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Sarah Leen/National Geographic Stock

Renewable and Nuclear Energy

Topics Discussed
New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal Nuclear Power Energy Efficiency Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


Walk around your home and take note of all of the devices that you leave plugged in whether or not they are in use. Televisions, computers, refrigerators, alarm clocks, and cell phone chargers all constantly use energy. Next, try to imagine the sum of such energy consumption that occurs in the more than 100 million households across the entire United States. Add to it all of the electricity, home and commercial heating and cooling, manufacturing, and fuel used to power various methods of transportation. Now, still in your imagination, expand this sum of consumption to include all the other countries throughout the world. The staggering sum of energy consumption across the world has been quantified by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) of the United States. The EIA estimates that world energy consumption was approximately 500 quadrillion Btu [British thermal unit] in 2010 (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2010). Its difficult to attach a human scale to this number. Five hundred quadrillion Btu is the energy equivalent of 10 million atomic bombs of the size dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. And by 2035, the EIA predicts that global consumption will increase by about 1 times the current measurement. When we look into the future, we face the certainty that fossil fuel reserves will become depleted. Indeed, in 2010 about 90% of global energy supply was furnished by fossil fuels (BP, 2010). Experts agree that alternative energy sources must be explored in order keep up with global energy demands and avoid catastrophic climate changes. Not surprisingly, though, experts also argue over whether with sufficient will and investment, we can and will convert to a renewable and nuclear energy economy without a significant change in our lifestyles. In this chapter we will examine the risks and rewards of using nuclear energy sources, as well as explore the plausibility of using various renewable energy sources as we seek the answer to the following question: Can the global society make the massive shift to using windmills, solar panels, and other renewable energy sources, coupled with nuclear power, to replace the current reliance on fossil fuels?

8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels

In this reading, Daniel Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley, reviews the potential for three relatively new forms of renewable energysolar power, wind power, and biofuels for transportation. Currently, all three of these technologies only meet a small portion of our energy needs; however, their use is growing rapidly. As further technological progress continues to reduce the costs of using these renewables, their use will become even more widespread. Renewable energy sources offer numerous benefits, including that they can be produced domestically, they never run out, and they generate very little local air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. One major benefit of renewable solar energy is that it can be utilized in a number of different ways. Passive solar energy uses sunlight directly without any mechanical devices, such as when sunlight is used to illuminate or heat interior spaces. Active solar energy captures sunlight using mechanical devices and then converts it to useful heat or electric power. Solar photovoltaic or PV panels convert sunlight to electricity, which is the most common form of active solar energy. You can find PV panels on solar calculators, rooftops, and streetlights and traffic signs. Another way to generate electricity using solar energy is through solar thermal or concentrating solar power (CSP) systems.

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


These systems use mirrors to concentrate the suns rays on a tank or pipe filled with fluid. The heated fluid can then be used to produce steam used to spin a turbine to generate electricity. Another type of popular renewable energy source comes from the use of wind turbines, which are mechanical devices that convert the kinetic energy of the wind into electric power. Wind power development has been accelerating in recent years in such countries as Germany, Spain, the United States, and China. In terms of percentage share of total energy Denmark is the world leader with more than 20% of their electricity needs produced from wind power. Denmark uses wind turbines located both on land and in offshore regions near the coast. Such offshore areas have stronger and more consistent winds but are also more expensive to develop. Lastly, the renewable energy that is biofuels refers to liquid fuels produced from plant material. The most common biofuel utilized by Americans is ethanol, which is blended with the gasoline that is sold in many states. Ethanol is produced by fermenting grains such as corn, but because this process diverts corn from food uses, its production has been implicated in food price increases in recent years. In addition, producing corn-based ethanol actually requires a significant investment of fossil fuels to provide heat for the fermentation process, and so ethanol may not actually displace much in the way of fossil fuels or help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ethanol produced from other plant material besides corn and other grainsknown as cellulosic ethanolhas greater environmental benefits. However, cellulosic ethanol is not yet commercially viable as a fuel source. Kammen argues that in order to further develop these renewable energy sources and speed up the energy transition away from fossil fuels two things have to happen. First, we need to continue to invest in the research and development of alternative energy sources to bring their price down. Second, energy prices need to reflect their true costs of production and use, including the hidden environmental costs associated with the use of fossil fuels. Such true cost pricing would make renewable energies even more competitive and drive greater investment in their development and use.

By Daniel Kammen
o plan to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions can succeed through increases in energy efficiency alone. Because economic growth continues to boost the demand for energy more coal for powering new factories, more oil for fueling new cars, more natural gas for heating new homescarbon emissions will keep climbing despite the introduction of more energy-efficient vehicles, buildings, and appliances. To counter the alarming trend of global warming, the United States and other countries must make a major commitment to developing renewable energy sources that generate little or no carbon.
renewable energy: energy generated from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and water, which are naturally replenished

Renewable energy technologies were suddenly and briefly fashionable three decades ago in response to the oil embargoes of the 1970s, but the interest and support were not sustained. In recent years, however, dramatic improvements in the performance and affordability of solar cells, wind turbines and biofuelsethanol and other fuels derived from plantshave paved the way for mass commercialization. In addition to their environmental benefits, renewable sources promise to enhance Americas energy security by reducing the countrys reliance on fossil fuels from other nations. What is more, high and

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


wildly fluctuating prices for oil and natural gas have made renewable alternatives more appealing. We are now in an era where the opportunities for renewable energy are unprecedented, making this the ideal time to advance clean power for decades to come. But the endeavor will require a long-term investment of scientific, economic, and political resources. Policymakers and ordinary citizens must demand action and challenge one another to hasten the transition.

Let the sun shine

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaics, use semiconductor materials to convert sunlight into electric current. They now provide just a tiny slice of the worlds electricity: their global generating capacity of 5,000 megawatts (MW) is only 0.15 percent of the total generating capacity from all sources. Yet sunlight could potentially supply 5,000 times as much energy as the world currently consumes. And thanks photovoltaics: siliconto technology improvements, cost declines and favorable policies in based energy cells that many states and nations, the annual production of photovoltaics has generate electricity increased by more than 25 percent a year for the past decade and by a when solar energy is remarkable 45 percent in 2005. The cells manufactured last year added absorbed; also called 1,727 MW to worldwide generating capacity, with 833 MW made in photovoltaic collectors Japan, 353 MW in Germany and 153 MW in the U.S. Solar cells can now be made from a range of materials, from the traditional multicrystalline silicon wafers that still dominate the market to thin-film silicon cells and devices composed of plastic or organic semiconductors. Thin-film photovoltaics are cheaper to produce than crystalline silicon cells but are also less efficient at turning light into power. In laboratory tests, crystalline cells have achieved efficiencies of 30 percent or more; current commercial cells of this type range from 15 to 20 percent. Both laboratory and commercial efficiencies for all kinds of solar cells have risen steadily in recent years, indicating that an expansion of research efforts would further enhance the performance of solar cells on the market. Solar photovoltaics are particularly easy to use because they can be installed in so many places on the roofs or walls of homes and office buildings, in vast arrays in the desert, even sewn into clothing to power portable electronic devices. The state of California has joined Japan and Germany in leading a global push for solar installations; the Million Solar Roof commitment is intended to create 3,000 MW of new generating capacity in the state by 2018. Studies done by my research group, the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, show that annual production of

Gary Braasch

Many experts are confident that sources of renewable energy, such as the solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert, offer an opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels.

