Tapping Into New Energy Sources

Sep 2, 2009
by: max_L

This week, I have been thinking a good deal about which form of renewable energy will be the top dog in the future. I have been very interested in this issue lately, and it is something that I would like to study in college and possibly make a career out of. I think that it is a very important issue, especially right now with the economic crisis, our dependence on foreign oil, and our oil supply apparently running out.

Oil has been the source of so much conflict and money, and I think it is about time we found a new energy source. For example, some people claim that Bush ordered US troops into Iraq not because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but because he wanted unregulated access to Iraqi oil. This is especially prevalent when the issue of the terrorists hiding in Pakistan, not Iraq, and the fact that we didn't find any WMDs is brought up. And our dependence on foreign oil drains money from our domestic economy. So the question is, what renewable energy source can take the place of oil?

There are many options. One of the most interesting and exciting is solar power. Many new technologies have been developed to harness the immense energy of the sun that is beamed down to earth every day, and this technology improves daily. Right now, the big competition is between photovolactic (PV) cells and a method of heating oil or water to create steam that drives a turbine. Each system is efficient, but the drawback from PV cells is the excessive cost for a cell that captures 40% of the sunlight that hits it - one of these cells can cost thousands of dollars. However, PV cells can be employed in many places, whereas heating devices using mirrors that concentrate sunlight could only be used at power plants. If PV cells were used widely in cities, the cities could potentially produce a majority of their own energy, and the same goes for houses. The next issue that arises is if this new technology is used in powerplants, how will it be transported to cities from the remote areas that these powerplants would be built in? This could be imporved with smart grids, but these are also very costly to produce.

I have also become interested in nucelar power recently. We are currently running out of nuclear engineers and technicians, but nuclear power plants are now being schedualed to be built in the U.S. Who will run them? A new generation of engineers is needed, which makes this a possible career choice for me if I pursue nuclear engineering in the future. But an obvious problem with nuclear power is storage of wastes, although France has somehow made the program work. A huge part of their national energy supply is produced by nuclear power plants, with wastes being stored in the Alps.

However, no matter which energy source comes out on top, we will probably see development in every area of renewable energy. Energy demand is continuing to increase and it is unthinkable to have all energy coming from one source:

Throughout the world, we need every energy source we can get - including nuclear. As one can see from the table above, all energy sources have BOTH advantages AND disadvantages
Comparisons of Varoius Energy Sources - Updated (http://www.nucleartourist.com/basics/why.htm

Fuel sources will obviously also have to be considered for each form of energy, which is something I hadn't really considered before. Questions that must be asked are things such as: How much sunlight and wind does a particular area receive? Are there any drastic environmental effects of building a power station in a certain area? An MIT source recently pointed out,


The lack of global investment in uranium mines and the facilities to convert uranium into commercial fuel has left a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy and the ability to supply fuel for it, according to Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT's Center for International Studies.
MIT Says Lack Of Fuel Could Limit Nuclear Power Expansion (http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/news/news_detail.cfm/news_id=10677)