Some positive news amid the negativity.
Unless, of course, you are an oil and coal stalwart.
What part excites you most?
Renewables ramping up.
With news of Keystone and tar sands and coal-crazy China, it's easy to think that renewable energy is going nowhere, but we'd be wrong. Between 2008 & 2012, the U.S. nearly doubled its renewables capacity. And in the first 3 months of this year, 82% of newly installed domestic electricity-generating capacity was renewable. Plus, installed capacity of new solar units during the first quarter of this year is more than double that of same period last year.
Globally, 13 countries now get 30% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And Germany—with cloud cover worse than Alaska's—gets 21% of its electricity from renewables. In 2010, Germany, which is slightly smaller in size than Montana, produced about half the world's solar energy. That could depress you, or, it could remind us of the vastness of untapped potential. In April, at the first Pathways to 100% Renewables conference in San Francisco, I heard scientists declare that there's absolutely no technical obstacle to our planet's reaching 100% renewable energy in a few decades. Abetting the process, the cost of renewables is plummeting worldwide—that of electricity from large solar power plants fell by more than half, from $0.31 per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to $0.14 in 2012. Wind wows. Denmark's wind energy alone provides about 30% of the country's electricity, making it the world leader as ranked by the share of a country's electricity that wind power provides.
And U.S. wind power? We're 2nd only to China among the world's wind energy producers, with wind power equal to about 10 nuclear power stations or 40 coal-fired power stations. Growing up in oil-centric Texas, I would have been the last person to predict my home state's leadership. But in the 1990s 8 utility companies brought groups of citizens together to learn & to think through options. By the end of the process, they'd ranked efficiency higher than when they began, & the share of those willing to pay for renewables & conservation increased by more than 60%. Apparently, the utility companies listened:
If Texas were a country, it would now be the world's 6th ranking wind energy producer.
Cities, states, countries pledge to go clean: Eight countries, 42 cities, and 48 regions have shifted, or are committed to shifting within the next few decades, to 100% renewable energy in at least one sector (like electricity, transportation, or heating/cooling). In California, San Francisco, Lancaster, & San José have officially set their goal at 100% renewable electricity within the next decade. And if you're thinking, "Oh yeah, that's just California": Greensburg, Kan., set its goal at 100% renewable power for all sectors after the town was wiped out by a tornado in 2007. Colorado's target is 30% renewable electricity by 2020, a standard that's helped spur success—especially when it comes to wind. And Vermont's energy plan is set to get the state to 90% renewable energy in all sectors by mid-century.
And whole countries? Iceland already gets 100% of its electricity from renewables—three-quarters from large hydro and 25% from geothermal. In Costa Rica, it's about 95%—mainly from hydroelectric (which it's working to diversify), along with wind, biomass, & geothermal. Costa Rica's sights are set on becoming the world's first carbon-neutral country in time for its 2021 bicentennial. Absorbing more carbon will speed it along, so Costa Rica's forestry-financing agency is working with landowners to plant 7 million trees on cattle and coffee farms in the next few years. Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, & Iceland are also shooting to become the first carbon-neutral country. And Ethiopia unveiled plans to become a middle-income carbon-neutral country by 2025.
Citizens clobber coal.
Just since 2005, as part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, citizens across the country have stopped more than 165 coal plants from opening & successfully pushed for the retirement of more than 100 existing ones. The campaign aims to retire one third of America's remaining 500 coal plants by 2020. And if you're not registering how important this is, consider that coal accounts for more than 1/3 of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
In India, ten million families take part in roughly 100,000 "forest-management groups" responsible for protecting nearby woodlands. Motivation is high, especially for women, because firewood still provides three-fourths of the energy used in cooking. Working collaboratively with the Indian government, these groups cover a fifth of India's forests; and they're likely a reason that India is one of the few countries in the world to enjoy an increase in forest cover since 2005.
Renewable is awesome, it's still just not quite there yet.
Especially battery tech, that's the real problem. We have to be careful, because if we were to shift to 100% renewable, including cars, we would quickly run out of the materials needed to make batteries, and renewables won't work without batteries.
I still think fusion is the future of energy. Imagine your electric bill for the year being $1.
Batteries though, that's the real problem. We either need huge advancements in battery tech, including dropping our reliance on lithium, or we need to move to wireless power.
Energy companies would never be able to turn a profit on that, and so they'll never allow it, and not to mention, it just makes too much sense. Never gonna happen.
Well, it all depends on how it is handled, between who pays for how much R&D, plus or minus any loans or grants for building.
At first, it would be more expensive, but most peoples' bills would probably be cut in half... but the cost to produce power after a few years would drop down so low, electric bills would be almost an afterthought.
It could also potentially(seriously) get to the point of having your own reactor at home. A cup of seawater and you could power your home for a year... or a decade.
Batteries aren't THAT much of a problem. In capacity and charge-rate, battery technology is growing by leaps and bounds, driven not only by electric cars and solar power, but by our increasing dependence on portable devices... or didn't you notice that everyone has a phone surgically implanted in their hand around age 12 now?
