If all we do is change the source of energy, we will still be using the smae quantity of energy. By switching to renewable, we will be relying on an energy source of which there is not a finite amount (hence the term renewable) as there is a finite amount of fossil fuel energy.
One of the major draws towards renewables is that they are often either carbon neutral or produce lower amounts of carbon than do fossil fuels, per unit energy produced. There has been some scientific debate over whether biofuels require more fossil fuel emissions to produce than just burning fossil fuels to begin with.
One of the strategies to mitigate climate change is to increase the efficiency of existing powerplants, so that more energy is captured from each pound of coal burned. The Southern Company in the southeast is lobbying for increasing efficiency to be considered as a renewable energy source in federal climate legislation.
If we shift to renewable energies that are more efficient than our current methods, we would be saving energy.
For example, if we shifted all of our coal combustion (30-35% efficiency) to hydroelectric (~90% efficiency) we’d produce almost three times as much electricity per unit of potential energy, most of which would otherwise be wasted.
Switching to solar from coal, we would waste even more energy (although emissions would be lower), and switching to wind power, we’d waste about the same amount.
The demand for electricity in the US wouldn’t drop dependent on the energy source we used, however.
Shifting to renewable energy really just changes the source of energy, not the amount consumed. However, depending on how the energy is delivered, there may be some energy savings associated with being closer to the energy source.
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