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


solar photovoltaics in the U.S. alone could grow to 10,000 MW in just 20 years if current trends continue. The biggest challenge will be lowering the price of the photovoltaics, which are now relatively expensive to manufacture. Electricity produced by crystalline cells has a total cost of 20 to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with four to six cents for coal-fired electricity, five to seven cents for power produced by burning natural gas, and six to nine cents for biomass power plants. (The cost of nuclear power is harder to pin down because experts disagree on which expenses to include in the analysis; the estimated range is two to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.) Fortunately, the prices of solar cells have fallen consistently over the past decade, largely because of improvements in manufacturing processes. In Japan, where 290 MW of solar generating capacity were added in 2005 and an even larger amount was exported, the cost of photovoltaics has declined 8 percent a year; in California, where 50 MW of solar power were installed in 2005, costs have dropped 5 percent annually. Surprisingly, Kenya is the global leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita (but not the number of watts added). More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing only 12 to 30 watts, are sold in that country annually. For an investment of as little as $100 for the panel and wiring, the system can be used to charge a car battery, which can then provide enough power to run a fluorescent lamp or a small black-andwhite television for a few hours a day. More Kenyans adopt solar power every year than make connections to the countrys electric grid. The panels typically use solar cells made of amorphous silicon; although these photovoltaics are only half as efficient as crystalline cells, their cost is so much lower (by a factor of at least four) that they are more affordable and useful for the two billion people worldwide who currently have no access to electricity. Sales of small solar power systems are booming in other African nations as well, and advances in low cost photovoltaic manufacturing could accelerate this trend. Furthermore, photovoltaics are not the only fast-growing form of solar power. Solar-thermal systems, which collect sunlight to generate heat, are also undergoing a resurgence. These systems have long been used to provide hot water for homes or factories, but they can also produce electricity without the need for expensive solar cells. In one design, for example, mirrors focus light on a Stirling engine, a high efficiency device containing a working fluid that circulates between hot and cold chambers. The fluid expands as the sunlight heats it, pushing a piston that, in turn, drives a turbine. In the fall of 2005 a Phoenix company called Stirling Energy Systems announced that it was planning to build two large solar-thermal power plants in southern California. The company signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison, which will buy the electricity from a 500-MW solar plant to be constructed in the Mojave Desert. Stretching across 4,500 acres, the facility will include 20,000 curved dish mirrors, each concentrating light on a Stirling engine about the size of an oil barrel. The plant is expected to begin operating in 2009 and could later be expanded to 850 MW. Stirling Energy Systems also signed a 20-year contract with San Diego Gas & Electric to build a 300-MW, 12,000-dish plant in the Imperial Valley. This facility could eventually be upgraded to 900 MW. The financial details of the two California projects have not been made public, but electricity produced by present solar-thermal technologies costs between five and 13 cents per

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


kilowatt-hour, with dish-mirror systems at the upper end of that range. Because the projects involve highly reliable technologies and mass production, however, the generation expenses are expected to ultimately drop closer to four to six cents per kilowatt-hour that is, competitive with the current price of coal-fired power.

Blowing in the wind

wind turbine: a mechanical device that utilizes the kinetic energy of wind by capturing it and converting it into electricity

Wind power has been growing at a pace rivaling that of the solar industry. The worldwide generating capacity of wind turbines has increased more than 25 percent a year, on average, for the past decade, reaching nearly 60,000 MW in 2005. The growth has been nothing short of explosive in Europebetween 1994 and 2005, the installed wind power capacity in European Union nations jumped from 1,700 to 40,000 MW. Germany alone has more than 18,000 MW of capacity thanks to an aggressive construction program. The northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein currently meets one quarter of its annual electricity demand with more than 2,400 wind turbines, and in certain months wind power provides more than half the states electricity. In addition, Spain has 10,000 MW of wind capacity, Denmark has 3,000 MW, and Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal each have more than 1,000 MW.

In the U.S. the wind power industry has accelerated dramatically in the past five years, with total generating capacity leaping 36 percent to Gary Braasch 9,100 MW in 2005. Although wind turbines now produce only 0.5 percent of the nations elecBetween 2000 and 2010, world wind tricity, the potential for expansion is enormous, electric generating capacity increased at especially in the windy Great Plains states. a frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts (North Dakota, for example, has greater wind to nearly 200,000 megawatts, says Earth energy resources than Germany, but only 98 Policy Institutes Lester Brown. MW of generating capacity is installed there.) If the U.S. constructed enough wind farms to fully tap these resources, the turbines could generate as much as 11 trillion wind farm: a power kilowatt-hours of electricity, or nearly three times the total amount plant made up of a produced from all energy sources in the nation last year. The wind collection of wind industry has developed increasingly large and efficient turbines, each turbines used for capable of yielding 4 to 6 MW. And in many locations, wind power is generating electricity; the cheapest form of new electricity, with costs ranging from four to usually located in flat, seven cents per kilowatt-hour.
wide open places where there is a constant breeze

The growth of new wind farms in the U.S. has been spurred by a production tax credit that provides a modest subsidy equivalent to 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour, enabling wind turbines to compete with coal-fired plants. Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly threatened

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


to eliminate the tax credit. Instead of instituting a long-term subsidy for wind power, the lawmakers have extended the tax credit on a year-to-year basis, and the continual uncertainty has slowed investment in wind farms. Congress is also threatening to derail a proposed 130-turbine farm off the coast of Massachusetts that would provide 468 MW of generating capacity, enough to power most of Cape Cod, Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket. The reservations about wind power come partly from utility companies that are reluctant to embrace the new technology and partly from so-called NIMBY-ism. (NIMBY is an acronym for Not in My Backyard.) Although local concerns over how wind turbines will affect landscape views may have some merit, they must be balanced against the social costs of the alternatives. Because societys energy needs are growing relentlessly, rejecting wind farms often means requiring the construction or expansion of fossil fuelburning power plants that will have far more devastating environmental effects.

Green fuels
Researchers are also pressing ahead with the development of biofuels that could replace at least a portion of the oil currently consumed by biofuels: gas or liquid motor vehicles. The most common biofuel by far in the U.S. is ethanol, fuel made from plant which is typically made from corn and blended with gasoline. The material manufacturers of ethanol benefit from a substantial tax credit: with the help of the $2-billion annual subsidy, they sold more than 16 billion liters of ethanol in 2005 (almost 3 percent of all automobile fuel by volume), and production is expected to rise 50 percent by 2007. Some policymakers have questioned the wisdom of the subsidy, pointing to studies showing that it takes more energy to harvest the corn and refine the ethanol than the fuel can deliver to combustion engines. In a recent analysis, though, my colleagues and I discovered that some of these studies did not properly account for the energy content of the by-products manufactured along with the ethanol. When all the inputs and outputs were correctly factored in, we found that ethanol has a positive net energy of almost five megajoules [a unit of measurement of energy equal to one million joules] per liter. We also found, however, that ethanols impact on greenhouse gas emissions is more ambiguous. Our best estimates indicate that substituting corn-based ethanol for gasoline reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent, but the analysis is hampered by large uncertainties regarding certain agricultural practices, particularly the environmental costs of fertilizers. If we use different assumptions about these practices, the results of switching to ethanol range from a 36 percent drop in emissions to a 29 percent increase. Although corn-based ethanol may help the U.S. reduce its reliance on foreign oil, it will probably not do much to slow global warming unless the production of the biofuel becomes cleaner.

Sarah Leen/National Geographic Stock

This biomass facility in an agricultural region in California, burns rice crop waste to generate electricity. More and more, crop wastes are being looked at as potential sources of fuel.

Section 8.1 New RenewablesSolar, Wind, and Biofuels


But the calculations change substantially when the ethanol is made from cellulosic sources: woody plants such as switchgrass or poplar. Whereas most makers of corn-based ethanol burn fossil fuels to provide the heat for fermentation, the producers of cellulosic ethanol burn ligninan unfermentable part of the organic materialto heat the plant sugars. Burning lignin does not add any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, because the emissions are offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed during the growth of the plants used to make the ethanol. As a result, substituting cellulosic ethanol for gasoline can slash greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent or more.
Fischer-Tropsch process: a set of chemical reactions that convert a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons that can be used as fuel

Another promising biofuel is so-called green diesel. Researchers have produced this fuel by first gasifying biomassheating organic materials enough that they release hydrogen and carbon monoxideand then converting these compounds into long-chain hydrocarbons using the Fischer-Tropsch process. (During World War II, German engineers employed these chemical reactions to make synthetic motor fuels out of coal.) The result would be an economically competitive liquid fuel for motor vehicles that would add virtually no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell is currently investigating the technology.

