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Powering Up for a Brighter Future

Every time you turn on your car, switch on a light, or use a computer, you are using

energy. Ever wondered where all that power comes from? Most of the United State’s electricity

comes from fossil fuels. Between 1950 and 2000, as the world population grew by roughly 140

percent, fossil fuel consumption increased by almost 400 percent (Goodell xiv). A fossil fuel is

any combustible organic material, such as oil, coal, or natural gas, derived from the remains of

former life. 24,000 premature deaths are caused each year by pollution from coal-burning power

plants. Is this really the safest energy source for our country? By definition, renewable resources

are much cleaner, safer, and are an unlimited supply. The best way to move America forward is

to turn away from polluting substances like coal and invest in clean renewable energy sources.

In the state of our economy today, we can not afford to rely on out of the country energy

sources for power. Ever since the oil embargo of 1973, we have run the risk of the Middle East

shutting off the oil again (Wilmoth). Renewable resources are cleaner than polluting coal mines

and oil rigs. If we can harness their power, they can be used inexpensively. But, as stated by

David Lindley, “renewable energy is not a viable option unless energy can be stored on a large

scale” (18). We may get to a point in this country where wind turbines fill the valleys and solar

panels line the plains. However, these sources cannot be efficient without somewhere to store

power for when winds die down or clouds roll in.

Others would have you believe that changing to clean energy is not necessary. People like

Jim Mckay say that this change is too expensive and cannot be funded (Mckay). The truth is, if

we do not start using renewable resources, we will soon run out of oil. The petroleum supply will

be fully depleted anywhere from 2028 to 2070, with the highest probability range being between
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2036 and 2050 (Morgan).

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the industry. A survey done

by two researchers estimates that solar companies in California now employ between 16,500 and

17,500 people and may hire another 5,000 in the next year (Baker C1). This survey points out

one of the many advantages of solar. It will create numerous jobs, an important factor in our

suffering economy. Mark Burger, president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, confirms

that the solar power industry has grown 30%-50% in the last 10 years (qtd in Aaron 64). “The

tried-and-tested method of using the heat of the sun to generate electricity is already hitting the

big time, but the really big breakthroughs are happening in photovoltaic (PV) cells” (Daviss 32).

Bennett Daviss’s article goes on to explain that solar panel efficiency has gone up from 20

percent to over 50 percent. Scientists are nearing a breakthrough that will bring the efficiency

level up to 75 percent.

Those who were once interested in solar power have been put out by the large startup

costs of home solar electric systems. On average, it costs “$25,000 for a house and as much as

$50,000 for a larger system” (DeKok).

These people have given up too soon. The truth about solar is that the start up cost is the

only cost; It doesn’t require maintenance and only has to be replaced after 40 years of use. Plus,

solar energy can help you save $250-$500 on electricity costs each year. It takes about 25 years to

break even, “but with electricity rate increases, it would probably be more like 20” (Lisagor 70).

The benefits of solar greatly outweigh the initial cost; it helps each person reduce over 4,500

pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, help stop global warming, and get clean and

efficient energy whilst doing so.

Hydroelectric is another renewable energy source, and it can be used on a large and small
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scale. Micro-hydro is hydroelectric power on a small scale, for use in homes and residential

areas. It is a new idea that is sparking people’s interest, because they can have their own

hydroelectric system without having to build a dam. "Every time a gallon drops 10 feet, or 10

gallons drop one foot, then you have a watt of power" (Davis 6). This opportunity to produce 100

to 300 kilowatts is especially appealing to those with rivers and streams running through their

own backyards (Vartan 44). It is relatively inexpensive, but the price varies depending on how

close you are to a water source.

Micro-hydro is not the only hydroelectric option. Ocean tides and waves can also be used

to generate power. The British Wind Energy Association, a trade and professional body for the

British wind and marine renewables industries, estimates wave power potential to be “anywhere

between 8,000 and 80,000 terawatt-hours annually. Global annual electricity consumption is

roughly 16,000 terawatt hours” (Zeller).

