Solving the Energy Crisis
Becoming self sufficient in energy is vital in order to restore our economy. We have been talking about energy independence since the oil embargo of the 1970s, yet because their is no really good substitute for oil, our use has increased. All alternatives have drawbacks. Yet we MUST make the change. Since oil and gas are finite resources, we need to conserve them for as long as possible.
For decades, the US has sent about $300 to $400 BILLION annually out of the country to purchase oil. This is the greatest transfer of wealth in history. We need to stop allowing the country to be held hostage by liberal politicians and environmental extremists and resolve our energy shortage once and for all. The high price of heating oil, diesel fuel and gasoline puts tremendous financial pressure on consumers, truckers and home owners.
Examining the possibilities
In order of importance
1) Oil - the US has large deposits in Alaska that politicians - mostly the democrats in Congress - have prevented us from getting year after year. (1) The democrats care more about sea otters than the American people. But this is actually a bogus argument. We have been pumping oil from the North Slope of Alaska for 30 years and wildlife has flourished.
The situation in Alaska is reaching a critical point. In order for the Alaska Pipeline to operate, a minimum of 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) must go through the pipeline. Under 300,000 bpd the pumps will not be able to operate and the pipe will close. As of Jan. 2011, the pipeline is carrying about 630,000 bpd - down from 2 million bpd 20 years ago - and falling by about 7 percent a year. Somewhere around 2018-2020, the pipeline will have to shut down.(1)(2)
We must start developing the oil fields in ANWR NOW, since it will take close to 10 years to develop we have no time to lose. The democrats have already cost us years. The oil deposits in Prudhoe Bay are drying up. If we develop new fields in Alaska and in US coastal waters, we can put a big dent in the amount of foreign oil we need to import. We have not built a new oil refinery in the US in over 30 years. We should build more as needed. Doing this will create good paying jobs for Americans, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep more money in the US.
2) Hydroelectric. Hydroelectric dams are the only way we can produce large amounts of electricity without using any fuel. Of all the renewable power sources, it’s the most reliable, efficient and economical. Hydroelectric plants have long lives, with some plants still in service after 100 years. Labor costs are low, as plants are automated and have few personnel on site during normal operation. Norway and Paraguay produce nearly all of their electricity from hydroelectric dams. Brazil, Canada and China all generate more electricity from dams than the US.
There are many rivers that we could build dams on to generate additional electricity. In 2006, the Idaho National Laboratory issued a report that concluded that hydroelectric generation could easily be increased by at least 50%.
Only 3 percent of the nation’s 80,000 dams currently generate electricity, and it is vital that we tap these unused resources.(4) It is costly to construct a new hydroelectric power plant. In addition, environmentalists oppose everything. By installing electricity generation equipment at these currently non-powered dams, America’s hydropower industry can tap the waters already flowing through these existing structures.
Additionally, many existing hydro dams can be expanded to produce more electricity. Electricity from tidal waves along parts of the US coast is another source of energy.(5)
Pumped storage is essential to our nation’s electricity grid. Pumped storage is a high level man made reservoir. When demand is high, the water is released downhill into a lower reservoir, running through turbines and generating electricity to send into the grid during peak usage. Water is pumped back up into the reservoir during off peak hours. Pumped storage is a proven, extremely cost effective method of satisfying electricity needs during peak usage and eliminates the need for costly new plants. We need more pumped storage for times of peak demand.
Developing these untapped hydropower resources would create and support hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. A 2009 Navigant study indicates that installing 60,000 MW would result in 1.4 million cumulative jobs by 2025. Ten thousand of those megawatts will come from converting non-powered dams, creating jobs in every region across the country.(4)
The easiest and most cost effective way to increase electrical generation capacity is through hyro. We should build a number of new hydroelectric dams, upgrade existing ones, turn non producing dams into hydroelectric dams where possible, expand generation from tidal waves and increase pumped storage.
3) Natural Gas is essentially methane gas. The US has the 5th largest proven reserves in the world. Even so, the US imports about 17% of its natural gas, mostly from Canada. We should increase domestic production and reduce imports, which will keep more money in America. Natural gas is used around the world for electricity generation and is piped into millions of homes for heating, hot water and cooking. Methane gas is also a byproduct of oil extraction. Methane gas is odor-less. The “rotten-egg smell” is a chemical additive used to detect gas leaks as a result of the 1937 New London, Texas school disaster. CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) is put into high pressure tanks (3000 - 3,600 psi) to make it portable. Methane gas has been used to power vehicles since the 1930s. It is used around the world to power cars, buses and trucks. By volume, CNG only has 25% of the energy of diesel.(4)(6)
4) Ethanol in gasoline is one of those ideas that seem really great on paper, but once you factor everything in, ethanol has serious drawbacks that still need to be worked out. Corn based ethanol takes a lot of land, energy and water to turn into ethanol. Ethanol reduces gas mileage because it has far less energy output than gasoline, which means you use MORE gasoline in your vehicle to go the same distance as you did before they added ethanol to gas. In addition, when engines are not run for a long period of time, ethanol goes stale. It gums up gasoline and attracts water into the gas - unless you use an additive. To sum up, consumers pay more to go less distance in their car. Ethanol should be taken out of gasoline and used only for flex fuel vehicles that use E85 fuel (15% gas and 85% ethanol).