Policies to promote new renewables

Each of these renewable sources is now at or near a tipping point, the crucial stage when investment and innovation, as well as market access, could enable these attractive but generally marginal providers to become major contributors to regional and global energy supplies. At the same time, aggressive policies designed to open markets for renewables are taking hold at city, state and federal levels around the world. Governments have adopted these policies for a wide variety of reasons: to promote market diversity or energy security, to bolster industries and jobs, and to protect the environment on both the local and global scales. In the U.S. more than 20 states have adopted standards setting a minimum for the fraction of electricity that must be supplied with renewable sources. Germany plans to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, and Sweden intends to give up fossil fuels entirely. But perhaps the most important step toward creating a sustainable energy economy is to institute market-based schemes to make the prices of carbon fuels reflect their social cost. The use of coal, oil and natural gas imposes a huge collective toll on society, in the form of health care expenditures for ailments caused by air pollution, military spending to secure oil supplies, environmental damage from mining operations, and the potentially devastating economic impacts of global warming. A fee on carbon emissions would provide a simple, logical and transparent method to reward renewable, clean energy sources over those that harm the economy and the environment. The tax revenues could pay for some of the social costs of carbon emissions, and a portion could be designated to compensate low-income families who spend a larger share of their income on energy. Furthermore, the carbon fee could be combined with a cap-and-trade program that would set limits on carbon emissions but also allow the cleanest energy suppliers to sell permits to their dirtier competitors. The federal government has used such programs with great success to curb other pollutants, and several northeastern states are already experimenting with greenhouse gas emissions trading.

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


Best of all, these steps would give energy companies an enormous financial incentive to advance the development and commercialization of renewable energy sources. In essence, the U.S. has the opportunity to foster an entirely new industry. The threat of climate change can be a rallying cry for a clean-technology revolution that would strengthen the countrys manufacturing base, create thousands of jobs and alleviate our international trade deficitsinstead of importing foreign oil, we can export high-efficiency vehicles, appliances, wind turbines and photovoltaics. This transformation can turn the nations energy sector into something that was once deemed impossible: a vibrant, environmentally sustainable engine of growth.
Adapted from Kammen, D. M. (2006). The Rise of Renewable Energy. Scientific American, September: 8493. Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2006 Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved.

8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal

Decades before modern solar panels and wind turbines were developed, we used the energy contained in running water and under the Earths surface. Water-generated energy called hydroelectric power or hydropower taps the kinetic energy of moving water to generate electricity. For over a century dams have been built in the United States to exploit this energy resource. Geothermal power makes use of heated water that is deep underground to produce steam to generate electricity. Because the water cycle keeps water moving, and because the geologic conditions that produce underground hot water and steam will continue to do so indefinitely, hydropower and geothermal power are considered renewable forms of energy. In the first part of the following section staff writers with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) review advantages and disadvantages associated with the development and use of hydropower resources. The main advantage is that hydropower generates electricity without fossil fuel combustion and so there are no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. However, because hydropower usually involves the construction of a dam in order to create a reservoir to hold water in place, it can have a number of ecological and social impacts. These include the destruction of wildlife habitat and homes as well as modification of river flow patterns. In the second part of this section staff writers with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) explain some of the basics of geothermal power. Geothermal resources can directly provide hot water for industrial purposes or be converted to electricity through geothermal power plants. The article points out that even the low-grade geothermal energy that exists underground nearly everywhere can be tapped to heat and cool homes and buildings. Such geothermal heat pump systems make use of the relatively constant temperature of 50 to 60 F just ten feet below the surface to cool spaces in the summer and heat them in the winter.

By the United States Geological Survey


lthough most energy in the United States is produced by fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants, hydroelectricity is still important to the Nation, as about 7 percent of total power is produced by hydroelectric plants. Nowadays, huge power generators are placed inside dams. Water flowing through the dams spin turbine blades which are connected to generators. Power is produced and is sent to homes and businesses.

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


World distribution of hydropower

Hydropower is the most important and widely-used renewable source of energy. Hydropower represents 19% of total electricity production. China is the largest producer of hydroelectricity, followed by Canada, Brazil, and the United States (Source: Energy Information Administration).
Walter Meayers Edwards/National Geographic Stock

Approximately two-thirds of the economically feasible potential remains to be developed. Untapped hydro resources are still abundant in Latin America, Central Africa, India and China. Producing electricity using hydroelectric power has some advantages over other power-producing methods. Lets do a quick comparison:

Advantages to hydroelectric power:

While Glen Canyon Dam provides abundant electricity to major cities of the American West, it has had considerable impacts on the Colorado River ecosystem. Before the dams construction, the section of river below Glen Canyon contained silty, warmer water, favoring native fish such as humpback chub and razorback sucker. Since the dams completion, water below the dam tends to be colder and to favor trout.

Fuel is not burned so there is minimal pollution Water to run the power plant is provided free by nature Hydropower plays a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions Relatively low operations and maintenance costs The technology is reliable and proven over time

Its renewablerainfall renews the water in the reservoir, so the fuel is almost always there.

Disadvantages to power plants that use coal, oil, and gas fuel:
They use up valuable and limited natural resources They can produce a lot of pollution Companies have to dig up the Earth or drill wells to get the coal, oil, and gas

For nuclear power plants there are waste-disposal problems

Hydroelectric power is not perfect, though, and does have some disadvantages: High investment costs Hydrology dependent (precipitation) In some cases, inundation of land and wildlife habitat In some cases, loss or modification of fish habitat Fish entrainment or passage restriction In some cases, changes in reservoir and stream water quality In some cases, displacement of local populations

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


Hydropower and the environment

Hydropower is nonpolluting, but does have environmental impacts
Hydropower does not pollute the water or the air. However, hydropower facilities can have large environmental impacts by changing the environment and affecting land use, homes, and natural habitats in the dam area. Most hydroelectric power plants have a dam and a reservoir. These structures may obstruct fish migration and affect their populations. Operating a hydroelectric power plant may also change the water temperature and the rivers flow. These changes may harm native plants and animals in the river and on land. Reservoirs may cover peoples homes, important natural areas, agricultural land, and archeological sites. So building dams can require relocating people. Methane, a strong greenhouse gas, may also form in some reservoirs and be emitted to the atmosphere.

Reservoir construction is drying up in the United States

[H]ydroelectric power sounds greatso why dont we use it to produce all of our power? Mainly because you need lots of water and a lot of land where you can build a dam and reservoir, which all takes a LOT of money, time, and construction. In fact, most of the good spots to locate hydro plants have already been taken. In the early part of the century hydroelectric plants supplied a bit less than one-half of the nations power, but the number is down to about 10 percent today. The trend for the future will probably be to build small-scale hydro plants that can generate electricity for a single community. [T]he construction of surface reservoirs has slowed considerably in recent years. In the middle of the 20th Century, when urbanization was occurring at a rapid rate, many reservoirs were constructed to serve peoples rising demand for water and power. Since about 1980, the rate of reservoir construction has slowed considerably.

Typical hydroelectric powerplant

Hydroelectric energy is produced by the force of falling water. The capacity to produce this energy is dependent on both the available flow and the height from which it falls. Building up behind a high dam, water accumulates potential energy. This is transformed into mechanical energy when the water rushes down the sluice and strikes the rotary blades of the turbine. The turbines rotation spins electromagnets which generate current in stationary coils of wire. Finally, the current is put through a transformer where the voltage is increased for long distance transmission over power lines.

Hydroelectric-power production in the United States and the world

[I]n the United States, most states make some use of hydroelectric power, although, as you can expect, states with low topographical relief, such as Florida and Kansas, produce very little hydroelectric power. But some states, such as Idaho, Washington, and Oregon use hydroelectricity as their main power source. In 1995, all of Idahos power came from hydroelectric plants.

