Category Alternative Energy

T. Boone Pickens’ Plan for Breaking Wind in Texas

The bizarre scene of our energy transition reached a new level when an actor entered who had been a major player in the previous transition. Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens unleashed a national series of television commer­cials during the summer of 2008 that scolded Americans for not having an energy plan. In the place of government leadership, Pickens offered his own plan on July 18, 2008, which called for huge investments in the development of alternatives, particularly wind, and the shifting of natural gas from electric­ity generation to powering vehicles. His plan, clearly, was about everything but the petroleum that had made Pickens wealthy. The online description of the plan concludes this way:

The Pickens Plan is a bridge to the future—a blueprint to reduce foreign oil depen­den...

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Wind Energy

New electricity production in many states is now more likely to be from wind turbines than from any other source of energy. This surge in new wind construction is only the result of technological advances begun in the 1970s having made wind energy the cheapest form of electricity in wind-favorable locations. Most of this expansion has been by utility-scale wind farms. In most areas, this new energy source has been welcomed, but in some areas, mostly mountaintop locations, it has not been welcomed by all.

Although there are enough wind resources in the United States to pro­vide all of the nation’s electrical and transportation energy demands, there are practical considerations that limit the use of wind much more than this...

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Smart Grids

The successful deployment of any renewable electricity generation beyond the 20 percent threshold will require the development of a national smart grid to replace the currently outdated electrical transmission grid. A smart grid will allow for active load-balancing, to better manage peak power demand. This load balancing uses Internet technology to allow electricity suppliers to control consumers’ use of that electricity, usually in exchange for a discounted price. An example of the desired effect of this load balancing is to prevent all the air-conditioners in one city from running at the exact same time. By spreading out which air-conditioners run, and when, in an organized way, the usable capacity of the electric grid is increased...

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Since most alternative energy sources received serious attention in the 1970s, much advancement has been made in their technology. Driven only with government research and development, the application of these energy sources was demonstrated on small scales so that potential problems could be found and solutions could be engineered. After 30 years, many alternative energy technologies have reached a very mature level of development, waiting for the time when economic and social conditions were right for large-scale application.

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One of the first sources of evidence of the seriousness of our energy change was the shift in automobiles demanded by the U. S. consumer starting in 2005 and reaching a fever pitch by 2008. The steady increase in gasoline prices to the $4-per-gallon range irreparably altered the auto marketplace and demon­strated just how much influence consumers could have on the auto industry. Toyota and Honda led the way by making hybrid vehicles widely available. However, as Americans’ love affair with large vehicles gave way to thoughts of efficiency, drivers chose smaller vehicles. American manufacturers were left very near to being in complete ruin due to their emphasis on manufacturing larger vehicles, including SUVs and full-size pickup trucks...

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With the full accounting of fossil fuel, energy sources, and their impacts on human health, the environment, and climate change, alternative energy sources have become mainstream. This full accounting of the price of fossil fuels can be done in a variety of ways. Ideally, the producer of a certain type of energy should be required to pay for its production and all its detrimental effects to society and the environment. Were this done, the producer would then pass this cost along to the consumer. The consumer would then be able to reap the financial benefit if they were to choose a low energy-existence life.

Without this production-side accounting, a well-meaning consumer who chooses to live off the grid in a solar-powered home with electric vehicles will not reap the benefits of their life...

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Energy costs in the early 21st century have risen at staggering rates. Since 2000, natural gas rates have risen by 80 percent, and gasoline has more than doubled in price. Even electricity rates have risen by nearly 40 percent after actually declining during most of the 1990s. For a typical household, di­rect expenditures on energy (gasoline, electricity, and home heating/cooling) increased a whopping $300 per month from 2000 to 2008, just prior to the economic collapse. It is no wonder that many households had financial trouble, especially when the accompanying increase in food prices is consid­ered. This increased spending on energy was at least one of the reasons for the economic collapse that occurred just a few months later...

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Redefining Alternatives

It can be unnerving to see the ridges of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains lined with some of the largest propellers humans have ever constructed. We are used to spinning propellers lifting the cargo to which they are attached, whether it is the chassis of a helicopter or airplane. Therefore, one might feel compelled to ask: Will they be strong enough to lift the long, slight, tree-covered ridges? Is that the intention? In fact, after years of being mined to provide coal for energy production, these mountains may now have a respite—while still being a major component of America’s energy future.

During the industrial era, Pennsylvania produced 20 billion tons of coal...

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