Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Alternative Energy

     One of the many topics addressed by President Obama in his State of the Union last week was alternative energy.  In today's day and age, countries such as the United States rely too heavily on foreign oil and fossil fuels.  The President has mentioned in past speeches how he wants to explore new avenues in renewable energy.  This has not gone without a fight however.
     Some sources of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, hydrogen, and geothermal.  Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy.  They are going to run out whether it is ten, fifty, or even one hundred years from now.  What's more, they are thought to be a contributing factor to global warming and climate change by producing greenhouse gases which over time heat the earth's surface.  They are highly pollutant and the smog levels in cities such as Los Angeles make the air quality noticeably inferior to surrounding areas.  Many in Washington have had malicious feelings toward alternative energy.  Republicans who have been known to be pro-business know that many corporations and oil companies rely heavily on these fossil fuels and oil subsidies from the government.  If we were to suddenly switch over to a more efficient, Eco-friendly energy source, these companies (which hold a lot of power and clout in Washington) would lose out big time.
     Solar energy is the most abundant energy source on Earth.  Obviously, it comes from the radiation the sun produces.  Even on cloudy days, the sun's radiation is strong enough to power solar panels.  According to the Department of Energy, solar power could contribute 173,000 terawatts daily which is more than 10,000 times the world's total use of energy.  This should be reason alone for governments to want to invest in solar energy.  The Department of Energy notes that solar power use is up from the first quarter of last year.  In the first quarter of 2012, there were 85 percent more panels installed than in the first quarter last year.  They go on to report that if the United States continues its developments, they could produce up to 3,300 megawatts, possibly putting us on track to become the world's fourth largest producer for solar energy.  One of the draw backs to powering a home or business is that zoning and permits are costly and in some cases difficult to obtain.
     Last week on Fox's Money with Melissa Francis, Pat Michaels from the CATO Institute appeared to lend his opinion on how Americans may be mislead about how "green" solar power is.  According to his research, solar power is potentially bad for the environment because panels can produce hazardous waste.  He continues to report that the waste can come during the manufacturing process and creates polluted sludge.  Also, production methods create contaminated water and fossil fuels emissions from transportation of waste contributes to air pollution.  According to National Geographic, solar panels may contain hazardous waste if damaged and can leak oil and molten salts.  This is a prime example of right wing opposition to a solution to our energy problems with little pollution to the air or environment.  Mr. Michaels forgets to mention how damaging to the environment drilling for oil and fossil fuels are.  The institute he comes from describes themselves as a think tank dedicated to principles of liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.  This statement alone should be enough to describe the types of harsh words he has for solar energy.  They are afraid of a person the Forth Worth Star Telegram recently reported about who converted his property to solar power and in close to three years will break even.  He will become completely independent of electricity from electric companies and will get tax credits from the government for becoming more environmentally sound. 
     Wind is another renewable energy source which could reshape our economy and make us independent from foreign oil.  The American Wind Energy Association states that offshore wind turbines could be valuable to the economy and environment allowing for clean, domestic, inexhaustible energy.  Currently the United States does not have any offshore wind projects on the table but The American Wind Energy Association goes on to report that in 2011, the Secretary of the Interior announced a national offshore wind strategy.  This would obtain 10 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2020 and by 2030 a potential for 54 gigawatts.  This project could create jobs in the manufacturing sector which would be great for bolstering the economy.  However, some challenges involved in offshore turbines include maintenance and dependability which is difficult in inclement weather.
     A study from an organization in Switzerland reported by The Guardian found that another potential problem with turbines is that if they are not arranged properly in large wind farms, they can actually affect weather patterns.  They can affect the temperature as well as humidity.  Some of the benefits to these changes are if crops are planted under the turbines, they can actually contribute substantially to their growth by cooling the air directly above.  However, they can also kill plants and even alter the balance and distribution of species living under the turbines.  The study reports that this, again, only occurs on large scale wind farms and if the turbines are not staggered but rather arranged in straight rows.
      The cost of turbines for commercial use can run between $3 and $4 million.  To install a turbine which could power a large home or business could cost between $50,000 and $80,000.  However the tax incentives and benefits in the long run could be well worth the investment not to mention the positive effect on the environment contributing zero pollutants.
     Another incredible source of renewable energy is hydrogen.  More specifically, their role in cars.  Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but the problem is extracting and harnessing its power.  Several major car companies such as Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are investing in this technology and may even mainstream it by 2015.  Hydrogen produces far less emissions, and the only by-product is water.  This significantly reduces our carbon footprint by producing a vehicle with no pollutants in the air.  The hydrogen fuel cells are up to 50 percent efficient compared to combustion engines which are only 15 percent.  There are still many challenges involved such as harnessing the power of hydrogen in fuel cells but many economists and scientists belive this is the power of the future of the automobile industry.
    A more unconventional source of renewable energy is biomass.  This is derived from anything such as trees, yard clippings, crops, even garbage.  Landfills would be significantly cut down by adopting biomass as a source of electricity and energy.  According to Energy Live News, Cambodia recently announced a four year biomass investment project costing $5.6 million.  Two thirds of the country's energy would come from biomass and waste while the rest would be oil.
     In Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) response speech to the President's State of the Union, he championed a carbon copy of the Romney campaign's view on energy.  He stated "Of course solar and wind energy should be a part of our energy portfolio. But God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas. Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called 'clean energy' companies like Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration... If we can grow our energy industry, it will make us energy independent, it will create middle class jobs and it will help bring manufacturing back from places like China."  Republicans have been in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline because it would bring thousands of jobs and can potentially make us energy independent.  But why drill?  Why let the environment take the hit?  Clean energy, yes is an expensive investment, but the benefits could be magnanimous.  The oil companies are very powerful and greatly oppose new types of energy which could potentially put them out of work.
     The other uncertainty is the global oil market.  The prices of gas continue to rise.  I mentioned earlier that fossil fuels eventually will run out.  In a recent article in Time, reports that the Kurds in Northern Iraq are sitting on a sum of 66 million barrels of oil.  However, they cannot export it because all oil exports must go through Baghdad.  This is poised to fuel a civil war in Iraq over oil.  Renewable energy is the energy of the future and would avoid environmental problems as well as wars.  The global market must come to the conclusion that if we want to preserve our earth, create jobs, and reduce costs, renewable energy is the answer.  

1 comment:

  1. Presidents from Eisenhower on have vowed to make our country energy independent. Regardless of how efficient, cost-effective or environmentally safe alternative energy sources are, or can be, nothing will change until we can kick Big Oil out of our politicians' beds!