can keep up with demand. Even with these large handouts, however, wind and solar are proving they just can’t cut it on their own. That is why the EU conveniently left biomass as one of their acceptable renewable sources in their proposal.
The EU now gets 60% of its renewable power from biomass to make up for the gap in supply left from wind and solar. That means that during nights when solar generation drops, and in periods of little wind when wind generation lags, biomass plants burn wood to generate enough power to keep lights on and meet the renewable standards the EU set for themselves. Not only does this lead to higher CO2 emissions from the plants, it requires that more forests be cut down in the United States that could have been used to trap CO2 themselves.
These counterproductive policies show how poor government mandates are at meeting the energy needs of their citizens while maintaining healthy environmental standards. Innovation and the free market have led the U.S. to become a net energy exporter, one of the top countries for clean air quality, and a top country for quality of life. The world should learn from the EU’s blunder and realize that constricting the free market under the guise of increasing renewable reliance for a healthy planet will lead to a decrease in energy availability, air quality, and quality of life.