Alternative energy is no longer quite so alternative. With recent developments, finding new energy sources or producers is not as unconventional as it once was. Aside from ex-VPs traveling around in jets and spewing information about global warming and the need for new energy sources, Congress has implemented real legislation to address these problems, although it's taken them a while to do so.
The need for new and alternative energy sources isn’t a new problem. The government has been “aware” since the early '70s that there is need to find and develop alternatives to fossil fuels. A memo issued from the Department of State in 1974 — “Analysis: Oil Demand Restraint and Financial Solidarity” — discussed the problem of our country's oil devouring tendencies and the need to “diminish the demand for imported oil through higher taxes, price decontrol, and/or some form of rationing” and suggests “the development of alternative sources of energy within consuming countries [...].”
This document was issued thirty years ago.
Another memo, sent in 1985 to Stuart Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs at the time, said this: “To make a dent on the global energy problem, we need to mobilize global — not merely US — resources for the development of alternative energy sources.”
This document was issued twenty years ago.
See the pattern? Why is it that the government is just starting to get the ball rolling on this? Whatever the “reason” is or was, the push for alternative energies is no longer stationary, it’s snowballing.
Now the government is pushing for even more legislation dealing with growing and developing alternative energy sources with the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 (apparently the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 wasn't big enough to handle the job). Whether the Department of Energy will do its duty by the act may be up for debate.
Last fiscal year, 62 percent of the DOE budget went to defense-related activities, such as keeping an eye on those nukes, both the weapon and reactor kinds. Only 12 percent of that budget actually went towards saving and supplying energy. And I thought the Cold War over. Perhaps, it’s just “cool” now.
However much of a “chilly” past the DOE has, the department is taking measures to push their budget for alternative energy this year above and beyond that small amount. How about a larger number instead, like twenty-five? As in $25 billion. That’s the amount of the so-called loan that the DOE is handing out to automakers and manufacturers who focus their attentions on going "green" when producing their parts and cars.
How about a car that doesn’t shirk at the scent of ethanol, like an FFV, or flexible-fuel vehicle? Where most car models can only handle gas containing around 10 percent ethanol, or E10, newer, more flexible models may be able to use fuel with up to 85 percent ethanol, or E85, which would cut back on the use of oil.
Or what would you say to a car that didn’t use gas at all, but one you could run instead by plugging it in and recharging it alongside your cell phone and MP3 player? With Toyota, this plug-in feature could soon be a possibility. The company is currently developing a newer model of their economically viable vehicle, the Prius, which actually plugs in. This plug-in will allow the car to rely more on its electric motor, saving the gas motor for longer trips. And those trips really would be long, as the car can average up to 100 miles per gallon with this type of system.
This focus on alternative energy for cars is important because it helps lower car-produced pollution. The emissions from transportation have "accounted for 33 percent of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in 2006," according to the "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006."
But car changes aren’t the only uses for alternative energy. And transportation emissions aren’t the only source of pollution. Electricity generators, also discussed in the report on the United States' greenhouse gas emissions, “consumed 36 percent of U.S. energy from fossil fuels and emitted 41 percent of the CO2 from fossil fuel combustion in 2006." Not only are individual and industrial uses of energy using up the dwindling supply of fossil fuels, they're producing nasty pollutants in the process.
This is why scientists are now turning away from Mother Earth and her coal and oil to provide for energy needs, and paying more attention to other elements such as water, wind, and fire.
Water, one of these elements, can create viable energy known as "Hydro Power". The DOE is dishing out over $18 million to research and development teams that can create ways to harness this water fuel. Poor Poseidon will no longer be the only one who has power over the seas by the time scientists and engineers get hold of this funding.
Then, there is energy created by that other unruly element, the wind. This energy is produced through wind turbines which, according to American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) calculations, "will generate an estimated 49 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind energy in 2008, just over 1.5 percent of U.S. electricity supply, powering the equivalent of over 5.7 million homes."
And then, lastly, there is the element of fire. But, you might protest, isn’t the burning of fossil fuels what got us in trouble within our little greenhouse in the first place? Yes, it’s true, fire hasn’t been the producer of environmentally beneficial energies in the past, but there are still some ways that it can be helpful.
This is certainly true for the Army troops in Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq. Since May of this year the men have been getting rid of their garbage via biorefinery unit which turns their waste into usable energy. The tactical garbage-to-energy refinery uses a process of thermal gasification to change garbage into ethanol. It processes around a ton of garbage each day and can produce enough energy to run a 60 kilowatt generator. Now that’s fire power the troops can really use.
And then, of course, there’s that other source of fire-inspired energy, that humongous burning ball, the sun, which provides perhaps the best known of these alternative energy sources: solar power. The DOE is currently spending $150 billion a year on research and development in order to generate more solar energy systems (their website didn’t specify when this spending began, so the number of years this has been occurring isn‘t applicable). The department claims that not only will this alternative energy reduce carbon emissions, it will also create jobs as well as cut down on spending for industries and businesses.
Needless to say, alternative energy is not just expanding, it’s developing into an industry. According to a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, although switching to alternative energy sources may be more costly at first, in the end the money saved by conserving energy will cause economic growth. People will use the money they’ve saved by converting to different energy generators and spend it in other places, resulting in a boost to the economy.
Although it seems a strain both on our way of living and our pocketbooks to convert to using alternative energies, in the end the benefits outweigh our discomfort. Not only will this investment help the environment, it will also help our economy. These alternatives to our present energy sources will provide the power for all sorts of possibilities.