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


Hydroelectric Power Generation

Power transmission cables

Transformer Sluice gates


Storage resevoir




Power house




Stream Outlet

Illustration by Maury Aaseng

Figure 8.1

Hydroelectric Powerplant. Hydroelectric dams generate electricity via the force of falling water. Once a river is blocked by a dam to form a reservoir, the dams sluice gates can be opened, allowing falling water to push powerful turbines that generate electricity. The electric current is run through a transformer to prepare it for transmission to utility customers.

China has developed large hydroelectric facilities in the last decade and now lead the world in hydroelectricity usage. But, from north to south and from east to west, countries all over the world make use of hydroelectricitythe main ingredients are a large river and a drop in elevation.
Adapted from: (no date). Hydroelectric Power Water Use. United States Geological Survey (USGS). Available online at:

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


By National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Geothermal Energy
Many technologies have been developed to take advantage of geothermal energythe heat from the earth. This heat can be drawn from several sources: hot water or steam reservoirs deep in the earth that are accessed by drilling; geothermal reservoirs located near the earths surface, mostly located in the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii; and the shallow ground near the Earths surface that maintains a relatively constant temperature of 508608F.

Paul Chesley/National Geographic Stock

Geothermal steam runs from its source, a geothermal plant in Iceland, to an electric power plant.

This variety of geothermal resources allows them to be used on both large and small scales. A utility can use the hot water and steam from reservoirs to drive generators and produce electricity for its customers. Other applications apply the heat produced from geothermal directly to various uses in buildings, roads, agriculture, and industrial plants. Still others use the heat directly from the ground to provide heating and cooling in homes and other buildings.

Geothermal direct use

Geothermal reservoirs of hot water, which are found a few miles or more beneath the Earths surface, can be used to provide heat directly. This is called the direct use of geothermal energy. Geothermal direct use has a long history, going back to when people began using hot springs for bathing, cooking food, and loosening feathers and skin from game. Today, hot springs are still used as spas. But there are now more sophisticated ways of using this geothermal resource. In modern direct-use systems, a well is drilled into a geothermal reservoir to provide a steady stream of hot water. The water is brought up through the well, and a mechanical systempiping, a heat exchanger, and controlsdelivers the heat directly for its intended use. A disposal system then either injects the cooled water underground or disposes of it on the surface. Geothermal hot water can be used for many applications that require heat. Its current uses include heating buildings (either individually or whole towns), raising plants in greenhouses, drying crops, heating water at fish farms, and several industrial processes, such as pasteurizing milk.

Geothermal electricity production

Geothermal power plants use steam produced from reservoirs of hot water found a few miles or more below the Earths surface to produce electricity. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity.

Section 8.2 Traditional RenewablesHydropower and Geothermal


There are three types of geothermal power plants: dry steam, flash steam, and binary cycle.

Dry steam
Dry steam power plants draw from underground resources of steam. The steam is piped directly from underground wells to the power plant where it is directed into a turbine/ generator unit. There are only two known underground resources of steam in the United States: The Geysers in northern California and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where theres a well-known geyser called Old Faithful. Since Yellowstone is protected from development, the only dry steam plants in the country are at The Geysers.

Flash steam
Flash steam power plants are the most common and use geothermal reservoirs of water with temperatures greater than 3608F (1828C). This very hot water flows up through wells in the ground under its own pressure. As it flows upward, the pressure decreases and some of the hot water boils into steam. The steam is then separated from the water and used to power a turbine/generator. Any leftover water and condensed steam are injected back into the reservoir, making this a sustainable resource.

Binary steam
Binary cycle power plants operate on water at lower temperatures of about 22583608F (10781828C). Binary cycle plants use the heat from the hot water to boil a working fluid, usually an organic compound with a low boiling point. The working fluid is vaporized in a heat exchanger and used to turn a turbine. The water is then injected back into the ground to be reheated. The water and the working fluid are kept separated during the whole process, so there are little or no air emissions.

Geothermal heat pumps

Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the nearly constant temperature of the Earth to heat and cool buildings. The shallow ground, or the upper 10 feet of the Earth, maintains a temperature between 508 and 608F (108168C). This temperature is warmer than the air above it in the winter and cooler in the summer. Geothermal heat pump systems consist of three parts: the ground heat exchanger, the heat pump unit, and the air delivery system (ductwork). The heat exchanger is a system of pipes called a loop, which is buried in the shallow ground near the building. A fluid (usually water or a mixture of water and antifreeze) circulates through the pipes to absorb or relinquish heat within the ground. In the winter, the heat pump removes heat from the heat exchanger and pumps it into the indoor air delivery system. In the summer, the process is reversed, and the heat pump moves heat from the indoor air into the heat exchanger. The heat removed from the indoor air during the summer can also be used to heat water, providing a free source of hot water.

Section 8.3 Nuclear Power


Geothermal heat pumps use much less energy than conventional heating systems, since they draw heat from the ground. They are also more efficient when cooling your home. Not only does this save energy and money, it reduces air pollution. All areas of the United States have nearly constant shallow-ground temperatures, which are suitable for geothermal heat pumps.
Adapted from: (no date). Geothermal Heat Pumps. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Available online at:

8.3 Nuclear Power

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a catastrophe at Japans Fukushima nuclear complex has reignited debates over the role and safety of nuclear power. Because nuclear power can generate electricity without carbon dioxide emissions, it has been identified as a potentially useful way to meet our energy needs in a climate-friendly manner. However, concerns over nuclear safety, the disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste, and the high cost of nuclear construction have hindered the development of this energy source. In this section, Robinson OBrien-Bours of the Ashbrook Center and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute respond to the nuclear crisis in Japan and offer differing viewpoints of the future for nuclear power. Most nuclear reactors, including the ones damaged by the tsunami in Japan, are based on the concept of nuclear fission. In nuclear fission, the nuclei of a heavy element like uranium is bombarded with neutrons causing it to split apart and release multiple neutrons along with heat and radiation. The neutrons released in this process can go on and bombard other uranium atoms and create a chain reaction, releasing massive amounts of energy in the process. This is the basic idea behind a nuclear bomb. In a nuclear power plant, the chain reaction is controlled, and the heat released in the fission process is used nuclear reactor: a to boil water and produce steam to spin a turbine and generate electricity. device that initiates and In the first part of this section, Robinson OBrien-Bours argues that the events that triggered the nuclear catastrophe in Japan were so unprecedented that the situation there should not have any bearing on decisions to develop nuclear power in the United States. He goes on to suggest that newer nuclear reactor designs are far safer than the design used at the plant in Japan. In the second part of this section, physicist Amory Lovins argues that the same sort of catastrophe could indeed occur in the U.S. and that nuclear power is the only form of energy that leaves so little room for error. Beyond safety concerns, Lovins also points out that, even before the Japan nuclear disaster, demand for new nuclear power plants was in steep decline due to the high costs associated with this form of energy. As such, its not public opposition or safety fears that are preventing a nuclear resurgence in the U.S., just economics.
maintains a controlled nuclear fission chain reaction to produce electricity

nuclear fission: a nuclear reaction in which large atoms of certain elements are split into smaller atoms with the release of a large amount of energy

Section 8.3 Nuclear Power


In defense of nuclear power

By Robinson OBrien-Bours
hat is going on with the Japanese nuclear reactors is, without question, a terrible event that can possibly add more hardship onto an already unspeakable tragedy. The explosions and the threat of a radiation leak are troubling, and Japanese engineers and scientists are doing everything humanly possible to contain the situation. Yes, there is a threat of a nuclear meltdownbut there is also a chance that an asteroid will slam into the Earth on December 12, 2012, or that the next time you cross the street a semi will hit you. Opponents of nuclear energy in the United States ought not to politicize this horrible tragedy in their attempts to stop the spread of the cleanest and most efficient, environmentally-friendly source of energy that we have.

