Energy is the blood that runs through our economy: the highway miles paved with crude, the kilowatts of coal, those tentative first heartbeats of large-scale wind and solar. America famously uses more energy than any other country—measured either per capita or in total—and conservation measures aside, our rising standard of living will mean that we will consume even more in the future.
The question is: From where? Will we continue to pay overseas suppliers for increasingly scarce crude? Will we continue to burn mountains of coal and hope the effects aren't catastrophic? Or will we encourage new technologies, new domestic sources that we control (and export), new energy industries that create jobs and boost the economy? Below, we explore the data points that must inform how the U.S. moves forward. Our lifeblood depends on it.
For as long as I can remember I have wondered why we have not progressed beyond gas powered cars (I know, I know... I've seen "Who Killed the Electric Car").
However, even when alternative energies are in the lime light, why are new homes and buildings not using innovations like the low cost photovoltaic thin film (i.e. millimeter thick solar panels)??
It seems that the simple math would quickly equate to carbon neutrality in densely populated cities that suffer the most from pollution and energy deficits. It is a small cost with maximum return and minimal maintenance.
And if there was really a need beyond that, why not nuclear (I know, I know... Chernobyl, Three-Mile Isle, Yucca Moutain). Gen IV fast reactors (see wikipedia) utilize virtually every joule of energy out of the uranium leaving a virtually harmless isotope with a half-life on the order of decades. "Not in my back yard?" What if our back yard isn't even needed?
I believe that when it comes to power source/s, it could best be summarized by a single word - COST. Obviously, this is the main factor that seems to dictate from which source do we get our energy from.
Solar - requires lots of solar cells and storage devices that are expensive and inefficient as of the moment. With regards to storage devices - not that efficient as of now.
Wind - storage devices are not efficient yet
Nuclear - might be less expensive but lots of drawbacks especially with bad experiences like Chernobyl in the past
Wave - infrastructure is not there, although from a previous article here, investments will be made to harness this.
Basically, we've been accustomed to the usual source of energy for our cars - gasoline/diesel/fossil fuel... because it's easy for us since the fueling stations are almost everywhere and only recently have there been designs for hybrids or electric cars. But, who's gonna buy those if they cost roughly 6 to 10 times that of you're conventional car? One more thing, no one wants to be out there in nowhere land without a recharging station in an electric car. Building the infrastructure for this would be "expensive" as well. Although maybe existing petrol stations could be outfitted with equipment for electric cars should they become something mainstream in the future or if the hybrid ones become those that have more appeal.
Electricity generation has been through fossil fuels too and coal but they're slowly adapting to include renewable and alternative sources of energy to the grid. Again, this will involve lots of expenses for the infrastructure to be put in place. But, once everything is in place ... it's gonna be a "cash cow".
It's funny but seems that a lot of nations / people have become more aware or informed about the negative impact of using fossil fuels as an energy source. In fact, it's warmer here than the usual which most people attribute to global warming. Has the average temperature there increased as well?
I believe that we're slowly taking small steps in ridding ourselves of being too dependent on fossil fuels. But it's gonna take time coz we simply can't transition from a society that relies too heavily on fossil fuels to a society that can completely do without it. Maybe years would pass before this "independence" would be reality. But as of now, I believe that we're making progress in the right direction.
Although I hate to say this, if this "fossil fuel" independence will soon become a reality... although it would take lots of years... I hope that those countries / economies that heavily rely on oil would look for other sources of possible earnings... The transition period will definitely take some time and I hope that it would be enough for them.
Imagine lots of jobs being created by renewable and alternate sources of energy. Each company's expenses will be lower due to the cost that will no longer be incurred or reduced thus making them spend more of their resources in expansions or hiring more people or increasing their employees' wages. The result would be more disposable income for the corporation / business owners which would lead to more demand for products and more services - more "consumption" which leads to more jobs - "rinse and repeat".
Maybe this and the threat of damaging this planet are the main reasons why alternative energy sources are being given attention to. Besides, fossil fuels are non-renewable and will be depleted in the future aside from being harmful to the environment. Maybe this is our wake-up call...
Yes. I agree with all of your points (Chipper Smoltz). It seems to be something beyond cost since cost is not the factor in such products as Konarka's where they are literally making clothes out of solar panels (in a relatively fashionable way).
It's in a consumer's own interest (e.g. electric bill) to consider these options. The maintenance: replace it for the same low cost. What if the manufacturer goes out of business? Take down the solar panels and go back to paying the utilities company knowing that at least for some period you were on a more efficient track. What about all of the maintenance? If you can hire someone to wash your windows, you can probably afford to have someone to replace the solar film once every 3,5, or 10 years.
So I'm still curious: why not use the *low cost* solar technology today? I don't think it should ever be the single point of focus for energy independence, but when you can go to your local box-retail store and get energy solutions off the shelf, it begs the original question:
Why not solar now?
1) Coal is still cheaper than cheap (in the US and China).
2) Fossil fuels store forever (being already rather old).
3) Fossil fuels can be used in direct relation to demand on the grid, thus being more efficient and not requiring pricy and inefficient electrical storage.
4) Most renewable sources are variable, and require either overproduction and loss (cost), shortfalls (blackouts), or must be supplimented by a scalable use alternative (fossile fuels, see #3).
5) Nuclear suffers the opposite problem of #4, in that it is either ON or OFF. Since nuclear plants have signifigant warm-up and cool-off periods, they cannot be turned on and off in responce to demand. Thus Nuclear either wastes (cost) or can only be used to power the grid up to its daily lowpoint (and its lowpoint on a low day for that).
So, cost is an issue. Only when legislation forces that higher cost on us (by forcing it on the electric companies) or when renewable sources become cheap enough to consistantly overproduce and be competitive with fossil fuels.
Note that the grids general instability (massive daily fluctuations) is the greatest limitation on renewable sources. While some advents in technology (plug in cars) will help stabalize the grid (charging at night), others will work to destabalize it (on grid, at home, massproduced, microgeneration of electricity like a cost effective plug-in AC converting on grid solar panel).
This is because cost effective microgeneration will almost always depend on the grid for overgeneration storage and undergeneration demand (rather than pricey battery storage). Also, most Americans will not microgenerate until it is easy enough to self mount and plug in.
We have to deal with the reality of Peak Oil. Transitioning to alternative energies may cost a great deal of money but the failure to do so will cost us our civilization. The day will come when the oil will be gone or require too much energy to retrieve it. We spend billions to manufacture cars, purchase them, buy gas, insurance and maintenance. That money should be spent in energy infrastructure, rail transportation and light rail, etc.