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Transitioning to renewable Energy is an Ethical Issue Too.

Transitioning to Renewable Energy is an Ethical Issue Too

By John N Telesford.



We are now at the intersection of crossroads, trying to determine the path to take with the source of energy we should use going into the future. Having grown-up on the use of fossil fuel as the primary source of energy, which we must admit has supported our sophisticated society for many decades; we are now faced with the ills of its use. The burning of coal and oil has dumped so many millions of tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that it has given the earth a very high fever that seems to be eternally rising. But an alternative path or another source of energy which is not new to us has emerged. Renewable energy has created this path and over the last decade it has come into its own and is ready to provide us with the alternative route that we need for the sustainability of our world. The path we choose, between renewable and fossil fuel energy sources, as we are submerged in a world focused on sustainability is now more than ever an ethical one.

 Market Trends

Renewable energy sources and technologies, such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal are at different stages in their technological development and deployment cycle. But they are beginning to take their place in the market as shown below. These trends are a testament to the path that we are seeking to take as we chart a new course to a sustainable world. Having viewed these facts the arguments of the technological development of renewable energy technologies should begin to take a back seat and the focus now should be on market efficiency issues etc and the eventual demise of fossil fuels as a main source of energy.

 Some Market Facts and Trends

Market Component


Renewable electricity generation capacity Increased by 50% worldwide over 2004 figures to 240 GW (gigawatts).
Largest component of renewables generation is wind “…grew by 28 percent worldwide in 2007 to reach an estimated 95 GW.”
“The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid connected solar (PV)….” In 2006 and 2007 the “… annual increases in cumulative installed capacity to an estimated 7.7 GW.”
Biomass and geothermal energy “More than 2 million ground-source heat pumps are used in 30 countries for building heating and cooling”
Biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) “… exceeded an estimated 53 billion litres in 2007, up 43 percent from 2005.”

 The energy ethic

William Coda has suggested that energy conservation is an ethic. In his forum article chiding the engineer for putting us on a path “… of depleting the resources that feed slaves [machines] and of simultaneously destroying our fragile environment,” he points out that the engineer, bound by his ethical codes and professionalism has a “… a moral obligation to address this problem.” As professionals therefore, we have a moral and professional obligation to ensure that our facilities/buildings/businesses are transitioned into the use of renewable energy technologies and to procure energy from renewable energy sources. The Codes of Professional Conduct that govern the engineering practice must embrace environmental issues and these should form a part of our moral and ethical behavior. One key environmental concern is the conservation of energy. As seen previously, Coad suggests that the conservation of energy is an ethic, to which I will like to add, the use of renewable energy is an ethic. In this context the ‘pure economic arguments’ should be sidelined and the effects that our energy choices have on the environment and society and on the overall sustainability of our planet should dominate.

 Making decisions based on ethics can be fuzzy or used conveniently at times. However, in this new dispensation where fossil fuel resources are been depleted and the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere increasing, we should not stand idly by and contend that it is not our responsibility to deal with this grave environmental concern. Mr. Coad proposes many ways in which the ‘engineer’ can put into practice the ‘energy conservation ethic,’ I put a few forward below, albeit significantly adapted, to provide ethical guidance at this cross road of choice between renewable energy technologies and fossil based ones.

 Ethical Education of Self and Others: building owners, managers, engineers etc, faced with the choices, “…must revisit earlier habits and experiences, to develop a true understanding of and through appreciation for and understanding of the energy/environment ethic”. In so doing the consequences of making an ethical blunder in choice must be considered to be critical.

 Leadership: persons responsible for building during its life cycle must view him/herself as a leader within the organization and government involved in “…activities such as legislation, rulemaking” and policies that promote and support the use and market uptake of renewable energy sources and technologies. The involvement at this level will ensure that the renewable energy ethic is kept at the forefront when decisions on energy are made both at the organizational and governmental levels.

 Commercial Interests: wearing a commercial hat can narrow our view when making decisions. Other parties and colleagues will be influential at these times, forcing the narrow-minded decisions based solely on economic merit. In this evolving or evolved era, the time has come for us to consider the interaction of ‘economic growth’ with that of ‘societal progresses and ‘environmental protection’. The impact that the use of fossil fuels is now having on our environment is real and the eventual impact on the society can be devastating. The choices relating to energy that we make now must reflect our ethical behavior and must not be biased to economic growth. Coad summarizes this nicely when he says that as we move into this new century we must be committed to the maintenance of “…our socio-economic systems, while… preserving the environment”.


In conclusion, at this crucial cross-road, where we are now pondering the path to take, fossil fuel or renewable sources, we must put on our ethical hats. We must be cognizant, that some key renewable energy technologies are now market ready and that the argument of technological developments must give way to one of ethics. The use of renewable energy now boils down, at least in my opinion to an ethical one. Ethical decision making must be brought to bear through, education, leadership and the debunking of purely commercial interest, to include “socio-economic”, “eco-efficiency” and socio “environmental” interactions[1]. This we must consider as we plot a course to a sustainable world.

                                                                                             John N Telesford

P. O. Box 906


St. Andrew’s


Tel: (473) 442 4563 (H)/405 5981 (M)










Category/ies:Articles, Docs and Tech Presentations, Energy Transition, Grenada Articles.
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