The media is comparing the threat to Chernobyl and some politicians are calling for a complete Just as nuclear power appeared poised to moratorium on the spread of nuclear energy. make a come-back as a source of zerocarbon energy, the disaster at Japans This is nothing more than sensationalist fearFukashima Daiichi reactor reminded people mongering. The Chernobyl disaster was caused of the long-term risks even one accident by the absurd inefficiencies of the Soviets and poses to communities. massive flaws in the power plants design. The primary problematic power plant in Japan has safeguard after safeguard installed, including a special container around the reactor built specifically for this kind of disaster situation. Should the container be breached, the Japanese government already has things in place to pour concrete over it as was done to contain Chernobyl. It is worth noting that the facility itself was fairly agedforty years, I read in one articleand that newer designs have even more safeguards and redundancies to prevent this type of thing. It is also worth noting that this facility withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, and a subsequent tsunamiand yet, despite this, the disaster is unfolding very, very slowly, meaning Chernobyl: an accident that the safeguards were mostly doing their job and that the Japanese that occurred on are doing a good job at attempting to avert this disaster. These types April 26, 1986, at the of disasters do not happen frequently; seeking a nuclear moratorium Chernobyl Nuclear because of this event is no different than refusing to step on a plane Power Plant in the because they crash or get taken over occasionally. Ukrainian SSR resulting
in the release of large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere

Disasters happen, and we are usually well-prepared for them. Some are more severe than we can possibly imagine, and they test and endanger us. Rather than living in fear that such disasters will happen all the time, we should focus ononce this crisis is overlearning

Section 8.3 Nuclear Power


about what went wrong and what went right with these reactors in Japan, and working to address or implement whatever is discovered. We need to take this opportunity to make nuclear power better, more efficient, and more safe than it already is for these once-ina-lifetime natural disasters. And this problem is just that: one caused by a severe natural disaster, not the incompetence of engineers or operators. As our country continues the debate over nuclear power, we should keep that fact in mind; its a problem, yeah, but it is a rare oneand one that we are getting much better at preparing for and addressing. There are real fears and concerns over nuclear energy, and what Japan is facing right now is a horrible situation on top of a heartbreaking tragedy that I hope they can overcome, but we should take the opportunity to learn how to make this clean and efficient power better and safer for our usenot retreat into sensationalism and ban even the thought of pursuing nuclear energy.
Adapted from OBrien-Bours, R. 2011. In Defense of Nuclear Power. Environment. Copyright Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Available online at:

Learning from Japans nuclear disaster

By Armory B. Lovins
s heroic workers and soldiers strive to save stricken Japan from a new horror radioactive falloutsome truths known for 40 years bear repeating.
meltdown: the melting of a nuclear reactor vessel causing the release of a substantial amount of radiation into the environment

An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127 million people is an unwise place for 54 reactors. The 1960s design of five Fukushima-I reactors has the smallest safety margin and probably cant contain 90 percent of meltdowns. The U.S. has six identical and 17 very similar plants. Every currently operating light-water reactor, if deprived of power and cooling water, can melt down. Fukushima had eight-hour battery reserves, but fuel has melted in three reactors. Most U.S. reactors get in trouble after four hours. Some have had shorter blackouts. Much longer ones could happen.

Overheated fuel risks hydrogen or steam explosions that damage equipment and contaminate the whole siteso clustering many reactors together (to save money) can make failure at one reactor cascade to the rest.

light-water reactor: a common nuclear reactor that uses water as a moderator and coolant

Nuclear power is uniquely unforgiving: as Swedish Nobel physicist Hannes Alfvn said, No acts of God can be permitted. Fallible people have created its half-century history of a few calamities, a steady stream of worrying incidents, and many near-misses. America has been lucky so far. Had Three Mile Islands containment dome not been built doublestrength because it was under an airport landing path, it may not have withstood the 1979 accidents hydrogen explosion. In 2002, Ohios Davis-Besse reactor was luckily caught just before its massive pressure-vessel lid rusted through.

Section 8.3 Nuclear Power


Regulators havent resolved these or other key safety issues, such as terrorist threats to reactors, lest they disrupt a powerful industry. U.S. regulation is not clearly better than Japanese regulation, nor more transparent: industry-friendly rules bar the American public from meaningful participation. Many presidents nuclear boosterism [the practice of actively promoting] also discourages inquiry and dissent. Nuclear-promoting regulators inspire even less confidence. The International Atomic Energy Agencys 2005 estimate of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with a rigorous 2009 review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the IAEA overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America. The total toll now exceeds a million, plus a half-trillion dollars economic damage. The fallout reached four continents, just as the jet stream could swiftly carry Fukushima fallout.

Jack Fletcher/National Geographic Stock

A man carefully places the fuel element into a shipboard nuclear reactor.

Fukushima I-4s spent fuel alone, while in the reactor, had produced (over years, not in an instant) more than a hundred times more fission energy and hence radioactivity than both 1945 atomic bombs. If that already-damaged fuel keeps overheating, it may melt or burn, releasing into the air things like cesium-137 and strontium-90, which take several centuries to decay a millionfold. Unit 3s fuel is spiked with plutonium, which takes 482,000 years.

The cost of nuclear power

Nuclear power is the only energy source where mishap or malice can kill so many people so far away; the only one whose ingredients can help make and hide nuclear bombs; the only climate solution that substitutes proliferation, accident, and high-level radioactive waste dangers. Indeed, nuclear plants are so slow and costly to build that they reduce and retard climate protection. Heres how. Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about two to ten times less carbon savings and is 20 to 40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings (cogeneration), and renewable energy. The last two made 18 percent of the worlds 2009 electricity (while nuclear made 13 percent, reversing their 2000 shares)and made over 90 percent of the 2007 to 2008 increase in global electricity production.

Section 8.3 Nuclear Power


Those smarter choices are sweeping the global energy market. Half the worlds new generating capacity in 2008 and 2009 was renewable. In 2010, renewables, excluding big hydro dams, won $151 billion of private investment and added over 50 billion watts (70 percent the total capacity of all 23 Fukushima-style U.S. reactors) while nuclear got zero private investment and kept losing capacity. Supposedly unreliable windpower made 43 percent to 52 percent of four German states total 2010 electricity. Non-nuclear Denmark, 21 percent windpowered, plans to get entirely off fossil fuels. Hawaii plans 70 percent renewables by 2025. In contrast, of the 66 nuclear units worldwide officially listed as under construction at the end of 2010, 12 had been so listed for over 20 years, 45 had no official startup date, half were late, all 66 were in centrally planned power systems50 of those in just four (China, India, Russia, South Korea)and zero were free-market purchases. Since 2007, nuclear growth has added less annual output than just the costliest renewablesolar powerand will probably never catch up. While inherently safe renewable competitors are walloping both nuclear and coal plants in the marketplace and keep getting dramatically cheaper, nuclear costs keep soaring, and with greater safety precautions would go even higher. Tokyo Electric Co., just recovering from $1020 billion in 2007 earthquake costs at its other big nuclear complex, now faces an even more ruinous Fukushima bill. Since 2005, new U.S. reactors (if any) have been 100 percent-plus subsidizedyet they couldnt raise a cent of private capital, because they have no business case. They cost 23 times as much as new windpower, and by the time you could build a reactor, it couldnt even beat solar power. Competitive renewables, cogeneration, and efficient use can displace all U.S. coal power more than 23 times overleaving ample room to replace nuclear powers half-as-big-as-coal contribution toobut we need to do it just once. Yet the nuclear industry demands ever more lavish subsidies, and its lobbyists hold all other energy efforts hostage for tens of billions in added ransom, with no limit.