Some disadvantages of hydroelectric have been brought up by Jeffrey Austin. The Three

Gorges Dam in China is providing clean energy for large parts of the country, and it produces the

same amount of power as 18 nuclear power plants. Before this was possible, 62,000 acres of

farmland as well as 13 major cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages along the Yangtze river's

banks were submerged. (Austin 36). But, it did not happen overnight. People had over a year to

rebuild their homes above the projected water line. Important monuments and temples were also

carefully reconstructed on higher ground.

While oil and natural gas prices are continually rising, wind energy prices are falling fast.

"Wind energy can be developed for under 10 cents per kilowatt hour, about the same as gas” (qtd

in Provey 26). To inventor Joe Ben Bevirt, the future of clean energy lies in high-altitude wind.

His theory makes sense. From the sky, wind power can collect energy without obtruding on the
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earth’s surface. This is done by removing turbines’ oversized blades and heavy towers. From the

ground, the energy achieved is only 1/20th of the energy that can be achieved at an altitude of

30,000 feet (Vance 53). High-altitude wind is a power source that could be a fraction of the cost

of coal. “Plus, you’re saving on material costs by using 100-pound devices floating on air rather

than 200 tons of cement for a traditional wind turbine” (Vance 54).

Even though the wind energy itself is inexpensive, the maintenance cost is not. One of the

downsides of high-altitude wind is that “helium-filled generators have to be refilled every few

months” (Gibbs 102). Companies that are looking into development of wind power are finding

regulatory hurdles as well, due to struggles with national aviation agencies to restrict aircraft

traffic in the vicinity (Gibbs 105).

The city of Santa Rosa in California is doing their part to reduce carbon dioxide

emissions using geothermal energy. Their geothermal power plant, which uses treated municipal

waste water that is sent into under ground geothermal fields, creates sources of steam which can

be used to generate electricity and help reduce problems associated with waste water disposal. A

coal-burning power plant of comparable size would spew two billion pounds of greenhouse gases

into the atmosphere each year if it were not for this city (Little 64).

This kind of energy deal comes with a price. Santa Rosa, California occasionally

experiences minor earthquakes. This is due to the extracted steam that causes subterranean rock

layers to contract. “In more than 30 years of monitoring there, the largest earthquake recorded has

been 4.5” (Little 66).

The United States of America has become wasteful. “With less than 5 percent of the

world's population, we produce almost a quarter of its greenhouse-gas emissions. We consume

nearly a third of the world's electricity (mostly from coal) and 43 percent of its gasoline” (Schell
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and Hayes 80). It is time to make a change.

Authors Jacobson and Delucchi propose transforming the world’s energy systems,

and accomplishing it in two decades. “The answers depend on the technologies chosen, the

availability of critical materials, and economic and political factors” (Delucchi and Jacobson 58).

Their effective system combines renewable resources from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and


One of the trade-offs of a renewable energy system is that the wind is not always blowing

and the sun is not always shining. But, this can be used to balance sources. Building up a strong

base reliant on steady geothermal or tidal power, then using solar by day and wind by night when

it is often in generous supply will ensure that power is always plentiful. “Because the wind often

blows during stormy conditions when the sun does not shine and the sun often shines on calm

days with little wind, combining wind and solar can go a long way toward meeting demand,

especially when geothermal provides a steady base and hydroelectric can be called on to fill in

the gaps” (Delucchi and Jacobson 59).

In 1997, the US used 34.4 million barrels of oil each day. More than half has to be

imported, much of it from the politically unstable Middle East (Hoffmann 103). Nowadays we

use 85.8 million barrels each day (Pagnamenta 67). In the past 14 years, the oil consumption in

America has gone up by more than 58%. We can reverse the oil consumptioin as well as the coal

consumption just by using more renewables and less fossil fuels.