The biggest narrow point on switching to alternates is still cars. Everything else is progressing at a fairly good rate. We need electric cars that can beat the performance of any ICE car, and we're almost there in everything but range and refuel convenience. It's still easier and faster to pump gas into your car for a few minutes than to plug it in for a few hours, and when you're done, the tank of gas takes you further than the electric charge, but that's pretty much the last edge the ICE cars have besides there simply being more of them. They have more efficient engines, faster acceleration, and in some cases higher top speed. They don't need the gearing and they don't pollute (although generally that isn't a big concern for most people)
As far electricity production for the home and business, I don't see coal plants being around much longer. It's more expensive to build them and they're more dangerous than newer forms of energy.
As for the potential to have a home reactor... you could have one now if you could get the government to sign off on installing fission reactors in residential zones. For the price of a home, you could build a reactor and refine enough uranium to power it until your kids are grown and have kids of their own. Yeah... it's expensive, and with a nuclear reactor in your basement, you might not be able to HAVE kids because you'll be impotent.... but it's TECHNICALLY possible, and much cheaper than you would think.
SAFE nuclear power, however is a different story. The very best fusion reactors we have can produce a hair over 100% of the energy it takes to run them, and you need a complex the size of a city block to do it. Proof of concept, yeah... but we're a long way from hooking one to the grid, much less getting it in your home. I'm pretty sure I'll be dead and buried before that happens and it won't be soon enough to save us from Global Climate Change. We'll need something else in the meantime.
The biggest problem with batteries are(besides safety), lithium. We could run out, then what? Not to mention that increases in total capacity are getting harder and harder to find. Our recent advances are making batteries more capacitor-like, in that they can discharge and charge more quickly, but advances in the total power over time? Not so much.
Fusion will probably be at the point of being able to power the world in 50 years, if we don't balk at it. The potential return on energy is insane, and magnitudes safer than fission.
Fusion isn't THAT much safer than fission. A car's engine is designed to shut down if the battery loses power. The engine could theoretically just continue to power the machine and keep it running if the battery wasn't in the circuit the way it is. However, you can always have a stuck accelerator that runs you into a wall or off a cliff. The catastrophic effects of a fusion reactor overloading are VERY similar to that of a fission reactor overloading. The chance of the fusion reactor overloading in the first place are just much less.
The problems with lithium are component issues. Batteries don't have to be made with lithium. Lithium is just better than anything else we've tried... so far. It may well be that something else works better, something that's easier to make and use and (more importantly) dispose of. Aluminum-air and planar sodium both show promise in beating the performance of lithium-ion. Batteries are the weak link in the chain, but the technology is progressing faster there than anywhere else. I'm sure we'll see some pretty sweet stuff coming out of that research in the next ten years or so.
Yeah, it is.
If something happens to a fusion core, the process stops. It's seriously going to be the most amazing power, if we get it working(which it looks like we will). A bathtub full of saltwater could provide more power than 100 freight cars full of coal.
That's if something happens to the core itself. The problem with a fission reaction was that it could move beyond the ability of the system to control it. However, if the system is controlling a fusion reaction, and the system breaks in the right way, you can have results similar to a fission reactor going critical, but you're technically right, fusion is safer than fission.
We are, however a LONG way from using a bathtub of salt water to provide more power than 100 freight cars full of coal. You and I will not live to see THAT, I'm afraid.
....and by the way, the WORST battery is still safer than driving around with gallons of gasoline in your tank. Gas explodes, you know.
Are you sure? What are the rates for gas explosions compared to battery fires?
Well if you consider refinery fires, gas station fires, fuel truck spills on the highway.... batteries aren't all that bad.
Battery production is highly harmful to the environment though.
It's honestly probably a wash at this point.
Pretty much. It was like the last decade when everyone was saying how great it would be to move from gas burning cars to electric... but at the time all our electricity was coming from coal and oil, so we'd stop burning gasoline and then increase our demand for electricity which would be met..... by burning more coal and oil. But because the consumer no longer saw the pollution where HE was, everything was cool.
Which is why fusion is the ultimate answer
Oh yes, it is the ULTIMATE answer. What stars have been doing for ten billion years and change has to be good enough for our comparatively simple demands.
It's just going to take a little more time than we have.... We need something else to get us there.
We have enough oil to get us there. Easily.
Actually, according to experts I was listening to on TV, we don't have enough power...
I think he meant we have enough oil to last us as a civilization until fusion methods are streamlined and perfected.
We could easily make more power, but the government gets in the way. We can make new nuclear facilities that are far safer than any of the ones we already have in operation, but nuclear is bad!
Oh I think we have enough coal and oil to get us there even without developing new fields and mines. Three problems with that: pollution, price, and regional availability. As current fields dwindle, the OPEC nations will jack up the price... and that's if they don't do it just so it doesn't eat into their profits. If we explore for more oil and coal here, it will be expensive and will take more money to get out of the ground, so cheap is in the rear-view mirror and getting further behind, no matter what we do. The only way to get cheap energy is to move away from oil and coal. That fixes the problem of where to find it as ALL of the promising alternates are produced, not found under the ground (no.. natural gas is not a viable alternate fuel. It won't last as long as oil and coal will and it produces even more pollution during the manufacturing process) so we won't have to depend on OPEC anymore. Nuclear will work, if you can find someone willing to bury the spent rods in their backyard without charging an arm and a leg. I'm not a big fan of nuclear for a number of reasons, but it may be all we have for the short term.
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