Moving forward
Japan, for its size, is even richer than America in benign, ample, but long-neglected energy choices. Perhaps this tragedy will call Japan to global leadership into a post-nuclear world. And before America suffers its own Fukushima, it too should ask, not whether unfinanceably costly new reactors are safe, but why build any more, and why keep running unsafe ones. China has suspended reactor approvals. Germany just shut down the oldest 41 percent of its nuclear capacity for study. Americas nuclear lobby says it cant happen here, so pile on lavish new subsidies. A durable myth claims Three Mile Island halted U.S. nuclear orders. Actually they stopped over a year beforedead of an incurable attack of market forces. No doubt when nuclear powers collapse in the global marketplace, already years old, is finally acknowledged, it will be blamed on Fukushima. While we pray for the best in Japan today, let us hope its peoples sacrifice will help speed the world to a safer, more competitive energy future.
Adapted from Lovins, A. B. 2011. Learning from Japans Nuclear Disaster. Published by Rocky Mountain Institute Available online at:

Section 8.4 Energy Efficiency


8.4 Energy Efficiency

Although much attention is focused on the potential for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, relatively little consideration is given to the idea of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency can be defined as achieving the same outcome (lighting a room, driving a mile) while using less energy. The logic behind the pursuit of energy efficiency is simple: lowering energy demand through efficiency means reducing the need to produce energy in the first placeregardless of where that energy actually comes from. In the following reading, Eberhard K. Jochem of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology provides examples of energy efficiency in action and suggests ways to boost the efficiency of energy use in the future. Just as section 5.4 discussed reducing water demand as a means of addressing potential water shortages, energy efficiency focuses on the demand side of the equation rather than the supply side. Aggressive efforts to improve the efficiency of energy use in cars, homes, and businesses bring multiple benefits. Improved vehicle efficiency could reduce oil demand and decrease our dependence on foreign oil sources. More efficient use of electricity in homes and businesses could reduce the need to burn as much coal in power plants and reduce both local/regional air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions. However, there are economic and political barriers to more widespread adoption of energy efficiency measures. Because energy efficiency typically involves an upfront cost with payback over timefor example, adding insulation to a home or installing new, energy-efficient windowsmany homeowners and businesses hesitate or are unable to make such investments. Politically, energy efficiency does not seem as exciting as new energy sources like wind and solar, nor does it have a political lobby behind it the way fossil fuels do. These and other barriers can be overcome through policies such as tax incentives for energy efficient investments and better labeling of efficient appliances.

By Eberhard K. Jochem

he huge potential of energy efficiency measures for mitigating the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere attracts little attention when placed alongside the more glamorous alternatives of nuclear, hydrogen or renewable energies. But developing a comprehensive efficiency strategy is the fastest and cheapest thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions. It can also be profitable and astonishingly effective, as two recent examples demonstrate. From 2001 through 2005, Procter & Gambles factory in Germany increased production by 45 percent, but the energy needed to run machines and to heat, cool and ventilate buildings rose by only 12 percent, and carbon emissions remained at the 2001 level. The major pillars supporting this success include highly efficient illumination, compressed-air systems, new designs for heating and air conditioning, funneling heat losses from compressors into heating buildings, and detailed energy measurement and billing. In some 4,000 houses and buildings in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia, extensive insulation, highly efficient windows and energy-conscious design have led to enormous efficiency increases, enabling energy budgets for heating that are a sixth of the requirement for typical buildings in these countries. Improved efficiencies can be realized all along the energy chain, from the conversion of primary energy (oil, for example) to energy carriers (such as electricity) and finally to useful energy (the heat in your toaster). The annual global primary energy demand is 447,000 petajoules (a petajoule is roughly 300 gigawatt-hours), 80 percent of which comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Section 8.4 Energy Efficiency


After conversion these primary energy sources deliver roughly 300,000 petajoules of so-called final energy to customers in the form of electricity, gasoline, heating oil, jet fuel, and so on. The next step, the conversion of electricity, gasoline, and the like to useful energy in engines, boilers and lightbulbs, causes further energy losses of 154,000 petajoules. Thus, at present almost 300,000 petajoules, or two thirds of the primary energy, are lost during the two stages of energy conversion. Furthermore, all useful energy is eventually dissipated as heat at various temperatures. Insulating buildings more effectively, changing industrial processes and driving lighter, more aerodynamic cars would reduce the demand for useful energy, thus substantially reducing energy wastage.

Blend Images/photolibrary

Citizens and businesses alike are finding that energy efficiency, such as use of energy efficient appliances, offers significant financial savings, while also reducing pollution.

Given the challenges presented by climate change and the high increases expected in energy prices, the losses that occur all along the energy chain can also be viewed as opportunitiesand efficiency is one of the most important. New technologies and know-how must replace the present intensive use of energy and materials.

Room for improvement

Because conservation measures, whether incorporated into next years car design or a new type of power plant, can have a dramatic impact on energy consumption, they also have an enormous effect on overall carbon emissions. In this mix, buildings and houses, which are notoriously inefficient in many countries today, offer the greatest potential for saving energy. In countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and in the megacities of emerging countries, buildings contribute more than one third of total energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Little heralded but impressive advances have already been made, often in the form of efficiency improvements that are invisible to the consumer. Beginning with the energy crisis in the 1970s, air conditioners in the U.S. were redesigned to use less power with little loss in cooling capacity and new U.S. building codes required more insulation and doublepaned windows. New refrigerators use only one quarter of the power of earlier models. (With approximately 150 million refrigerators and freezers in the U.S., the difference in consumption between 1974 efficiency levels and 2001 levels is equivalent to avoiding the generation of 40 gigawatts at power plants.) Changing to compact fluorescent lightbulbs yields an instant reduction in power demand; these bulbs provide as much light as regular incandescent bulbs, last life-cycle cost: the sum 10 times longer and use just one fourth to one fifth the energy. of all recurring and oneDespite these gains, the biggest steps remain to be taken. Many buildings were designed with the intention of minimizing construction costs rather than life-cycle cost, including energy use, or simply in ignorance of energy-saving considerations. Take roof overhangs, for
time (non-recurring) costs over the full life span of a good, service, structure, or system

Section 8.4 Energy Efficiency


example, which in warm climates traditionally measured a meter or so and which are rarely used today because of the added cost, although they would control heat buildup on walls and windows. One of the largest European manufacturers of prefabricated houses is now offering zero-net-energy houses: these well-insulated and intelligently designed structures with solar-thermal and photovoltaic collectors do not need commercial energy, and their total cost is similar to those of new houses built to conform to current building codes. Because buildings have a 50- to 100-year lifetime, efficiency retrofits are essential. But we need to coordinate changes in existing buildings thoughtfully to avoid replacing a single component, such as a furnace, while leaving in place leaky ducts and single-pane windows that waste much of the heat the new furnace produces. One example highlights what might be done in industry: although some carpet manufacturers still dye their products at 100 to 140 degrees Celsius, others dye at room temperature using enzyme technology, reducing the energy demand by more than 90 percent.

The importance of policy

To realize the full benefits of efficiency, strong energy policies are essential. Among the underlying reasons for the crucial role of policy are the dearth of knowledge by manufacturers and the public about efficiency options, budgeting methods that do not take proper account of the ongoing benefits of long-lasting investments, and market imperfections such as external costs for carbon emissions and other costs of energy use. Energy policy set by governments has traditionally underestimated the benefits of efficiency. Of course, factors other than policy can drive changes in efficiencyhigher energy prices, new technologies or cost competition, for instance. But policies which include energy taxes, financial incentives, professional training, labeling, environmental legislation, greenhouse gas emissions trading and international coordination of regulations for traded productscan make an enormous difference. Furthermore, rapid growth in demand for energy services in emerging countries provides an opportunity to implement energy-efficient policies from the outset as infrastructure grows: programs to realize efficient solutions in buildings, transport systems and industry would give people the energy services they need without having to build as many power plants, refineries or gas pipelines. Japan and the countries of the European Union have been more eager to reduce oil imports than the U.S. has and have encouraged productivity gains through energy taxes and other measures. But all OECD countries except Japan have so far failed to update appliance standards. Nor do gas and electric bills in OECD countries indicate how much energy is used for heating, say, as opposed to boiling water or which uses are

Mike Kemp/Rubberball/photolibrary

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives is one way to reduce energy consumption at work and home.

