Global renewable energy
Worldwide, there seems to be a consensus within the energysavvy scientific community that major countries should begin setting a path for renewable energy in order to provide 20% of their domestic energy by year 2020. This has far broader and bolder benefits than perhaps people realize. First, it can set their country onto a steady, dependable course to energy independence while advancing the new economy of wind, solar, and waste conversion to energy, and at the same time capitalizing on the recent advances in fuel cell technologies. Second, it can create distributed centers of energy generation with high quality, dependable, rate-stable electricity.
The ecosystems of our uniquely precious planet earth are a complex equilibrium of bio-systems, easily pushed off-balance by excessive exploitation of global resources in ways that damage the environment. The environmental problems caused by extracting energy resources from the earth and the release of greenhouse gases from wasted thermal energy are two such worries. Solar energy utilization can eventually eliminate these two worries, by capturing the sun’s energy and eliminating the inefficient combustion processes that produce the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.
The challenge of capturing and utilizing solar energy for electricity and heating for a house, involves the dedication of a substantial portion of the roof area for the collectors; plus the fact that solar energy is only available from 5 to 8 hours during the day when the sun is up. The new technologies available today help us overcome these challenges. In selecting these new technologies, we must understand that their production in and of themselves involves extraction and utilization of certain resources taken from the earth. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make this selection well, so that the energy needed in their manufacture, for example, does not exceed the energy these solar technologies produce. This is called “life cycle analysis.” There are many solar technologies that have an excellent positive energy life cycle.
It is clear, that the energy options humans on this earth have exploited since the 1850 coal boom, have a finite resource capacity and have clear environmental problems experienced by all of us. But one observation is quite clear: that our energy future does contain a sensible mix from which we can orchestrate a safe and secure energy future.
We can move toward renewable energy sources in our collective futures and do it in ways that will enable new vehicles of transportation, new buildings in which we can live and work, while simultaneously (albiet gradually) returning the narrow balance of our earth ecosystems back to its fundamental natural steady state.
The renewables around the world have started their steady and inexorable incline upward and we have all experienced this worldwide trend. This increase in the percentage of renewables in our portfolio of energy options has clearly begun, and we are all part of this important departure away from “business as usual.” There really is a worldwide recognition of this fact by the peoples of the earth and their governments. Gradually and steadily, we, as a global people, are moving together toward renewables, of which solar energy plays a very important part.
Solar energy utilization by humans is really prehistoric – we know this by studying the habitats constructed by our ancestors who took sensible advantage of solar energy from the rays of the sun. They understood the orientation of their living areas, the storage of solar energy, and how to distribute this thermal energy to other living spaces in their habitat. Somehow we moved away from this prehistoric approach and the medieval trend in advancing solar energy emerged. We became lured by the superficial enticements of cheap fossil fuels and the ease by which they could be transported, stored, and burned. They easily released large quantities of energy to drive new life-styles and the factories and businesses on which they were so dependent. Central energy plants evolved. Now decentralized energy sources are in our future.
Solar energy technology options are much more numerous and cost-effective today than they have ever been. Solar energy is not just the passive heating of thermally massive walls or floors in an attempt to store heat into the late hours past sunset. Today, solar energy involves active technologies such as PV collectors that produce useful and economic sources of electricity which drive our electrical appliances, feed local electrical distribution micro-grids for local communities, and produce energy storage fuels (i.e. hydrogen, methanol, etc.) with the future vision of the “Hydrogen Economy” (Hoffmann, 2001; Rifkin, 2002). And what a grand vision this is indeed.
By Terry Galloway | Solar House: A Guide for the Solar Designer