Importance of Renewable Energy
“Either we get responsible with what the Earth has given us, or we sit back, relax, and watch billions of years of evolution die right before our very eyes.” – Kent Allen Halliburton
Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale. These include: sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, biomass, geothermal heat, and even, recycling. What this means is that this energy has the potential to be perpetually harnessed and perpetually stored, to the point that it becomes abundant enough that it is no longer worth trying to charge for its use.
The nation of Chile has realized this very thing. They have so much solar energy that they do not have sufficient infrastructure to store it. So, what is their solution? They are giving away the excess, and it won’t hurt their supply because, as this article suggests, solar energy is renewable, and thus in our time frame, potentially perpetual. This piece will briefly highlight these most common forms of renewable energy. At the end, it will speak on the dramatic importance of Renewable Energy. Following pieces will delve into each source of energy in more detail.
Importance of Renewable Energy – SUNLIGHT
olar power is, quite simply, the conversion of sunlight into electricity. It can happen in two different ways; directly, using what is called Photovoltaics; or, indirectly, using what is called Concentrated Solar Power. Photovoltaics converts light into an electrical current using certain light sensitive chemicals that produce voltage when exposed to light. Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam of concentrated light, which can then produce electricity.
Importance of Renewable Energy – WIND
Wind power is, very easily, available by the Earth’s natural air flow. Wind turbines primarily produce this energy through mechanical power generators that then produce electricity. Wind power, as an alternative to the burning of fossil fuels, is plentiful, accessible globally, pollutant free, can operate without the use of water, and needs very little real land to function. We can even build wind farms in the middle of the ocean. Additionally, wind farms do not alter the weather, interfere with the migratory patterns of birds, or alter the flow of rivers. These are just some of the incredibly dull excuses that fossil fuel pundits attempt to pass as credible science. They are incredibly false. Wind turbines have been in operation on farms, in some part of the Earth or another, for the production of power, electrical or manual, since the sixth century. Who were the first people to make use of wind turbines? It was the Persians, to power water wells.
Important Renewable Energy – RAIN
Imagine the average human domicile, house or apartment, which is most always equipped with a rain gutter for water runoff. Now, consider turning the water that runs into that gutter into electricity. Assume that when it is raining, water is collected in the gutter that surrounds a building’s roof. Now, instead of funneling that water out to the street, or into a creek; or some other body of water, consider funneling that water into a tank that has a changeable filter. Inside this tank will be a motor that is moved by the water running through into it. To ensure maximum flow for energy production, the pipes that the water is running through will be positioned at the most optimum angle. In the average small college town, this may produce a total of 1.5 kWh of electricity. Imagine what it would be like in the rainiest town on earth, Lloro. Colombia. It would get close to 50 kWh of electricity. Generators vary, of course, but now, expand this globally, and further, consider the potential for water usage.
Other Significant Renewable Energy Sources
Tidal power is a form of renewable energy that converts that natural ebb and flow of the Earth’s tides into electricity. Consider the fact that for the most part, Earth’s tidal patterns are fairly regular, given normal weather. It would not be difficult to determine the locations most appropriate for the production of this type of power. In fact, the work has already begun. Extreme weather is a risk, especially in regions of the world where monsoons and hurricanes are prevalent, but given the proper use of science, the machines that harness tidal power can be designed to withstand such storms at extremely high tolerances. This source of energy, though not in wide use yet, has the potential to produce seemingly boundless amounts of potential energy.
Wave power is the harvesting of the naturally occurring kinetic energy produced by the impact of land and water. Like tidal power, this source of energy is not in as wide use as it really should be, but the concept has been around since the 1890s. The most effective example of modern wave power production is currently operating in Portugal, at their Aucadoura Wave Park. It was opened for operation in 2008 and has produced promising results. Now, consider the idea that all large bodies of water, no matter their location on the planet, produce waves when they interact with land barriers. Who has ever gone to the beach at a local lake? The potential for this form of energy is also magnificent. The Great Lakes Region of North America, with all of the commercial traffic that is sees each day, would be a perfect place to power a continent.
Biomass energy is organic matter harvested from living, or only very recently deceased, organisms. This, depending on the source of the energy, can be converted into a very highly concentrated form of Biofuel, which could then be used to power vehicles and small motors, or converted into electricity. The purification process from collection point to point of use removes most of the toxins that would normally be hazardous to the environment. Used in moderation, this form of renewable energy would not be harmful, especially when considering that the most abundant source of active biomass energy is dung. European Settlers, and Native Americans before them, used buffalo dung for energy on the Great Plains of North America. Cattle dung has been, and is still, used for such purposes in remote areas all over the world. Consider, further that humans have been using dung as a source of energy since before they were human. Are you skeptical? Our closest Simian cousin, the Bonobo Chimp, in field experiments, given the appropriate tools, flint stones, sticks, leaves, and even their own dung, have been taught to cook their own food. Thus, we know that they have the capacity to master the very basics of energy production. They figured out, on their own, that dung was the most effective sustainable source of energy for their fires. They could even tell the difference between fresh dung, and dry dung, which is the most combustible.
