“The modern world is built on fuels we know can’t last forever.” So begins Powering the Future – The Energy Revolution, to be broadcast by the Discovery Channel on Saturday, July 17 at 8 p.m. The entire series will air Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18, 8-10 p.m. (ET/PT). “Encore presentations” will be aired on Science Channel on July 19-20 and Planet Green, July 25-26. This four-part series begins by telling us something we already know, although many of us choose not to think about. Since non-renewable fuel sources have always been there for us, we expect that they will always be there. We may have great expectations, but they are foolish expectations.
If the energy we’ve come to rely on will not be around forever, do we need to worry about it? After all, we won’t be around forever either. Of course we don’t have to worry about it if we have no concern for our children, their children, and so on down the line, or the fate of our species. In forty years, the earth’s population is expected to increase by three billion. You think the lines at Wal-Mart are long now?
The greatest challenge we face is “identifying a limitless, secure, clean energy supply.” Most of us are not up to the challenge, which is why there are scientists and engineers. Can engineers and scientists save the world? Let’s ask a scientist.
M. Sanjayan, Ph.D. is the Nature Conservancy’s Lead Scientist and the host of Powering the Future – The Energy Revolution. Without specifying the dire consequences (which have already been beaten into our heads) of running out of non-renewable energy sources—we have already burned through half the planet’s natural oil, and a huge chunk of its natural gas and coal—Sanjayan introduces the viewer to research and development in the areas of renewable energy. He reminds us that before growing so heavily dependent on oil and coal, we harnessed water and wind to produce energy.
Our major problem, reliance on a dwindling resource (as well as on foreign sources of supply), requires a radical answer, and there are plenty of ideas for an energy “silver bullet.” We learn that in Japan, scientists want to put solar panels where the sun always shines, space. Power from a two-square-mile array in space could provide electricity for 250,000 homes. Australia is concentrating on grinding its way to the earth’s core to tap geothermal energy. In New York City’s East River, underwater turbines generate power. The problem with these technologies is that they are still being developed or may only supply a fraction of our energy needs.
Powering the Future – The Energy Revolution looks at the ultimate silver bullet, nuclear fusion. Fusion makes energy the same way the sun does. The sun makes enough energy in a minute to power earth for a million years. Can scientists build a sun on earth? They’d like to. But with all the research and money invested in fusion, not one watt of energy has been produced.
Energy is being produced in a variety of places using new technology. Wind technology is taking off and could surpass coal by mid-century. Too bad it’s not wholly reliable. Not to worry, though, Americans are working on making wind reliable with high altitude kites. In Spain, mirrors aid in stockpiling the sun’s energy and, in an American olive processing plant, olive pits (full of solar energy) are a source of power.
Mega batteries, soft houses, and solar paint are among solutions being developed. What Powering the Future – The Energy Revolution tells us is that there is hope for the future, as long as we’ve got engineers and scientists. Some of the possibilities are interesting; some are exciting. They’re all more impressive than using pedal power to toast your English muffins.