Wind Power as a Viable Solution to Meeting Alternative Energy Needs

Although it is much less expensive to initially get hooked into the local electric company’s grid than it is to set up and hook into wind turbines, in the long run one saves money by utilizing the wind for one’s energy needs—while also becoming more independent. Not receiving an electric bill while enjoying the advantages of the modern electrically-driven lifestyle is a wondrous feeling.

Electric bills and fuel bills are rising steadily—but the cost of wind turbine energy is zero, and the cost of installing and hooking up a turbine is steadily coming down as demand rises and more commercial success is realized by various companies producing the turbines and researching technologies to make them ever more efficient. In addition, people are moving away from the traditional electric grids and the fossil fuels for personal reasons including desire for greater independence, the desire to live remotely or rurally without having to “go primitive”, political concerns such as fears of terrorist strikes on oil fields or power grids, or concerns about the environment. Again, this motivation to get away from the traditional energy sources is the same one that causes people to seek the power of the wind for their energy, giving more business opportunities to profit from wind turbine production and maintenance, which drives their costs down for the consumers. In nearly thirty states at the time of this writing, homeowners who remain on the grid but who still choose to use wind energy (or other alternative forms) are eligible for rebates or tax breaks from the state governments that end up paying for as much as 50% of their total “green” energy systems’ costs. In addition, there are 35 states at the time of this writing where these homeowners are allowed to sell their excess energy back to the power company under what are called “net metering laws”. The rates that they are being paid by the local power companies for this energy are standard retail rates—in other words, the homeowners are actually profiting from their own energy production.

Some federal lawmakers are pushing to get the federal government to mandate these tax breaks and other wind power incentives in all 50 states. Japan and Germany already have national incentive programs in place. However, “A lot of this is handled regionally by state law. There wouldn’t really be a role for the federal government,” the Energy Department’s Craig Stevens says. And as might be imagined, there are power companies who feel that it’s unfair that they should have to pay retail rates to private individuals. “We should [only have to] pay you the wholesale rate for … your electricity,” according to Bruce Bowen, Pacific Gas & Electric’s director of regulatory policy. However, the companies seem to be more worried about losing short term profits than about the benefits, especially in the long run, of the increased use of wind turbines or wind farms. Head of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies of California V. John White points out, “It’s quality power that strengthens the grid.”

What is Alternative Energy

There is a lot of energy that we can harness if we only seek to research and develop the technologies needed to do so. We can get away from the fossil fuels and the old electrical grids by turning to alternatives to these energy sources.

One of these alternative energy resources is wind power. Wind turbines continue to be developed that are progressively more energy efficient and less costly. “Wind farms” have been springing up in many nations, and they have even become more strategically placed over time so that they are not jeopardizing birds as former wind turbines did.

Another alternative energy resource is the one that is most well known: solar energy. This involves the manufacturing of solar cells which gather and focus the energy given off directly by the sun, and translate it into electricity or, in some cases, hot water. As with wind energy, solar energy creates absolutely zero pollution.

Ocean wave energy is seen by governments and investors as having enormous energy generating potential. A generator in France has been in operation for many years now and is considered to be a great success, and the Irish and Scots are running experimental facilities.

Hydroelectric power has been with us for a while and where it is set up, it is a powerful generator of electricity and cleaner than a grid. However, there are certain limitations to the availability of the right places to set up a large dam. Many run-of-the-river, or small and localized, hydroelectric generators have been set up in recent times due to this limitation.

Geothermal energy is extremely abundant, since it lies directly beneath our feet, just a few miles below the earth’s surface. This energy is produced by the heating of water through the actions of earth’s fantastically hot molten core. The water turns to steam, which can be harnessed and used to drive turbine engines which in turn generate electricity. Great amounts of research and development should be put into geothermal energy tapping.

Waste gas energies, which are essentially methane, reverse the usual energy-pollution relationship by creating energy from waste that lies in the dumps and from some air pollutants. This gas is used in fuel cells and can be used in standard gasoline generators.

Ethanol is a gasoline substitute and is created from such things as wheat, sugarcane, grapes, strawberries, corn, and even wood chips and wood cellulose. There is controversy over this fuel with regards to its ever becoming truly economical or practical except in very localized areas, but technologies for its extraction and admixturing are continuously being refined.

Biodiesel energy is created out of the oils contained in plants. So far, the commercial stores of biodiesel have been created using soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. At the time of this writing, biodiesel is typically produced by entrepreneurial minded individuals or those who want to experiment with alternative energy, but commercial interest from companies is on the rise. It burns much cleaner than oil-based diesel.

Atomic energy is created in atomic energy plants using the process of nuclear fission. This energy is extremely efficient and can generate huge amounts of power. There is concern from some people about what to do with the relatively small amount of waste product atomic energy gives off, since it is radioactive and takes hundreds of years to decay into harmlessness.