*Hydrogen can also be harnessed from this process and its energy potential is extremely high; however, it also has the potential to be extremely volatile. When mishandled, usually through inappropriate mixtures with oxygen, hydrogen power can be both very loud and highly destructive. Consider the facts that the most destructive bomb yet detonated by humans was a Hydrogen Bomb and that hydrogen, in its solid form, is used as Rocket Fuel.
Geothermal energy is the thermal energy that is generated by and stored within, the Earth itself. In fact, it is the primary source of energy that determines the mean temperature of all matter on Earth. The innermost core of the Earth is a fairly heated, but solid, ball of iron and nickel. The outer core, however, is the definition of fire and brimstone. At its hottest points, this outer core has been measured at nearly 8,000 degrees Celsius. This extreme heat fuels a process that moves all of the matter resting on top of this liquid fire, from the mantle, to the inner crust, and then the outer crust, upon which rests the continents that we live upon. The conductive energy that is produced during this process is monumental in its conception. Further, there are locations all over the Earth, like steam vents at the bottom of an ocean bead, or a heated water geyser above a magma hotspot, where this energy can be most effectively harvested. Additionally, given the appropriate technology, which is in development, combined with the political will which, in most places unfortunately, is not, this form of energy could be harvested in perpetuity. If humanity were to die off, any new civilizations that evolved would have this form of energy during the full length of their development also. This source of energy has the potential outlast all others.
When most people think of renewable energy, they think more along the lines of the methods of production already reviewed. However, there is another important source of potential renewable energy that is produced daily, around the globe, garbage. There are some waste disposal companies around the world who have wisely begun a process that could possibly revolutionize energy production. Upon reception of waste, they are separating materials known to produce a number of highly kinetic, mainly gases, materials. One company in the United States, alone, that owns one-hundred and thirty disposal sites was estimated, by the Environmental Protection Agency, to have produced five-hundred and fifty megawatts of electrical energy. This was estimated to have powered 440,000 homes and did the same work as 2.2 million tons of coal. Instead of polluting the Earth, humanity’s waste could sustain it into the future.
Now, let’s look at some of the effects of humanity’s inability to adapt, so far. Poor air quality can kill. Ozone pollution can cause respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, throat inflammation, chest pain, and congestion. Water pollution is purely genocidal. It, on average, accounts for 14,000 deaths per day, around the world. This is mostly related to the ingestion of contaminated drinking water or exposure to untreated raw sewage. Biomagnification describes the situation where toxins in the environment, such as heavy metals, pass through trophic levels (ecosystem hierarchies) in which they do not naturally occur. As the toxins pass through these levels of the ecosystem, unopposed, they become more highly concentrated, and thus, more deadly. Carbon Dioxide causes the ocean to acidify. Continued exposure only speeds up the process, making it more difficult for the ocean to sustain life. The bacteria and fungi that produce over half of the Earth’s supply of oxygen live in the Earth’s oceans. If they die, humanity will not be far behind them. Think also of the risk to the human food supply. If termination does not occur by suffocation, it could very possibly happen by starvation.
Toxins can damage soil quality and make it impossible for it to support any form of carbon based life. Sulfur and acid rain produced by human pollution are the top killers. Finally, that ever present cloud of smog that rests over most city skylines can block out needed energy from the sun, damaging plant life’s ability to produce energy, and thus sustain itself. When global weather patterns shift this pollution into the countryside, it has the same effect. This threatens the human food supply, by lowering crop yields, or rendering the soil entirely unfit for traditional sources of local plant fiber. In some cases, especially in small rural communities, this can be fatal to the local food supply, and thus the entire community. Has anyone ever wondered why urban centers are becoming so uncontrollably crowded? Can no one see how this only makes the process exponentially worse? Long isolated peoples are even being effected. Isolated tribes in both Peru and Brazil are being poisoned with lead by illegal gold mining operations, likely illegal in bribe only, who dump the lead directly into the Amazon River. Will the Amazonians and their way of life be lost to indifference?
Now, imagine if the human species got a clue and started using the renewable energies that is has available to it. First, energy production could be demonetized because there would be so much energy produced that it could no longer be falsely made scarce. Second, the Earth, our primary home, could begin the healing process. Finally, free energy could revolutionize the world economy. Instead of fighting and dying for the ownership of scarce resources and the parched parcels of land upon which they rest, we could start putting our brains to work on what to do with all of the excess energy that will be produced. Perhaps, we could dance among the stars?
Image: Somerset Wind Farm. by Jeff Kubina under Creative Commons License