Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy

, Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 1517–1533 | Cite as

Renewable energy and sustainability



Renewable energy and sustainable development are widely discussed and highly debated topics. The current and majority opinion is that for sustainable development renewable energy is a necessity and plenty of it is available, which can be harvested economically and in environment friendly way. There are also dissenters who feel strongly that fossil fuels are far from exhausted, can be used with clean technologies, which are already developed, while technical problems for renewable energy are far from solved and they are very often more damaging to the environment and society than envisaged. The phenomena of global warming and carbon dioxide build-up are also inseparably entangled with sustainability and energy. Most analyses take a short-term view, hardly ever beyond 2050 or 2100. We certainly expect the society to survive and remain viable well beyond these dates and therefore need to explore what such long-term sustainability may imply. So it seems appropriate to consider a much longer time span and in order to keep the discussion from becoming speculative, certain restrictions need to be imposed. Therefore, a concept of sustainability steady state is proposed. Rough analysis presented here based on data that are commonly accepted, and mass and energy conservation principle with second law, seem to indicate that irrespective of correlation between carbon dioxide build-up and global warming, renewable energy, specifically direct solar energy will have to be adopted. This will of course have to be aided by judicious amount of indirect solar energy like wind energy and particularly bio-energy. Renewable sources, while having orders of magnitude greater energy content than human society may use up, are not particularly easy to harness, allowing only a small part to be finally harvestable. There are tough technical, environmental and societal problems, all quite significant, that have to be solved and restrictions on its transmission and location of usage have to be followed. It will also require development of “wasteless technology” and recovery and recycle of materials, particularly those which are difficult to win from natural sources and may be in short supply. Thus, in the long run, “renewable energy” will become inevitable, but even this will require a great deal of effort and planning and will not come easy.

Graphical abstract


Renewable energy Sustainability steady state Recycle and recovery 



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RKM Vidyamandira, Belur MathHowrahIndia
  2. 2.University of CalcuttaKolkataIndia

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