Energy conservation has become one of the most hotly debated subjects in the world. Old power plants are struggling to keep up, sometimes causing power shortages or “brown outs”, and new power plants are being built, but most of the new plants still use the same technology as their predecessors. Some have even been ‘repackaged’ to appear cleaner in respect to exhaust, but they still pollute the atmosphere and use a dwindling source of fuel. Still others argue that fields of petroleum at deeper levels are more than sufficient to supply the world with oil1. The only real hope of the world is to either perfect some of the newer, greener power generation techniques such as wind, solar, or geothermal, or invent some new as-of-yet undiscovered method. Until that time, energy conservation is not just a good idea, it is a necessity.
1. The Population Explosion and Power Usage
As the world’s population gets closer to the seven trillion mark (estimate as of April 2011 is 6,911,382,8582), the demand for power increases exponentially. The added strain on the generation facilities is causing rolling blackouts, or “brown outs”, in some cities. The situation is further strained in the summer time, when millions of people turn on their air conditioners to combat the hot weather. Modern electronic conveniences and luxuries also add to the problem.
The power systems used in most countries of the world rely on coal, gas, oil, nuclear, and hydropower to turn generators and produce electricity. The problem with these sources, with the exception of hydropower, is that the fuel source is limited and most release carbons into the air as exhaust, some say raising the temperature of the planet. Building more of the same type of plant will only exhaust the supply sooner and contribute more to the pollution of the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants, although not contributing to air pollution, have the added problem of where to store the spent fuel. These spent fuel rods stay submersed in cooling water for ten years, and stay dangerously radioactive for about 10,000 years3. Hydropower is a source of clean energy, but requires damming a river to build the water pressure necessary to turn the turbines. The dam creates a reservoir, but covers land that was once used by humans and animals alike with water. This is still a viable power source, when planned and built responsibly, but must take into consideration the wildlife that will be displaced. China completed the world’s largest dam, The Three Gorges Dam4, in 2009 and the turbines went online. This dam generates 1/9 of China’s power, but caused the relocation of millions of people, and ancient burial grounds, temples, and rare species of wildlife were submerged behind its 610 foot high walls. The question is still being asked whether this dam was worth the massive social and environmental disruption that it caused5.
2. Sustainable Power: What Needs To Happen
First and foremost, the consumption of energy must be curtailed, at least until cleaner, more efficient solutions can take over the production of power. These elements could be incorporated into the conservation efforts:
* The expansion of the “Energy Star” program, along with other programs targeting the replacement of older, inefficient appliances should be considered and implemented.
* Appliances and other electrical devices can be created using “Smart” technology, which turn them off after a period of inactivity.
* Home power generation systems utilizing solar and wind for power, along with a Geo-Thermal heating and cooling system could alleviate a great deal of stress from the current power grid. These systems must be made affordable for the general public to appeal to the masses.
* Automobiles must have...