Updated: Nov 13, 2022
Some of America’s Energy Options
Our country is pushing a great deal of money into renewable energy, i.e., Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels, and Wind Turbines. The military would call this, “Good Initiative, Bad Judgment.”
Pushing for solar PV panels and wind turbines is admirable, but there are other less expensive options that should be considered as part of the solution, not to mention having solar PV panels and wind turbines without the proper infrastructure for distribution is already causing problems. Electric cars are beginning to push up consumption (and ruining roads) and new power plants are expensive.
The following is a list of things to consider for decreasing current electrical consumption:
Solar Water Heaters should become the standard primary water heater using a secondary electrical water heater as a night-time supplement. This will reduce a family’s and a business’s costs in the long run, but more importantly, free up a big portion of electricity for other uses. This option has a great return on investment in the "Sun Belt" portion of America.
Push for electric cars. Continue reducing dependence on oil. Unfortunately, electric cars are not as good for the environment as some people think. (See the Electric Cars & Batteries Blog). Nonetheless, reducing oil dependence is a National Security issue and mitigates price shocks to the economy.
Direct Current (DC) to DC systems as opposed to Alternating Current (AC) or AC to DC systems are more efficient than any other energy solution. Theoretically, they can achieve 99.9% efficiency, which is currently for electric motors around 95%. Since solar PV panels and Wind Turbines create DC power and anything electronic uses DC power, we need to have systems implemented that are designed to take advantage of this high efficiency: i.e., PV for charging car batteries, PV to power electronic devices directly.
There already are companies out there that have such systems and trying to push their technology. One such company invented an ingenious solution in the 1990s to use existing electrical wiring to ship both AC and DC, so there will not be any major infrastructure changes. You just use a special plug ($1) and plug your electronic device into the wall socket.
If you don’t have solar PV panels or a wind turbine, you can still save a great deal of money by having a big AC to DC converter attached next to your circuit breaker running at 95% efficiency, versus having the little power supplies in every electronic device such as your computer, your phone charger, your, electric drill charger, etc.. running at a dismal 30-50% efficiency.
Homes having their own micro power plants (aka micro grids). Basically, this is having your own solar PV panels and/or wind turbines with battery backup. The excess power can be stored locally, but on a very windy day or sunny day, the homes are able to put power back into the electrical grid thus contributing to the overall available power supply. Think of the grid as a national highway system for the distribution of electricity. In addition, this system needs to be protected from damage that can be caused by electromagnetic pulses (EMPs). These are generated by the sun from time to time or they can be a result of software error or sabotage. Most of the sun’s occurrences do not create big problems, but on occasion, the pulses are big enough to cause havoc. In 1989, the Quebec grid was shut down by a very large solar flare that created an EMP strong enough to cause the problem. Certain nuclear explosions can create EMPs. A more subtle effect is power company transformer insulation degradation. These result from lower grade solar EMP’s causing electrical disturbances that create temporary increases in transformer temperature, which over time can destroy the insulation, hence destroy the transformer. We’re talking about transformers that cost millions of dollars that take at least take six months to a year to build, and they don’t keep these things in stock. (During COVID-19 backlogs, this extended to more than a year, if not two). This is an extremely important step that must be fixed now or eventually, it could become a gigantic mess with not only primary effects but 2nd and 3rd order problems. It is also a major National Security issue, especially with the threat of nuclear war concerning Russia over Ukraine.
Pollution from electric power plants: 22% of our power comes from coal. That is a reduction from 55% in 2008. A significant method of environmental pollution is nuclear power. Renewable energy will only get us a 25% reduction. The rest has to be nuclear, preferably pebble bed reactors for safety reasons. Eventually, Tokamak Fusion will contribute significantly in the future. Currently, there are Tokamaks scheduled for the U.S. in 2035 with a modest output and a mega power version in the EU in 2050. Pebble Bed nuclear reactor technology is showing merit, but that too is far away and the major research is being invested by a pacing threat of the United States.
Natural Gas in the U.S. has a significant reservoir of natural gas, perhaps the world’s largest. We can use natural gas to power many things in our country, i.e., cars, power plants, heating/cooling, etc. In addition, you can also turn natural gas into diesel fuel (gasification). This will go a long way toward helping us approach energy independence. Congress almost passed a resolution to create a gasification plant during the OPEC crisis, but the crisis ended too soon, and we went back to having “cheap” gas. Inevitably, the cycle will repeat until there is a bad maneuver by OPEC and gas prices remain high for a sustained period of time.
Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Bulbs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs. Unfortunately, CFLs are a pollution problem since they contain mercury so they’re not the end-all be-all solution. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are even better and last much longer (50,000 hours, which is about 50 times more than an incandescent bulb, and 3x-9x of CFLs). LEDs are the future and they’re here, yet there is no law incentivizing people to buy them. In Germany, incandescent light sources are banned. In America, a major tax should be levied on incandescent bulbs, since some establishments prefer them for ambiance reasons, which is fine; they’ll just have to pay extra. Using LEDs will free up electrical demand dramatically. The US has started to ban inefficient incandescents, and more bans are due in the coming years…but sometimes, people like the glow of incandescents in certain conditions. LEDs have come into prevalence in the markets with varying types of color output options.
Will we ever get away from using petroleum? No. Using “oil” as fuel for vehicles is a big waste and it has so many other uses (i.e. lubrication). There is a limit on how much oil there is in the world and it’s more important to use oil for petrochemicals and its many variations. By decreasing the use of oil, both for environmental, economic, and national security reasons, we can do a greater good for ourselves and set an example for the rest of the world. The forgoing options are not going to quench our thirst for energy, but they’ll greatly help offset our country’s increasing demand for energy.
The solution to our energy problems is an amalgam of solutions that do not eliminate the energy sources we use today but find ways to clean those that are dirty, use and expand the use of our natural fuels which are plentiful, educate and eliminate the prejudices associated with poor application of certain technologies in the past, and meaningfully and intelligently harness the naturally occurring energy sources of wind, water, the earth’s heat, and the sun.