The “cubic mile of oil” – a metric roughly equivalent to the amount of oil consumed worldwide each year – is frequently used to explain the challenge facing solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power.
So what would it take to replace the amount of energy in a cubic mile of oil? Roughly 4.2 billion solar rooftops, 300 million wind turbines, 2,500 nuclear power plants or 200 Three Gorges Dams, according to Menlo Park, Calif., nonprofit research institute SRI International.
In other words, no single category of renewable energy is growing anywhere near the speed it needs to bear the full brunt of displacing carbon-emitting fossil fuels anytime soon.
While there is no doubt that wind, solar and geothermal [power] have ample energy to power the planet – the sunlight that hits Earth in a single hour contains enough energy to fuel the human population for a year – they will need years to mature before they reach anything approaching their potential. Oil has had more than a century to mature, and its shortcomings remain painfully obvious even now.
Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to most, but it looks like we’ll need a lot of hard work — certainly not just a bunch of people and companies “going green” in name — to really effect environmental change. That’s a glass of cold water.