Ask a conservative what he thinks about alternative energy, and you’ll probably get a snort of derision. Oh sure, he’ll give you the song-and-dance that it’s good to have windmills and solar panels around, but they’ll never make a real dent in what we need – which is oil, and more of it…as if we can drill our way to energy independence. But if certain interests have their way, America will never be energy-independent.
First, let’s make the case that alternative energy is not only doable, but economically sensible:
• Today 2% of Germany’s power is supplied by solar (17% of German homes are solar-powered), and if the country follows current trends, it will be 20 percent by 2020. This is despite the fact that Germany is not exactly known as a mecca for sun-lovers. The energy utilities are required by law to purchase any excess energy that solar-powered homes make…which means that there are a lot of homes in Germany that are making a profit from solar power.
• Last year a solar cell was developed that was more efficient than is the current design of nuclear power plants. The efficiency of nuclear reactors is limited to around 33 percent, because water can be heated to only a certain temperature and only a certain amount of heat can be taken out of water. Boeing – yes, Boeing – hopes to introduce their high-efficiency C3MJ+ solar cells around the globe as early as January, 2011. The cells are able to convert a whopping 39.2% of sunlight into electricity.
• Currently, In 2010, power generated by wind comprised 15.4% of all electricity generated in Iowa.
• A new design for nuclear fuel rods (from solid to hollow tubes) has been shown to increase power output of pressurized water reactor (PWR) plants by 50%. This isn’t easily implemented as it sounds, for one of the major factors of the design of a PWR is to nearly eliminate – not just minimize, but to totally eliminate if possible – low-flow areas in the piping where radioactive particles (crud) may collect – and if the fuel rods are hollow, then that’s more flow-killing surface area that has to be considered. But the concept is proven, and all that remains is (ugh!) the engineering.
• Currently, 80% of electricity in France is generated by nuclear power.
Notice that I haven’t included hydroelectric dams (we’ve gone about as far as we can with those) and coal (“clean coal” is a myth). The jury’s still out on ethanol – it works, but at a serious environmental cost (water).
But the key is, if America really tried, we can be energy-independent. How? If all the different sources of alternative energy are used in concert, we will not need coal-fired plants. Furthermore, if we make hybrid and electric cars the norm rather than the exception, our need for oil from Islamic nations plummets – and possibly disappears. We will not in the foreseeable future ever be free from the need for oil, for it will always be needed for lubrication, for plastics, and for 1,001 other uses under the sun – but we can wean our nation off foreign oil.
BUT THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN.
Why? First off, America has some of the cheapest oil in all the developed world – and with the oil being so cheap, it’s difficult to get alternative energies off the ground. Second, Big Oil is one of the most powerful influences in American politics – see “Drill, baby, drill,” and in a close-to-party-line vote, Senate Republicans blocked the Democrats’ attempt to eliminate taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil despite the fact that Big Oil is raking in record profits while the average gallon of gas is close to four dollars! It should be noted that the Republicans were not happy with President Obama’s State of the Union address when he proposed taking those subsidies and using them to develop alternative energy. For all practical purposes, Big Oil owns the Republican party…but really, why is it that the Republicans – and Fox News – strive so hard to protect Big Oil? We’ll answer that one in a couple of minutes.