University Research into Alternative Energy

Decades of tree and biomass research jointly conducted by Florida Statue University and Shell Energy have resulted in the planting of the largest single “Energy Crop Plantation” in the entire United States. This Plantation spans approximately 130 acres and is home to over 250,000 planted trees including cottonwoods (native to the area) and eucalyptus (which are non-invasive) along with various row crops such as soybeans. This organization of “super trees” was brought into being as a result of the University’s joint research with other agencies including Shell, the US Department of Energy, the Common Purpose Institute, and groups of various individuals who are working to develop alternative energy sources (those not dependent on fossil fuels) for the future. This research is focused on the planting and processing of biomass energy supplies from fast-growing crops known as “closed loop biomass” or simply “energy crops”. The project seeks to develop “power plants” such as wood-pulp or wood-fiber providing plants; clean biogas to be used by industries; plants such as surgarcane which can be used for ethanol development; and crops such as soybeans for biodiesel fuel production.

University involvement in alternative energy research is also going on at Penn State University. At Penn State, special research is focused on the development of hydrogen power as a practical alternative energy source. The researchers involved are convinced that mankind is moving toward a hydrogen-fueled economy due to the needs for us to reduce air pollution and find other sources of energy besides petroleum to power up the United States. Hydrogen energy burns clean and can be endlessly renewed, as it can be drawn from water and crop plants. Hydrogen power would thus be a sustainable energy resource to be found within the US’ own infrastructure while the world’s supply of (affordable) oil peaks and begins to decline. The University seeks to help with the commercial development of hydrogen powered fuel cells, which would be usable in place of or in tandem with combustion engines for all of our motor vehicles.

When President Bush recently announced his alternative energy initiative, he determined that the government would develop five “Sun Grant” centers for concentrated research. Oregon State University has the honor of having been selected as one of these centers, and has been allocated government grants of $20 million for each of the next four years in order to carry out its mission. OSU will lead the way in researching alternative energy as it represents the interests of the Pacific Islands, the US’ Pacific Territories, and nine western states. OSU President Edward Ray says, the research being conducted through OSU’s Sun Grant center will contribute directly to our meeting President Bush’s challenge for energy independence. Specific research into alternative energy being conducted at OSU by varios teams of scientists right now include a project to figure out how to efficiently convert such products as straw into a source of renewable biomass fuel, and another one aimed at studying how to efficiently convert wood fibers into liquid fuel.

The Ways that the Military is Using Alternative Energy

The US military knows that its branches must revamp their thinking about how to engage in “the theater of war” in the new, post-Cold War world of the 21st century. One thing that the military leaders stress is the desire for the forces deployed in the theater to be able to be more energy-independent. Currently the US military has policies and procedures in place to interact with allies or sympathetic local populaces to help its forces in the field get their needed energy and clean water when engaged in a foreign military campaign. However, this is not wholly reliable, as the US might well find itself facing unilateral military activities, or have itself in a situation where its allies cannot help it with the resources it needs to conduct its military actions successfully.

The US military is very interested in certain alternative energies that, with the right research and development technologically, can make it energy independent, or at least a great deal more so, on the battlefield. One of the things that greatly interests the military along these lines is the development of small nuclear reactors, which could be portable, for producing theater-local electricity. The military is impressed with how clean-burning nuclear reactors are and how energy efficient they are. Making them portable for the typical warfare of today’s highly mobile, small-scaled military operations is something they are researching. The most prominent thing that the US military thinks these small nuclear reactors would be useful for involves the removal of hydrogen (for fuel cell) from seawater. It also thinks that converting seawater to hydrogen fuel in this way would have less negative impact on the environment than its current practices of remaining supplied out in the field.

Seawater is, in fact, the military’s highest interest when it comes to the matter of alternative energy supply. Seawater can be endlessly “mined” for hydrogen, which in turn powers advanced fuel cells. Using OTEC, seawater can also be endlessly converted into desalinated, potable water. Potable water and hydrogen for power are two of the things that a near-future deployed military force will need most of all.

In the cores of nuclear reactors—which as stated above are devices highly interesting, in portable form, to the US military—we encounter temperatures greater than 1000 degrees Celsius. When this level of temperature is mixed with a thermo-chemical water-splitting procedure, we have on our hands the most efficient means of breaking down water into its component parts, which are molecular hydrogen and oxygen. The minerals and salts that are contained in seawater would have to be extracted via a desalination process in order to make the way clear for the water-splitting process. These could then be utilized, such as in vitamins or in salt shakers, or simply sent back to the ocean (recycling). Using the power of nuclear reactors to extract this hydrogen from the sea, in order to then input that into fuel cells to power advanced airplanes, tanks, ground vehicles, and the like, is clearly high on the R & D priority list of the military.