Section 8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building


the most energy-intensivethat is, where a reduction in usage would produce the greatest energy savings. In industry, compressed air, heat, cooling and electricity are often not billed by production line but expressed as an overhead cost. Nevertheless, energy efficiency has a higher profile in Europe and Japan. A retrofitting project in Ludwigshafen, Germany, serves as just one example. Five years ago 500 dwellings were equipped to adhere to low-energy standards (about 30 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year), reducing the annual energy demand for heating those buildings by a factor of six. Before the retrofit, the dwellings were difficult to rent; now demand is three times greater than capacity. Other similar projects abound. The Board of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, for instance, has suggested a technological program aimed at what we call the 2,000-Watt Societyan annual primary energy use of 2,000 watts (or 65 gigajoules) per capita. Realizing this vision in industrial countries would reduce the per capita energy use and related carbon emissions by two thirds, despite a two-thirds increase in GDP, within the next 60 to 80 years. Swiss scientists, including myself, have been evaluating this plan since 2002, and we have concluded that the goal of the 2,000-watt per capita society is technically feasible for industrial countries in the second half of this century. To some people, the term energy efficiency implies reduced comfort. But the concept of efficiency means that you get the same servicea comfortable room or convenient travel from home to workusing less energy. The EU, its member states and Japan have begun to tap the substantialand profitablepotential of efficiency measures. To avoid the rising costs of energy supplies and the even costlier adaptations to climate change, efficiency must become a global activity.
Adapted from Jochem, E. K. 2006. An Efficient Solution. Scientific American, September: 6467. Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2006 Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved.

8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building

Commercial buildings are a significant consumer of energy in our society and a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. In this article, Kirk Johnson of The New York Times profiles a fascinating experiment in constructing a net zero energy commercial office building. A net zero building is designed to produce as much energy as it uses over the course of a day, week, month, or year. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) building in Golden, Colorado, is designed to do just that. The building is first and foremost designed to be ultra-energy efficient. Because even the most energy efficient building still needs energy, it also incorporates renewable sources of energy, including a solar photovoltaic system, into its design. An interesting fact about this project is that it has been done using existing technologies and at a cost that is comparable to traditional building designs. Many homes, offices, and other buildings built in the United States suffer from what is sometimes called a principal-agent problem. The principal-agent problem is when one person or business makes decisions that will have a large impact on energy consumption while another person or business actually pays the energy bills. Many home and office builders cut corners on energy efficient

Section 8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building


principal-agent problem: situation that occurs when someone makes a decision that impacts energy consumption and the cost is passed on to another person or business

features during construction in order to keep costs down. Likewise, they are unlikely to include any renewable energy features in construction. However, once the home or office is occupied a different person has to live with and pay for these decisions. Some builders do invest in energy efficient insulation, windows, and appliances, and they seek an efficiency premium in return, but they are in the minority. Another good example of the principal-agent problem is the landlord who refuses to improve the efficiency of an apartment in cases where the tenant has to pay the energy bills.

There was no principal-agent problem in the design and construction of the NREL building in Colorado. From start to finish energy efficiency and renewable energy were prime objectives of the project. A key insight provided by this and other zero energy projects is that the potential for renewable energy is greatly enhanced when renewable technologies are paired with energy efficiency. If a home or office building is energy inefficient it would require an enormous investment in solar panels or other renewable energy devices to meet energy demand. However, if energy demand can first be brought down by 30, 50, or 70% through efficiency measures, then a more modest investment in solar panels or other devices can meet the remaining demand for energy. Another key insight of this project is that if occupants of a building are provided with real-time information on how their behaviors influence energy consumption, they will often modify those behaviors in ways that can save significant amounts of energy over time.

By Kirk Johnson
he west-facing windows by Jim Duffields desk started automatically tinting blue at 2:50 p.m. on a recent Friday as the midwinter sun settled low over the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Around his plant-strewn work cubicle, low whirring air sounds emanated from speakers in the floor, meant to mimic the whoosh of conventional heating and air-conditioning systems, neither of which his 222,000-square-foot office building has, or needs, even here at 5,300 feet elevation. The generic white noise of pretend ductwork is purely for background and workplace psychologymanagers found that workers needed something more than silence. Meanwhile, the photovoltaic roof array was beating a retreat in the fading, low-angled light. It had until 1:35 p.m. been producing more electricity than the building could usea three-hour energy budget surplusinterrupted only around noon by a passing cloud formation. For Mr. Duffield, 62, it was just another day in what was designed, in painstaking detail, to be the largest net-zero energy office building in the nation. Hes still adjusting, six months after he and 800 engineers and managers and support staff from the National Renewable Energy Lab moved in to the $64 million building, which the federal agency has offered up as a template for how to do affordable, superenergy-efficient construction.

net-zero energy: a building or installation that produces as much energy as it consumes, considered to be energy self-sufficient or near self-sufficient

Section 8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building


Its sort of a wonderland, said Mr. Duffield, an administrative support worker, as the window shading system reached maximum. Most office buildings are divorced, in a way, from their surroundings. Each day in the mechanical trenches of heating, cooling and data processing is much the same as another but for the cost of paying for the energy used. The energy labs Research Support Facility building is more like a mirror, or perhaps a sponge, to its surroundings. From the light-bending window louvers [a window covering with adjustable slats] that cast rays up into the interior office spaces, to the giant concrete maze in the sub-basement for holding and storing radiant heat, every day is completely different.

Collecting data
This is the story of one randomly selected day in the still-new buildings life: Jan. 28, 2011. It was mostly sunny, above-average temperatures peaking in the mid-60s, light winds from the west-northwest. The sun rose at 7:12 a.m. By that moment, the central computer was already hard at work, tracking every watt in and out, seeking, always, the balance of zero net use over 24 hoursa goal that managers say probably wont be attainable until early next year [2012], when the third wing of the project and a parking complex are completed. With daylight, the buildings pulse quickened. The photovoltaic panels kicked in with electricity at 7:20 a.m. As employees began arriving, electricity usefrom cellphone chargers to elevators began to increase. Total demand, including the 65-watt maximum budget per workspace for all uses, lighting to computing, peaked at 9:40 a.m. Meanwhile, the basement data center, which handles processing needs for the 300-acre campus, was in full swing, peaking in electricity use at 10:10 a.m., as e-mail and research spreadsheets began firing through the circuitry. For Mr. Duffield and his co-workers, that was a good-news bad-news moment: The data center is by far the biggest energy user in the complex, but also one of its biggest producers of heat, which is captured and used to warm the rest of the building. If there is a secret clubhouse for the worlds energy and efficiency geeks, it probably looks and feels just about like this. Nothing in this building was built the way it usually is, said Jerry Blocher, a senior project manager at Haselden Construction, the general contractor for the project. The backdrop to everything here is that office buildings are, to people like Mr. Blocher, the unpicked fruit of energy conservation. Commercial buildings use about 18 percent of the

Section 8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building


nations total energy each year, and many of those buildings, especially in years past, were designed with barely a thought to energy savings, let alone zero net use. The answer at the research energy laboratory, a unit of the federal Department of Energy, is not gee-whiz science. There is no giant, expensive solar array that could mask a multitude of traditional design sins, but rather a rethinking of everything, down to the smallest elements, all aligned in a watt-by-watt march toward a new kind of building.

A living laboratory
Managers even pride themselves on the fact that hardly anything in their building, at least in its individual component pieces, is really new. Off-the-shelf technology, cost-efficient as well as energy-efficient, was the mantra to finding what designers repeatedly call the sweet spotzero energy that doesnt break a sweat, or the bank. More than 400 tour groups, from government agency planners to corporations to architects, have trouped through since the first employees moved in last summer. Its all doable technology, said Jeffrey M. Baker, the director of laboratory operations at the Department of Energys Golden field office. Its a living laboratory. Some of those techniques and tricks are as old as the great cathedrals of Europe (mass holds heat like a battery, which led to the concrete labyrinth in the subbasement). Light, as builders since the pyramids have known, can be bent to suit need, with louvers that fling sunbeams to white panels over the office workers heads to minimize electricity use. There are certainly some things that workers here are still getting used to. In nudging the building toward zero net electricity over 24 hours, lighting was a main target. That forced designers to lower the partition walls between work cubicles to only 42 or 54 inches (height decided by compass, or perhaps sundial, in maximizing the flow of natural light and ventilation), which raised privacy concerns among workers. Even the managers offices have no ceilingsagain to allow the flow of natural light, as cast from the ceiling. The open office is different, said Andrew Parker, an engineer. You want to be next to someone quiet.

