What questions do you have about energy?
Izaac Post, 14 years old
Nathan Eckstein Middle School
SS/LA 8B Independent Research Project
Instructors: Allen, Gourd, and Pilgrim
March 29, 2006
Our way of life is going to change, and that is a
fact. This change is not going to be made because we want to, but
because we have to. In truth, we’re running out of oil. Fossil
fuels will be our past, and there’s no way to deny that. “The answers
are out there. But they all require one more thing of us humans who
huddle around the fossil fuel fire: We’re going to have to make a big leap-towards
a different kind of world” (Parfit). We have to make a decision that
will decide the near future of our world, and the question is whether to
side with the environment, or to go with whatever is easiest. In
this I will explain the good and bad aspects about some renewable resources
and laws enforcing them. It’s up to the people… what we choose.
Will our future rely on coal, or will it rely on renewable resources?
Nothing in this world is perfect, and renewable resources are no exception. There are concerns about their aesthetics and the stability of their power source. However there are many benefits to renewable energy sources. As gas prices keep on rising, more and more Americans are thinking about bio diesel, which can cost almost the same as diesel. Almost any newer diesel car can run off bio diesel, and it’s actually better for the engine, because it can clean and lubricate your engine. Some older cars will need to have their hoses replaced in order to run bio diesel. But you don’t have to buy bio diesel, you can make it yourself or have your car converted to run off vegetable oil. Converting your car to run straight off vegetable oil verses bio diesel is expensive (seven hundred dollars or more) but can pay for itself off over time, and if you do a lot of driving, it could take only a month. This means that you can essentially fill your car up with the excess oil from fast food restaurants. Bio diesel can also reduce our dependency on foreign oil and can support our local economy, because you’re paying for people to farm and produce the oil. But most importantly, the bio diesel pollutants are not harmful to our atmosphere, and, being derived from plants, are renewable.
Of the same principal, ethanol is a renewable fuel that is created from plants. Ethanol can be mixed in with gas and can be used in a gas engine without a conversion. Ethanol is a cleaner fuel than gas and is also renewable. The problem with ethanol and bio diesel (biomass) is that it requires lots of land, maybe more land than we can devote in order to provide enough fuel for our current needs.
What if there was an energy source that wouldn’t use too much land, could provide lots of power, was free except for a base cost and had only one by-product: energy? There is, and it’s called wind power. Wind power is becoming more and more frequent; companies are using it to generate lots of power, while individuals are using it to power their home, or a few homes. In a sense wind power is a form of solar power that works when it’s cloudy out. This is because the sun heats up our earth unevenly, and our earth cools down unevenly making wind currents that can in turn power the wind turbines.
The problem with wind energy is its stability. Like solar panels, wind energy relies on the weather, and the weather is not consistent. Sometimes you will get tons of power from the wind turbines, sometimes too much, and then other times you don’t get enough. This forces wind energy systems to have back up generators, but the question is how adjustable are the generators? Also, like solar panels some people don’t like how wind turbines frame a setting or plainly, how they look.
As everyone knows, solar power is a common source of energy when you’re powering small objects, like calculators or the outside lights leading up to your house, but solar energy is also a great way to power homes and other buildings. Some solar panel fields (like Leipzig solar farm in East Germany) can produce enough energy to power 1,800 homes. Solar panels now are cheap enough that they can be a perfectly sensible way to power a building, and they’re only getting cheaper. We could power all the electricity needs in this world if we were to disperse solar panels on rooftops of homes, and on the roofs of building without any extra solar fields (a normally large field that consists of solar panels as means to produce power).
Yet while solar energy can be a great source of clean energy, we would need to rely on other sources too, because unless we find a better way to store electricity than in batteries, it’s too unstable to be our only source of energy. Furthermore solar energy can use a lot of land, and in some cases, too much land.
Some people have found natural gas as a great source of clean energy, but the problem is it’s very dangerous to transport and it’s not renewable. Our country has also been obsessed with the idea of hydrogen, it’s a clean burning energy source, it’s renewable, and it’s byproduct is water, what could be better? Everything. Hydrogen takes more energy to produce than it gives back. But in that same sense, it can work to store energy produced by another energy source, such as wind or solar energy.
The use of one energy source will not be enough. We need to understand that “we’re going to need everything we can get from biomass… solar… [and] wind [energy], and still the question is, can we get enough?” (Parfit). But, another challenge is getting people to make the change to renewable energy sources. Although there are many benefits of using renewable energy sources, most of us will need our change forced upon us, or encouraged, and for that to happen, laws will be necessary.
Especially recently, there have been lots of laws that have been passed or are trying to be passed that would enforce renewable energy sources. The Kyoto Protocol is a worldwide set of rules to regulate our Co2 output and to prevent global warming. This would in effect promote renewable resources. The Kyoto protocol would only limit the Co2 output in 55 industrialized countries. These countries would be given guidelines on how much Co2 they would be allowed to produce. If the countries failed to do so, they would have to limit their pollution output by 1.3 tons per every exceeding ton. This protocol would become a treaty and could come into action if the United States of America and Russia agreed to it. The United States of America and Russia are so critical because they together made up 55% of the Co2 emissions in 1990. If they don’t sign on to the protocol, it will never become a treaty.
The Kyoto protocol would work to prevent global warming, a disaster that could destroy our habitat, many species, could kill tones of people, and would destroy our economy and our way of life. By limiting Co2 output, it would be healthier for us.
Although the UN (United Nations) and the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) strongly believes that there is a direct connection between our (this world’s) Co2 output and global warming, many people, including some scientists believe the opposite. Others believe it’s too late to even try to stop global warming. Some Americans just don’t want to try to stop global warming because stopping it might ruin our economy, since our economy relies mostly on fossil fuels which produces Co2. But there is one thing that most people are sure of, that our world is warming up. So whatever we can do, whatever our city, or even our state can do, might help us to slow down global warming.
Washington State has had a reputation of being an environmentally friendly state, although to the question of whether we could do much better, the answer is yes. Currently our state has been discussing a set of laws that would make all gas sales in Washington to contain 2% ethanol and all diesel sales to contain 2% bio diesel.
This law would not only help out our environment, reduce dependency on foreign oil and help out our economy, but it would also help lessen our consumption of fossil fuels. “Washingtonians spend 25 million dollars a day on gas and diesel. Even a portion of that money going to Washington crops and farmers will help wean us from dependence on fossil fuels.” (“Renewable”). And our oil rich diet is not only our states problem or our countries problem, but is also our worlds problem
Our world is obsessed with oil, if we were to just take it away one day, our society would collapse, so we need to find an alternative energy source before our oil supply runs out. In other words “ Terrorism doesn’t threaten the viability of the heart of our high-technology lifestyle… but energy does.” (Parafit) In this research paper I have explored some options for our future, options that are renewable, options that are clean. I have done this because I want all of you to realize our options for our future, and that the fate of our society depends on what choices we make.
“If we don’t have a proactive energy policy, we’ll just wind up using coal, then shale, then tar sands, and it will be a continually diminishing return, and eventually our civilization will collapse. But it doesn’t have to end that way. We have a choice” (Parfit).