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Our Changing Times: Energy – old wine in new bottles

This is the eighth and last in the series ˜Our Changing Times”. It is about how we are starting to alter our way of living in response to global climate change.Last time we talked about how farming is changing with grain crops yield reduction and potential new farming methods to make up the shortfall.In the last few years we have been hearing about ‘the energy crisis’ every day. It seems like you can’t go anywhere without it coming up as a topic of conversation. Just what is this energy we talk about and how is it made?Our energy is overwhelmingly electrical energy with the vast majority of it being produced by the burning of fossil fuels. The fuels are primarily coal, oil and natural gas. Oh, there is certainly hydro-power (dams) and nuclear but these are a small minority.With the increased demand for more energy and less carbon emissions new methods of generating the same energy are being developed and old ones brought back into use.Clean electricity production from hydro-power has been around for many decades. In fact, it has reached the point that there are very few rivers left to dam. The same rivers that produce power are also used for irrigation, industry and residential needs. Not much chance for improvement there.Nuclear power with all its early promise has been in disfavor in the US for years because of the toxic nature of its waste and the threat of a ˜Three Mile Island” or ˜Chernobyl” incident in your backyard.We are familiar with fossil fuel generating plants’ production of the greenhouse gas CO2 and all the negative press it receives. Some of the old ways that are new to some people are both passive and active systems.Passive includes putting in insulation with a higher R rating, using thick drapes to cover windows and insulating blankets on water heaters. Installing compact fluorescent light bulbs to reduce power use has become very popular.Active systems like solar panels were once very expensive and didn’t generate much energy given the cost of a system. New generations of active solar panels are being developed that increase the power yield by 50% and cut their cost in half.http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/prnewswire/CLM07617092007-1.htmWind generated energy is increasing world-wide. There are windmill farms with generators that have blades 85 feet long. Some of these farms are sited in the nearshore of oceans as well as windy land areas. http://www.capewind.org/We all know that wind farms have been around for awhile now but the technology inside the turbines has been improved to generated greater power.There are some things on the cutting of research edge that sound like they are right out of a science fiction novel. A researcher has been able to ˜burn” seawater with radio waves.The energy from the radio waves forces the water molecules apart, forming oxygen and hydrogen which ,when ignited, burns at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This was not part of his initial research. He was working on a new method for curing cancer. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07252/815920-85.stmWith global warming’s promise of a new world that most of us aren’t ready for and with our planet’s not so unlimited resources, we will all have to find both new and old ways for dealing with “Our Changing Times”.

Think Global – Act Local!


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