Some people are worried that the switch to renewable energy is too expensive and will

take too long. (Murawski). The truth is, it will take time, but it will be worth it in the end. We

need to start investing in our earth.

America is beginning to move forward in the right direction. Innumerable amounts of

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time and money have gone into the development of renewable energy, and now it’s time to put

those efforts into use. Each person can a make a difference in the world by supporting the planet

and going green!

Works Cited

Aaron, Letita M. “The Big Payback.” Black Enterprise May 2009: 64. EBSCOhost. Web. 2 May

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Austin, Jeffrey. “A River Rising.” Archaeology July 2003: 36. EBSCOhost. Web. 2 May 2011.

Baker, David. “Solar Energy is a Growth Industry.” San Francisco Chronicle 10 May 2008: C1.

EBSCOhost. Web. 25 April 2011.

Davis, Scott. Microhydro. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2003. Print.

Daviss, Bennett. “Here Comes the Sun.” New Scientist 8 December 2007: 32-37. EBSCOhost.

Web. 26 April 2011.

DeKok, David. “Solar Energy’s High Costs Are Mostly on the Front End.” The Patriot-News 19

March 2007. EBSCOhost. Web. 1 May 2011.

Delucchi, Mark A. and Jacobson, Mark Z. “A Path To Sustainable Energy By 2030.” Scientific

American November 2009: 58-65. EBSCOhost. Web. 30 April 2011.

Gibbs, Wayt. “Plan B For Energy.” Scientific American September 2006: 102-114. EBSCOhost.

Web. 2 May 2011.

Goodell, Jeff. Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future. New York, New

York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Hayes, Denis and Schell, Paul. "Last words." Sierra July-Aug. 2002: 80. General Reference

Center Gold. Web. 2 May 2011.

Hoffmann, Peter. Tomorrow’s Energy. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Lindley, David. “Smart Grids: The Energy Storage Problem.” Nature 1 July 2010: 18-20.

EBSCOhost. Web. 19 April 2011.

Lisagor, Kimberly. “Sunshine’s Bottom Line.” Mother Jones January 2007: 70. EBSCOhost.

Web. 28 April 2011.

Little, Jane Braxton. “Clean Energy From Filthy Water.” Scientific American July 2010: 64-69.

EBSCOhost. Web. 2 May 2011.

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Mckay, Jim. “Renewable Energy Still May Be Too Expensive.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 24

October 2005: 1. EBSCOhost. Web. 19 April 2011.

Morgan, Jason. “When Will The Oil Run Out?” Babeled 15 February 2008: 1. EBSCOhost. Web.

17 March 2011.

Murawski, John. “Utilities Slow Energy Bill: Southern Companies' Lobbying Persuades the U.S.

Senate to Delay Voting on the Measure.” The News & Observer 8 December 2007.

EBSCOhost. Web. 2 May 2011.

Pagnamenta, Robin. “US and Japan Cut Back as Recession Forces Global Oil Consumption

Down For the First Time Since 1983.” The United Kingdom Times 12 December 2008:

67. EBSCOhost. Web. 2 May 2011.

Provey, Joe. “The Promise of Wind.” The Environmental Magazine January 2009: 26.

EBSCOhost. Web. 25 April 2011.

Vance, Erik. “Inherit the Wind.” Discover December 2010: 52-57. EBSCOhost. Web. 30 April


Vartan, Starre. “Wet and Wild.” The Environmental Magazine June 2007: 44. EBSCOhost. Web.

30 April 2011.

Wilmoth, Adam. “Oil Embargo In 1973 Changed Energy Industry Overnight.” The Daily

Oklahoman 2 November 2003. EBSCOhost. Web. 1 May 2011.

Zeller, Tom Jr. “Tidal and Wave Power.” The New York Times 23 February 2009: 1. EBSCOhost.

Web. 1 May 2011.