You are on page 1of 6

Vaughan 1

Davis Vaughan Instructor: Malcolm Campbell English 1103 2 October 2013 Forward Progress: Fossil Fuels or Renewable Energy?

We have a problem, America, a problem that is going to destroy our future generations unless something is done about it. The problem is that we have been so irresponsible with our fossil fuel energy resources that we are going to inflict serious and possibly unfixable damages on our atmosphere in the form of ozone depletion and atmospheric warming. It is going to happen, unless something major is done to halt the process and get us moving in the other direction. Why does this matter? you might ask. Why should I care about this small temperature increase? Let me say right now, we should all care. This temperature increase would have numerous effects, including altering rain patterns, and intensifying already extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods. In turn, according to EnergyBeyond Oil, this would destroy parts of croplands for pretty much all countries, resulting in a much lower production of crops and the potential to put farmers out of a job. All right, so now you care, but what can we do about this? The answer is not simple, but there is a solution, which comes in the form of renewable energy. Specifically, energy based in four areas: geothermal, wind, nuclear, and solar. Geothermal Geothermal energy may be one of the best ways for the average person to have an impact on the problem at hand. Daily, enormous amounts of gas or oil are needed to keep water heated

Vaughan 2

within homes. Low temperature geothermal systems that include heat pumps could be a prime alternative to this problem. According to EnergyBeyond Oils author Fraser Armstrong, by switching to these systems, the average home will use less than 3,500 kWh of electricity for the heat pump, and will save 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide compared to gas, and 3.6 tons of carbon dioxide compared to oil per year. The best way to apply these circulation systems into practice is to add them into new building designs. It would be much less costly to add them to new houses instead of trying to replace the water heating systems in houses that currently stand, and there is honestly no reason that all new buildings could not incorporate these new systems into their designs. The main argument against geothermal energy is that it costs more than a conventional heating system. In the short run, this may be true. However, the projected time that it would take the geothermal system to pay for itself is about fifteen years, and seeing as how a house is normally a long-term investment, this seems to be a negligible factor. Wind Here is an interesting idea that has already jumped ahead to being one of the fastest growing sources of renewable energy. There are multiple ways that wind energy can come into play, and can be a major factor for energy provision. Granted, there are places in the world where wind energy is not going to be efficient, however, many areas in the north and west have high potential to have efficient wind turbines. The one type of wind turbine that I will focus on is the AVX1000 turbine from AerVironment.

Vaughan 3

This one turbine seems to be specifically designed to combat any and all arguments that are thrown at it, such as: Argument 1) Wind turbines are ugly and noisy! Not necessarily. These smaller turbines are placed on top of tall buildings to collect the strong gusts of wind that form there. Therefore, they are not seen unless you are actually looking for them, and they are also designed to be much quieter than the generic large wind turbine. Argument 2) Wind turbines kill hundreds of birds every year! It is technically true that turbines have killed birds over the years. However, especially with these turbines that will be placed on already tall buildings, there will be no added damage to birds that the building was not already creating. Argument 3) Turbines take up too much space and the opportunity cost is too high. Two things about this. First, obviously these building placed turbines will not take up much room whatsoever. And second, the generic large wind turbine that is placed out on the countryside only takes up vertical room. There would still be plenty of space underneath it for agriculture to grow. Wind technology has many benefits for the future, especially for larger buildings and even skyscrapers, and, unlike geothermal, it would not be much of a problem to install them onto preexisting buildings to allow them to switch over to renewable sources of energy.

Vaughan 4

Nuclear Nuclear energy always seems to be a hot topic as a viable renewable resource. A major reason for this is because of the actual possibility that nuclear energy plants could put oil companies out of business. The high output from nuclear energy and almost negligible carbon emission compared to the smog producing oil companies makes it a great contender to tear apart the competition. Top dollar oil plants are obviously not happy about this. According to Jim Marston of The Atlantic, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pushing for legislature that would actually teach climate change denial in schools around the country and has had success in getting this balanced teaching plan passed in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona. This may or may not make some kind of noticeable change in the minds of youth later down the road, but for now, no one can really say. Lets take a second here and look at the problems with nuclear energy. Obviously a big debate is over safety. Nuclear meltdowns are not a light topic to be joked about, and a clear example of that seems to be Chernobyl. However, it needs to be noted that Chernobyl was not a nuclear explosion whatsoever. According to scientist Bela Liptak, from the website CONTROL, Chernobyl was in fact caused by poorly trained, night shift workers running a test on the system that they incorrectly performed, resulting in a power generator exploding and causing a steam explosion that only then released an enormous amount of radioactivity. The key idea here is that this could have been prevented. This was not a random factor within the nuclear energy process that could naturally occur at any time. No, this was human error, and human error can be helped. Another problem with nuclear energy is that it is very expensive. A new passive nuclear plant design would help solve this by making it impossible for a nuclear meltdown to occur. The science behind this is complicated but basically there is a plug that would melt if anything went

Vaughan 5

wrong and any radioactive material would flow into a storage container to be cooled. This means that much less money would need to be spent on the countless security systems that had been put in place to counter for the damage that may occur if a nuclear meltdown actually did happen. Having this cheaper method would be an incredible step forward over using fossil fuels, making it much more environmentally friendly to generate electricity. Solar Ah, yes, solar energy. This might be the Big Kahuna of possible renewable energy sources. Our present needs could be met by covering .5% of Earths surface with PV (photovoltaic) installations that achieve a conversion efficiency of 10%. (p120 EnergyBeyond Oil). So why has it not been done yet? Well, with the current technology available to us, it would be much too expensive to try to do this. Also, the efficiency factor is not up to par with what it would need to be to really be effective everywhere these solar energy devices might be placed. However, there is a promising new technology that is still being worked on called third generation photovoltaic cells. On the bulkscale, altering the solar absorbance levels of semiconductors such as silicon is impossible, however it can be done on the nanoscale. This is important because if this absorbance band can be expanded, then the atoms can absorb much more energy then they have been, allowing for an increase in efficiency. A professor at UNCC, Marcus Jones, has actually been spending his research time doing just this, and is, especially this year, beginning to make progress. (NOTE TO MALCOLM: the next step in my research will be to meet with him and discuss more about how viable this option is and when it could be rolled out on the market. That will be added here. Also, I will be doing research with him next semester, so this is clearly where a big part of my interest lies!) Solar energy, therefore, may not

Vaughan 6

be the most current solution, but definitely in the future will be a major player in renewable energy since there is literally an infinite amount of energy that can be harnessed through it.

A move to renewable energy will affect us all. From the top dollar oil companies, to the everyday American, we will all have an impact on moving to a more sustainable world. At todays date, wind seems to be the largest growing source of new energy, but with the advances in solar energy, it will not be far behind. I said it before and I will say it again. We have a problem, America. So what are we going to do?