Designing green behavior

Getting to the highest certification level in green building technology at reasonable cost also required an armada of creative decisions, large and small. The round steel structural columns that hold the building up? They came from 3,000 feet of natural gas pipebuilt for the old energy economy and never used. The wood trim in the lobby? Lodgepole pine trees310 of themkilled by a bark beetle that has infested millions of acres of forest in the West. Ultimately, construction costs were brought in at only $259 a square foot, nearly $77 below the average cost of a new super-efficient commercial office building, according to figures from Haselden Construction, the builder. Other components of the design are based on observation of human nature.

Section 8.5 Case HistoryA Zero Energy Office Building


People print less paper when they share a central printer that requires a walk to the copy room. People also use less energy, managers say, when they know how much theyre using. A monitor in the lobby offers real-time feedback on eight different measures. The feedback comes right down to a workers computer screen, where a little icon pops up when the buildings central computer says conditions are optimal to crank the handopened windows. (Other windows, harder to reach, open by computer command.) Rethinking work shifts can also contribute. Here, the custodial staff comes in at 5 p.m., two or three hours earlier than in most traditional office buildings, saving on the use of lights. The management of energy behavior, like the technology, is an experiment in progress. Right now people are on their best behavior, said Ron Judkoff, a lab program manager. Time will answer the question of whether you can really train people, or whether a coffee maker or something starts showing up.

Lessons learned
If Anthony Castellano is a measure, the training regimen has clearly taken root. Mr. Castellano, who joined the research laboratory last year as a Web designer after years in private industry, said the immersion in energy consciousness goes home with him at night. My kids are yelling at me because Im turning off all the lights, Mr. Castellano said. At 5:05 p.m., the solar cells stopped producing. Declining daylight in turn produced a brief spike in lighting use, at 5:55 p.m. Five minutes later, the building management system began shutting off lights in a rolling two-hour cycle (the computer gives a few friendly blinks, as a signal in case a late-working employee wants to leave the lights on.) Mr. Duffield, whose work space is surrounded by a miniature greenhouse of plants he has brought, said his desk has become a regular stop on the group tours. If the building is a living experiment, he said, then his garden is the experiment within the experiment. Coworkers stop by, joking in geek-speak about his plants, but also seriously checking up on them as a measure of building health. They refer to this as the buildings carbon sink, he said. And Mr. Duffields babiesamaryllis, African violet, a pink trumpet vineare very happy with all the refracted, reflected light they get, he said. The tropical trumpet vine in my house stops growing for the winter, he said. Here it has continued to grow, and when the days start getting longer it might even bloom.
Adapted from Johnson, K. 2011. Soaking Up the Sun to Squeeze Bills to Zero. New York Times. Available online at:

Chapter Summary


Chapter Summary

ossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas currently meet 80% of our energy requirements. However, concerns about the political, economic, and environmental impacts have increased interest in finding alternative energy sources. One possible approach would be to expand the use of nuclear power since this energy source is essentially carbon-free and therefore does not contribute to global climate change. However, nuclear power comes with its own issues of safety, cost, waste storage, and the dangers of nuclear material getting into the hands of terrorists. It has been suggested that we are now in the early stages of an energy revolution or transition away from non-renewable fossil fuels, and that we are moving toward using more renewable forms of energy like solar and wind. Earlier energy transitions included the shift from wood and other forms of biomass to coal in the 19th century, as well as the rapid rise in the use of oil over the second half of the 20th century. Any significant shift from non-renewable to renewable energy sources will require changes in the way we produce and consume energy, and it will also require significant investment in new technologies and infrastructure. A key difference between non-renewable and renewable energy sources can be illustrated through concepts of stocks and flows. Non-renewable energy sources such as oil and coal currently exist in fixed amounts or stocks. We cannot hope for any increase in these stocks. The highenergy content and versatility in use of these fossil fuel stocks makes them especially attractive as a form of energy. In contrast, renewable energy sources like wind and sunlight are available not as fixed stocks of energy but as flows. These flows are renewable in that the sun will keep on shining and the wind will keep blowing no matter how much we make use of them. In addition, these flows are massivethe total energy contained in one hour of sunlight shining on the Earth is more than all of the commercial energy consumed on the planet in one year; and the energy contained in wind represents more than 15 times the global energy demand. However, unlike the highly energy-dense fossil fuels these renewable energy flows are diffuse and intermittent. We have to deploy and develop extensive areas of solar panels and wind turbines to capture enough energy to meet demand, and we have to account for the fact that in a given location, on a particular day, the sun may not shine or the wind may not be strong enough to generate power. In this way we can categorize non-renewable energy sources as stock-limited and renewable energy sources as flow-limited. In order to more effectively make use of renewable energy technologies and electricity from nuclear power plants, we must pair their adoption with improvements in the efficiency of energy use. By first reducing energy demand through better lighting, appliances, windows, and insulation, we can reduce the quantity and magnitude of the renewable energy devices or nuclear power plants that need to be put in place to meet remaining energy demand. This concept of synergy between renewable energy and energy efficiency is best illustrated in so-called zero energy homes or buildings. Such structures produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a day, week, or month, and represent the feasibility of utilizing renewable energy sources to meet much of our energy needs. In the next chapter the focus shifts away from issues of energy and climate change to concerns over pollution and waste management. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy sources and nuclear power also have the potential to reduce local and regional air pollution problems. Moreover, efforts to reduce solid waste generation, such as through recycling, turn out to have significant benefits in terms of reducing energy use.

Chapter Summary


Critical Thinking and Discussion Questions

1. Solar photovoltaics are only one kind of renewable energy technology. What are the ideas behind the technologies to replace fossil fuel energy use? Discuss their benefits and current obstacles to widespread use. 2. Corn-based ethanol is a biofuel, but what current agriculture practices make the production of this renewable energy source unsustainable (also refer to Chapter 3 for further discussion)? 3. What role does the government have in making renewable energy sources accessible options for everyday consumers? What would help these consumers better understand the social costs of non-renewable sources? 4. All energy sources have drawbacks; even the clean hydropower option has negative ramifications. Weigh those against the possible consequences of developing nuclear power, a controversial alternative to fossil fuels. Discuss recent events in Japan as well as the 20th century Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in drawing conclusions about risk versus reward of nuclear energy use. 5. Based on the net-zero energy office building study, are energy efficiency and conservation efforts viable practices? Where do you think resistance to such efforts comes from? Why arent these practices more common?

Key Terms
biofuels gas or liquid fuel made from plant material Chernobyl an accident that occurred on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR, resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere Fischer-Tropsch process a set of chemical reactions that convert a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons that can be used as fuel life-cycle cost the sum of all recurring and onetime (non-recurring) costs over the full life span of a good, service, structure, or system light-water reactors a common nuclear reactor that uses water as a moderator and coolant meltdown the melting of a nuclear reactor vessel causing the release of a substantial amount of radiation into the environment net-zero energy a building or installation that produces as much energy as it consumes, considered to be energy self-sufficient or near self-sufficient nuclear fission a nuclear reaction in which large atoms of certain elements are split into smaller atoms with the release of a large amount of energy nuclear reactor a device that initiates and maintains a controlled nuclear fission chain reaction to produce electricity photovoltaics silicon-based energy cells that generate electricity when solar energy is absorbed; also called photovoltaic collectors principal-agent problem situation that occurs when someone makes a decision that impacts energy consumption and the cost is passed on to another person or business

Chapter Summary


renewable energy energy generated from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and water, which are naturally replenished wind farm a power plant made up of a collection of wind turbines used for generating electricity; usually located in flat, wide open places where there is a constant breeze

wind turbine a mechanical device that utilizes the kinetic energy of wind by capturing it and converting it into electricity