Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Future Fuels

The constant increase in consumption of coal and oil has boosted the U.S. economy, but it comes at a cost to our environment and our middle class. Thanks to the newest technologies at work, coal and fossil fuels pollute less particulates when burnt than the previous century, but they do still contribute largely to the human carbon footprint, pollution, and the greenhouse gas effect here on Earth. These fuel companies also tend to stay mostly in the hands of the very wealthy, causing the rich to get richer, which creates a very unbalanced economic growth. In order to transition to a zero-carbon footprint, which will protect the environment, and balance economic growth for all, which in turn provides a high standard of living for the majority, the United States must transition our energy dependency from fossil fuels and coal to solar and nuclear supplies.

In the journal article Energy and Quality of Life, Pasten and Santamarina claim ‘energy consumption is inherently coupled to quality of life and population’. (2012). The two authors show several graphs side by side that display the correlation between electricity use and the increase in water access, life expectancy, years of schooling, and the decrease in infant mortality rate. The data for this article comes from 118 countries with populations larger than four million. Pasten and Santamarina’s data proves that reducing electricity is not the best solution to better balance economic growth and environmental protection; rather, the balance should be found in obtaining a cleaner energy fuel source for all people.

Burning hard black coal produces 90 g/MJ of CO2, and natural gas produces 51 g/MJ of CO2. (Lacy, 2012, p. 9). Solar on the other hand, produces 0 g/MJ of CO2. By transitioning to solar we eliminate our carbon-footprint and save the Earth from overheating. Along with zero CO2 emission, using solar panels does not produce any pollution.

The solar industry is growing faster than many anticipated. Science Alert, a popular science magazine stated in 2016,This year, solar energy prices in the country dropped to around parity with coal for the first time ever, hitting about 6 US cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh), while coal tariffs range usually range in between about 5–8 US cents/kWh.” (Dockrill, 2016). The trend in the solar industry shows that by switching to solar from coal, economic growth is not compromised. All over the world solar is becoming more affordable and growth of economies are continuing. In India, the Minister has officially received a record low biding for new solar projects, priced at 5 cents/kWh, from a French firm to develop 250 MW of electricity. (Upadhyay, 2017). Because solar is available everywhere, creating an economy based on solar would also eliminate the tensions among countries that oil has created. Clearly solar is a fantastic choice for better balancing economic growth for all, and protecting nature.

Nuclear fuels, natural and enriched uranium, also produce 0 g/MJ of CO2. (Lacy, 2012, p. 9). These fuels already make up 13% of the world’s total electricity, which is more than solar does. (p. 1). And now thanks to very inspiring engineers from all over the world, 4th generation nuclear reactors are safer than ever and can now recycle nuclear war heads for an energy source that heats and powers our homes.

Nuclear energy has built up quite a taboo reputation among the public but the facts aren’t always presented fairly. Dr. Patrick Moore in the Nuclear Energy Primer states, “Even though there have been three serious accidents at nuclear power plants during the 60 years they have been operating, nuclear energy is still one of the safest energy technologies we have invented. Not one person was killed by radiation at either Three Mile Island in the USA or at Fukushima in Japan, and according to the best experts there will be no discernable health effects form either incident. Chernobyl was an exception as the Russians designed a reactor that was inherently unsafe and will never be built again. Even so there were very few deaths – 56 according to the World Health Organization – compared with other major industrial accidents.” (Lacy, 2012, p. vii).

Nuclear is safe and the truth is, solar is not enough to replace oil and coal. We need the power of uranium and according to Lacy in his Nuclear Energy Primer, we do not have to mine anymore uranium! The fuel source has such a big ‘bang for its buck,’ 28,000 GJ/kg compared to oil at 44MJ/kg, that with the ability this technology has to recycle nuclear waste and war heads, we have enough uranium fuel source for the next 10,000 years. (p. 22).

Hydrogen (H2) cells, which can easily be fitted into trains and cars, have a byproduct of clean water. The reason we don’t use hydrogen cells often is because of the enormous amount of energy (burning of fossil fuels) that it takes to generate hydrogen gas (H2). Hydrogen is not found plentifully on Earth, it immediately forms with oxygen to create water. With the power of nuclear we have the option of obtaining huge amounts of energy, making the generation of hydrogen cells much more likely to replace oil in cars. With a byproduct of water, hydrogen and nuclear can eliminate all the car pollution in our cities!

With no emissions or waste byproduct, and with the ability to recycle weapons and eliminate oil in cars, nuclear energy takes the economic power out of the hands of the few in oil and delivers enormous amounts of energy and economic growth to all, and keeps Earth clean!

In Sustainability as a Founding Principle of the United States (2010), Michael Crow states, "In the twenty-first century we must at last declare sustainability a core aspirational value of the American people, on the same level as liberty and justice and equality.(p. 305).

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Crow, and to me sustainability looks like solar and nuclear energy, and feels like balance of economic growth and environmental protection. 

Crow, M. (2010). Sustainability as a founding principle of the united states. In Moral Ground:      
            Ethical Action for A Planet in Peril.

Dockrill, P. (2016, April 20). India says the cost of solar power is not cheaper than coal.
            Science Alert. Retrieved from http://www.sciencealert.com/india-says-the-cost-of-solar-
Lacy, Ian. (2012). The world nuclear university primer in the 21st century. London, United
Kingdom: World Nuclear University Press.
Pasten, C., & Santamarina, J. (2012). Energy and quality of life. Elsevier, 49, 468-476.
            Retrieved from http://pmrl.ce.gatech.edu/papers/Pasten_2012a.pdf
Upadhyay, A. (2017, April 13). India gets record low bid to build solar power, minister says.
Renewable Energy World. Retrieved from http://www.renewableenergyworld.com