AE it is being held back by the following factors:
- Americans don't
appreciate the value of energy and continue to expect it to be "almost
free". AE usually costs more - cheap energy during
periodic oil gluts has undercut AE efforts.
- Lack of knowledge
about the real characteristics of various forms of AE. For example,
most people greatly over estimate the amount of energy produced by
a solar panel or a wind turbine. It takes a LOT of them to produce
energy on a meaningful scale. And they are intermittent sources which
are not producing significant energy a majority of the time.
- people think
"alternate energy" automatically means "zero environmental impact".
The land area required for serious wind, solar or biofuel efforts
means this is not true.
- So there are many people who are all for AE
when asked about it in theory, but fight against it in practice. If
it means a wind farm near them, or higher prices at the pump then
its strictly a no-go.
Kevin's 2 cents on Alternate Energy
Being in the middle means you get shot at from both
It may be easiest to define
my position on alternate energy (AE) by saying I am halfway between
the two extremes that sometimes seem to dominate the discussion -
- AE is trivially easy - some people look at those little solar path
lights that are so popular (which provide about .05 watts of electrical
power) and say "see how well this works - we should be able to run
the whole country this way (electrical generating capacity ~850,000,000,000
watts). It is only an evil conspiracy that keeps this from happening."
- AE is impossible - other people look at the technical problems associated
with some particular implementation of AE and say something like "this
method of ethanol production actually consumes more energy than it
produces (which may well be true). Therefore it is impossible that
any biofuel will ever be practical".
I am neither a true believer
nor a total nay-sayer: I believe alternate energy sources
such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass can help meet part of
our future energy needs. But it is not going to be easy or cheap and
there are a bunch of trade-offs to be considered. We must behard nosed and realistic about the capabilities and limitations of
the various AE options if we want to make real progress. Call me a
are a few things I think you should know....
Part One: framing the argument -
The first section is more about how
AE than about AE itself. In My Humble Opinion,
many AE discussions suffer from one or more common errors in how
argument is presented. Excessive hype, the fondness for catestrophic
predictions (particularly in the media), impressive but meaningless
statistics and improper generalizations are among the problems
that produce misleading impressions. Click Here
for more on the most
common pitfalls to avoid.
Want to participate intelligently in
the Alternate Energy debate?
Where does our energy currently comes from? How
is it used? How much is wasted?
Whats a Watt? A Kilowatt hour?
A BTU? A horsepower?
our current energy sources (petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear,
- where it goes (residential, industrial,
- a few comments on probable
developments and opportunities
for a few technical tidbits
that are important when discussing energy.
(Techie nerds can skip
this part. For the rest of you: I promise it won't hurt too much!)
- Definitions of common energy units
Treat your Kilowatts like Joules!
Part Two: Understand some
technical background -
characteristics of different alternate energy sources
Part Three: The possibilities of alternate energy
Think systems, not
the scale required for serious energy production
Is solar power ready to shine? Will we get blow away by wind
for my take on the advantages, disadvantages and
possibilities for a variety of alternate energy sources.
People focus too much on a particular
aspect of technology and lose sight of the "big picture". For example,
people get excited "because fuel cells are 70% efficient, much higher
than internal combustion engines". But the 70% figure is only for
the hydrogen to electricity conversion. How was the hydrogen generated
and what was the efficiency of that process? How was it stored and
transported and what were the losses involved there? Whether its hydrogen
or wind or biofuels you need to look at ALL of the inputs and outputs
from one end of the system to the other in order to make reasonable
solar path light comparison at the top of the page indicates, size
really does matter. Stuff that works for a small application
may or may not scale well.
This entire section is a work in progress and might
get updated (someday).