I wrote this article for the Huffington Post. It can be seen in its original context here
The thing about fossil fuels is that they enable utilities, planners and policy-makers to, in effect, be dumb. Because fossil fuel is essentially stored solar energy, the fuel can simply be pulled out of the ground, transported to a large power plant and burned. No attention needs to be paid to wind speeds, cloud cover or tides. Of course, we know that the entire supply chain of conventional energy–from extraction, to processing, to transportation and on to burning the fossil fuel–lead to social, political and environmental degradation, the costs of which are getting higher and higher.
Moving to renewable energy sources helps mitigate those costs, yet it also forces societies to be smart about energy. To put it simply, that’s because renewable energy sources are variable, and different regions can posses vastly different renewable resources. This variability can be a problem for utilities, because they need to constantly supply enough power to meet demand. According to a recent study by the Rocky Mountain Insitute (RMI), “In the past, utilities believed that they had to compensate for this variability by installing more traditional, fossil-fueled power plants. The more wind or solar power on the grid, the thinking went, the greater the need for backup generating facilities to be there when the wind or sun wasn’t.”