One of the key aspects of the current stimulus package that is exciting is its investment in new energy production, that is more attuned to the needs of the average person and the planet, than anything we've seen before. It reflects a new reality, and it's about time.
The way we've designed our lives has necessitated the use of energy to fuel every aspect of them. We have to heat and cool our homes, we have to travel and move goods around the country and around the world, and we depend greatly on electrical energy these days, to the point that electrical energy must be plentiful and dependable. In other words, most of the world has chosen not to live like the Amish. Whether or not that is a wise choice is a matter of debate, but we are what we are.
One thing is not debatable, however. No matter how we as humans choose to live our lives, we still need the world around us in order to function. Therefore, we must balance our production and use f energy with the need for clean air, wholesome, nutritious food and a clean and plentiful supply of water. And as everything in nature works in harmony, we have to figure out a way to produce what we need, while disturbing as little of the natural world as possible. It doesn't matter if you "believe" in global warming or not, nor does it doesn't matter how many jobs, companies and countries are "dependent" on the extraction of fossil fuels for their economies. What I am talking about is the survival of the human race, and the planet as a whole.
Okay, that last part probably overstated things just a bit. We won't kill the planet; this planet is pretty resilient, and will probably survive whatever we can do to it. But the survival of the human species depends greatly upon the health of the planet. So, how do we reserve as many of the technological gains we have made in recent generations, and still preserve the natural worlld, so that we survive?
If we want to increase the chances of human survival, -- and we do -- and preserve the planet we love, then we have to change our approach to energy production. Production of energy must involve two concepts; first, we must stop using natural resources as if they belong to humans alone;. The world belongs to every plant and animal species here, as well. Therefore, we have to be more careful when extracting resources, and we must stop burning things to supply us with energy.
We must solve this energy crisis. But first, we have to recognize that there is a crisis. The fact is, we have been in an energy crisis since we first realized that we could burn oil and gas to make light. and run machinery. But the crisis has been most acute in the last 40 years, and it will not end until we create most of our energy naturally, without burning natural resources, and to make maximum use of every bit of energy we produce.They keys are natural energy production and conservation.
The potential future of energy usage is actually right here, on the computer you're using, especially if you're using a laptop and running off the battery. The laptop I use, for example, has a relatively small battery, which will run every function on this machine for up to three hours. Over the last ten years, batteries and computers have become more efficient, to the point that computers can perform ten times as many operations as ten years ago, while using less than half the energy. Over the last few months, I have taken every photo I have, and scanned it into a file. The scanner I use has no electrical plug; it runs on the meager power supplied by the computer through one of its USB port.s In other words, the scant amount of power from a laptop computer's USB port is able to power a very high-power bulb and a small motor repeatedly for hours at a time. This is a huge improvement over just 8-10 years ago, when scanners needed far more power, and much larger laptop batteries were needed to run a less efficient computer for perhaps an hour.
In your computer's energy use lies the key to solving the energy crisis. We have to figuring out ways to make energy more efficient, so that we can do more, while producing less. Low-wattage light bulbs are a great start, as are low-wattage heat pumps. But we have to continue using fewer watts to do more things. And we must get it through our rock-hard skulls that the future of everything is in electricity. We have to make all cars electric, all trains and trucks electric, and we cannot take "it can't be done" for an answer. It can be done, and it must be done. Forget higher gasoline mileage, and alternative fuels for internal combustion engines; those are nice short-term goals, but we have to be thinking with the longer term in mind. Look at where we are now; how many wars have to be fought over oil before we figure out that such a dependence on any single resource -- especially one that is in finite supply and has to be burned as fuel -- is stupid. I know a lot of people are excited about ethanol and biodiesel, but I'm not one of them. They are great resources to look to during the transition, but if we depend on farmers for our energy needs instead of oilmen, the oilmen will simply buy up the farms and we'll be back at square one.
Basically, we need a new energy model.
In other words, in addition to using energy more efficiently, we must also adopt an ultimate absolute goal of running everything using electrical power as efficiently as possible, andeliminating the burning of anything to create electricity, and to do so as soon as is practical. There's an excellent model out there, in the use of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. Think about how most hybrid vehicles work; some of them use the brakes to recharge a battery, or an onboard electrical energy generation and storage system. Imagine a car that runs 90% of the time on electricity, with a gasoline-powered back up for those times when the battery fails. Imagine only having to use the one gallon of gasoline every 5000 miles. A dream? Why would that be a dream? Do you realize that the technology behind the electrical side of the hybrid engine dates to 1898, and that various versions of the gasoline/electric hybrid have been in various stages of development ever since? Imagine if we hadn't allowed the oil companies to bully us into our oil addiction, and the hybrid had been allowed to develop consistently over the last century. Isn't it just possible that we might already have a hybrid system just as I described above?, or even an all-electric vehicle, with a range of 1000 miles between charges? We can't go back and relive history, but going forward, we have to move toward a vehicle that runs without fossil fuel and has an onboard power plant contained therein.
This points to another aspect of this issue, and that is electricity production. Our goal must be the creation of smaller energy plants, instead of huge behemoths that do little more than simply pump money into the pockets of investors. Energy consumption is an individual exercise; energy production should be, as well, everywhere it's practical. Start with rural areas. Does it really make sense to power the electrical needs of a farm via hundreds of miles of wires from a power plant that is central to all of them? Wouldn't it make more sense for each farm to produce its own electricity, via solar and wind power, and sell excess power to those plants instead? Why does it make sense to allow developers to plop down a few thousand houses in the Arizona desert, and force everyone else in the region to accommodate their power needs? Doesn't it make more sense to integrate energy production into the developments themselves, in the form of solar panels on the roofs, and/or a wind farm somewhete within the development? Large power plants should be reserved for densely populated areas, such as large cities, and supplemented by the excess production of the smaller plants in the suburbs and rural areas. We would be far better off if the huge power plant only had to increase it's capacity by 10% when a population increased by 30%, wouldn't you agree? And if we could conserve our energy needs, to the point that a population increase of 30% would actually produce more power than they use, that would be even better. If we can make more efficient use of our energy, and get more people to produce more power on a smaller scale, and then update the power grid to reflect that reality, t's very possible we could see the end of power shortages as we have come to know them.
We have to change our goals; that much is clear. It won'tb be enough to simply switch away from fossil fuels to burning other things; we have to harness the energy the earth and sun provide to us for free, in the form of solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power. We have to focus like a laser on the most efficient use of power possible; reusable batteries or electrical generators that can do as much with 100 watts as we do now with a kilowatt, if not better. And we have to start thinking smaller; the United States should become a pioneer in small, localized energy production. It should not only be recommended that all homes or developments contain solar and/or wind generation plants; it should be mandatory.
Forget everything we know about producing energy to this point. The internal combustion engine has outlived its usefulness, and we need to get away from the current model in which we build huge plants to serve millions of people each, and put thousands of people at risk when there is a single failure. Put it this way; the reason Enron was able to get away with screwing California out of $250 per kilowatt hour was because that model no longer works. If most of the people in California -- at least those living outside of inner cities -- were able to produce most, if not all, of their own power,on a local level, a company like Enron could never take advantage.
I know it goes against the "market forces" dogma that has guided our economy to such a ridiculous level the last 30 or so years, but it's time we did what was best for humanity, and sometimes,that means doing it ourselves, instead of putting our faith in people whose only concern is the bottom line. We can save the earth and save ourselves, but it will take a completely different mindset; renewable and self-contained energy production and massive improvements in efficiency are our only hope.
The future is now...