Renewable energy sources are our future
August 28, 2008 · Updated 4:39 PM
The United States has been burning coal for years and is currently burning it like never before. It's unrenewable and harmful qualities have been overlooked in our hunger to reach our growing energy demands. Today, 56 percent of the United State's energy is produced by coal fired plants (Lester, 1998). As a result, the United States is the world's largest CO2 emitter (Seattle Times, 2007) and produces two billion tons of carbon dioxide per year (Schirber, 2007).
Growing concerns about pollution and global warming have pushed scientists to look for alternative, untapped and more efficient ways to meet our energy needs. Nuclear power has intrigued these scientists as well as some of our government officials. In its struggle to reduce our needs for coal power to a minimum, the United States is now seriously considering the use of nuclear power to produce a high percentage of our electricity. Agreeing with and executing this plan is not what is best for the United States at all.
Nuclear power, although significantly cleaner than coal power, has many disadvantages. The long term affects of nuclear power will plague the world for thousands of years. Plutonium (nuclear waste) lives in the environment for at least 500,000 years, 100 times longer than recorded history; that's 10 times the length of existence of humans (Venarami, 2007). The United States currently has over 50,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants on its soil (Schirber, 2007). With 400-500 pounds of plutonium adding to this large sum every year from each nuclear reactor plant nation wide, we are constantly in danger of a terrorist strike of mass proportions. Ten to 20 pounds of plutonium are needed to make a nuclear bomb (Venarami, 2007). This implies that United States has enough nuclear waste to make 2,500-5,000 nuclear bombs with 50 more potential bombs being dumped out of every nuclear reactor each year.
Nuclear waste is highly radioactive. Once plutonium is made there is no known antidote to its continuous poisoning of the environment (Venarami, 2007). Furthermore, the United States is not only unsure as to how we should store or destroy hazardous nuclear waste material, but also has no blue print on how to go about disassembling, dismantling or decommissioning a nuclear reactor (Venarami, 2007).
Nuclear power is not only harmful to the environment, but extremely expensive as well. Nuclear power costs only two cents per kilowatt-hour cheaper than coal generated power, which does not include huge leftover debts from earlier construction (Schirber, 2007). The first 75 reactors in the United States had $100 billion in overruns (Schirber, 2007). We turn to nuclear power as a quick solution to the problems we face with coal power, only to find more problems awaiting us in the future. What we should be turning to is the renewable energy sources at our disposal which will not only help us now, but the future ahead of us as well.
Renewable energy sources consist of tidal, biomass, solar, hydro, thermal, wind, etc. Even though each renewable energy source has an area where it would be most productive, I believe that tidal, solar and wind power have the greatest potential nationwide.
Tidal power absorbs energy from tides to generate power and is one of the newest forms of renewable energy. It is also one of the most promising renewable energy sources available. It is hypothesized that waves off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California alone have the potential to produce 1/16th 1/8th of the nation's current electricity demands (Paulson, 2007). Today we are just now introducing tidal energy into our overall energy scheme.
The Utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company has been the first company to invest into tidal energy. They have begun planning about the future of their investment and have come to conclusion that their energy will be captured by several buoys floating 2.5 miles off the coast of California. These buoys will, at peak moments, be able to provide light to 1,400 homes (Beck, 2007). This is only the first step to becoming more renewable energy dependent in means of tidal energy and hopefully this will be the first of many.
Our neighboring countries have also found interest in tidal energy as well. One plant in France produces enough energy from these tides to provide power for 240,000 homes (about.com tidal). Tidal energy certainly has its place in our greener future. The amount of wave energy available on the coasts is greater than the power we now get from all existing hydro plants nation wide (Paulson, 2007). Tidal energy is a very helpful renewable energy source but inland states cannot fully reap the benefits it provides.
Wind and solar power are both two great ways to compensate for their loss. Wind power is the world's fastest growing electricity source (Science Daily, 2007). However, many are concerned about the reliability of wind power, although they don't need to be. On average 35 percent - 47 percent of yearly wind power can be used as reliable, base load electric power (Science Daily, 2007). However, if wind power is not completely efficient in an area, solar power can easily be an intelligent replacement.
Solar power captures energy from the sun and produces electricity. The objections about solar power mostly revolve around their high costs. However, it is known that "the cost for solar energy will only decrease as we implement technology" (Nelson, 2007).
If only we applied as much funding to solar power as we do for coal or oil research it would be a great step towards a greener, less expensive, less polluted and a less hazardous future. From 1943-1999 $4 billion was spent on solar power. On the other hand, $400 billion was spent on coal research and $150 billion was spent on oil research (Schilperoot, 2007). If only we could realize that our money will go much farther when spent on renewable energy sources, we would save millions of dollars.
Germany has definitely taken solar power by the horns. Fifty-nine percent of all solar systems are in Germany. They even have entire cities that run on solar power alone (Schilperoot, 2007). This is what we should be doing as well.
As we struggle with the problems we now face from our previous energy endeavors with coal power, we must think of our future. Instead of rocketing into another quick solution to meet our energy needs, more problems await us in the future if we do not realize the damage we are doing to our Earth and ourselves by using nuclear power instead of renewable energy sources. The actions we take today will not only affect us today but many generations to come as well.
Sam R. Josephsen is one of three north county high school students who won awards in the Snohomish County Public Utilities District No. 1 Essay, Art and Photo contest this spring. Along with Josephsen, a ninth-grader at Marysville-Pillchuck High School, two other essays were honored: Sheree Nicole Goodey and Leah Rensel, both juniors at AHS.