Better sources of biofuel would be from switchgrass, which can be grown in poor soil, and marine algae. Switchgrass produces about 50% more energy per acre than corn grown on fertilized land.(2) Algae yields five to 10 times more bioenergy molecules per area, than any plant, Algae can be grown on barren desert land using salt water, averting competition with agricultural cropland and the need for large amounts of precious fresh water for irrigation. Even though switchgrass and marine algae hold more promise than corn, there are still many problems to overcome. More research needs to be done.
5) Wind power will help in generating electricity, but there are serious drawbacks that will make the cost of electricity from wind generation far higher then expected. Since the industry is relatively new, life cycle costs of equipment are unknown. Due to the small amount of electricity produced by each wind turbine and the unpredictability of the wind, it has less real value in an electric system than electricity from an “on call” source - gas, nuclear, hydro, etc. Transmission costs are high when wind farms are remote from where electricity is needed because electricity from wind uses transmission capacity inefficiently. The closer windmill farms are to where the electricity is needed, the better. Tax breaks must be passed to stimulate the growth of wind farms.
6) Solar power can be a help for our energy crunch, but as with wind, its limitations must be recognized. First, solar is expensive to build and maintain and it only produces on sunny days. The southwest US would be the best place for this technology. Solar panels are far more effective when placed on or near buildings where the electricity will be used. A 100% tax writeoff should be implemented to encourage businesses and individuals to invest in solar. We really need a technological breakthrough on solar technology.(3)
7) Nuclear power. The debate rages on - should we build more nuke plants or phase them out? Here are the pros: The 104 reactors in the US produce a lot of electricity - 20% of the US total. Nuclear can meet power demand 24 hours a day. Nuclear power plants emit virtually no carbon dioxide -- and no sulfur or mercury either. When we talk about safety, we seem to focus only on the risks of nuclear power, but coal is far more deadly in lives and pollution. US nuclear plants are much safer now than they were in the past. All reactors in the US are generation 2, with many updates. There are more safety features at the plants, personnel are better trained, and reactors have been redesigned so that accidents are far less likely to occur. For instance, every U.S. plant has an on-site control-room simulator where employees hone their skills on a regular basis.
The next generation of plants (generation 3) are designed to be even safer, using fewer pumps and piping and relying on gravity to move water for cooling the hot nuclear core. This means fewer possible places where equipment failure could cause a serious accident.
The cons - Building nuclear plants is hugely expensive - and getting more so. The government will have to guarantee a portion of the upfront costs. The reasons are because new plants must be designed to be nearly impregnable to a terrorist attack and since we haven’t built a reactor in decades, there are hardly any companies in the US with the expertise to build them. Of course, you have the radioactive waste to get rid of.
We should begin the systematic construction of a limited number of new nuclear plants. This will provide jobs in a high tech industry that we must have for now. Like it or not, there are no substitutes for the huge amounts of power that nukes generate for the foreseeable future.
8) Coal - Coal is used to generate about half of the electricity in the US. While coal reserves are large, statistically, the coal industry is a lot deadlier than the nuclear or petroleum industry. Burning coal produces smog, soot and acid rain. Despite billions in research, effective methods to burn coal cleanly have not been cost effective. The current methods for cleaning up coal discharge will increase the cost of electricity by 30 to 100 percent and use 25% more coal. We need a major technological breakthrough in clean coal technology.
9) Storing electrical energy is vital. Unbelievably there is virtually no storage capacity in America’s electrical grid. This is essential if we are to integrate intermitant power generation sources (wind, solar) into the grid. Flywheel electrical storage helps maintain the necessary balance between energy supply and demand. Electrical energy is stored during times when production exceeds consumption and the extra power is then used at times when consumption exceeds production. This allows electrical production to be maintained at a more constant level. This results in increased efficiency and lower energy production costs. Two companies involved in this are Beacon Power and VYCON.(http://www.vyconenergy.com) Beacon Power went bankrupt in Oct. 2011 and was purchased by Rockland Capital on March 7, 2012.
10) Geothermal heating and cooling systems. A geothermal heat pump is a central heating and/or cooling system that pumps heat to and from the ground. Because it relies on the earth, not outdoor air as the heating or cooling source, it is substantially cheaper and uses much less energy to run than a conventional heating and air conditioning system. Underground temperatures stay at about 55 degrees through the year. Geothermal heat pumps are the most energy-efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally clean systems, but their use has been limited due to high installation costs. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424) allows a one-time tax credit of 30% of the total investment for homeowners who install residential geothermal heat pumps. A credit of 10% of the total investment is also available, with no maximum, for a commercial system installation.
Large scale conversion of homes and businesses to geothermal heating and cooling would result in a significant reduction in energy usage. The problem is the initial cost. We should increase the tax writeoff for residential and industrial installations to 75%
11) Propane, also known as Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) is produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. Since propane is by-product of gas and oil production, its availability is tied to gas and oil production. Propane is stored in tanks (100 - 200 psi) and is used for heating, cooking, hot water, outdoor gas grills and powers forklifts, cars and trucks. Propane vehicles get about the same mileage as conventional cars.
12) Geothermal power generation. Geothermal power uses a high temperature heat source to generate electricity. Estimates of the potential for electricity generation vary greatly. Economically, increases in the use of geothermal electricity are limited, since most of the known economically viable hydrothermal fields are in use and production has declined.
13) Additional research is needed on Hydrogen fuel cells and flywheel powered buses and railroads. In addition, We need to stop environmental extremists from using regulations to seriously hurt the energy industries. All that happens is US workers lose good paying jobs and these jobs go out of the country and the cost of energy increases still more.