Alternative Energy in California
“The energy crisis in California, the coming global energy crisis,” a slogan used by energycrisis.com (2001), illustrates the necessity for alternative energy sources in California and by extension the whole world. Increasing wholesale electricity prices, power shortages during peak demand hours and fiscal destabilization of California’s major power utility companies has lead to the current crisis. California and the Earth that provides the human race with so many resources are both beautiful places to live. Those resources however, are not unlimited in supply and will soon be exhausted. The state of California can do a better job by using free, limitless energy sources such as solar power, wind power and hydrogen power.
Solar power is the use of energy from the sun’s rays to create energy. Solar energy is captured by solar panels and stored in batteries for later use. It is a renewable and limitless source of energy and with the use of battery storage can be used even on cloudy days.
The main advantages of solar power are cost, ease of installation, and free and unlimited power. The cost of purchasing and installing solar systems has decreased in the recent past. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (2003), a solar system costs 1% of what is cost in the 1970s. Also, some states, such as California, offer incentives to help offset the initial, major cost of solar systems. Solar panels are also becoming smaller and can be installed easily and inconspicuously on roofs or the side of buildings. The sun generates a lot of energy that mainly goes unharnessed currently. According to Sassoon et al. (2009), “The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.” A disadvantage of this type of energy is the usable amount of energy generated. It can take large areas of solar arrays to create usable energy. Also, even with battery back-up power, solar power is best suited to areas with lots of sunlight and is not ideal for areas with overcast weather.
Another alternative energy source is wind power. Wind power is generated by harnessing wind energy. This can be done by creating electricity with a wind turbine or mechanical power with wind mills for example. Most wind energy is generated from high wind speeds therefore in short bursts by wind gusts.
The major advantages of wind power are cost, and unlimited supply. Statistics indicate that wind power costs 60 dollars per megawatt hour to generate electricity whereas coal costs 74-88 dollars per megawatt hour (California Energy Commission, 2007). Also, wind is a renewable energy source. To put it in very simple terms: the wind will blow as long as the sun shines. This is because wind is caused by the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface by the sun (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 1998). High initial costs and unsightliness are among the drawbacks to wind power. Initial costs for wind power systems are large. However, a wind power incentive tax credit of 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour can help offset the initial cost. Also, many consider the large turbines eyesores and this is off putting for adopting this alternative energy source.
Hydrogen power is a little harder to understand than other power sources that one is used to experiencing every day such as the sun and wind. Hydrogen power results from the reaction of hygrogen gas and oxygen gas to create water (Karim and Strickland, 2000). This reaction creates a lot of energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to produce electricity.
There are several advantages to hydrogen power. For one, it is a very clean source of energy. It releases very few harmful emissions unlike burning of fossil fuel for energy, which creates harmful greenhouse gases. Use of hydrogen power decreases the United States’ reliance on foreign oil. Hydrogen power can be used to power vehicles. Also, it is not reliant on weather conditions and can be produced anywhere in the world. Some of the disadvantages of hydrogen power include cost, safety hazards and small fuel cell size. It is expensive to produce, store and transport hydrogen fuel. This is partly related to safety hazards related to hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is highly explosive. This was disastrously demonstrated by the Hindenburg, an airship kept afloat by hydrogen gas, which is lighter than air, which exploded into flames in midair and crashed. Another drawback is the small size of fuel cells that can be used to power vehicles. Because they have such small fuel cells they have a limited range before refueling is necessary.
Each alternative energy source has its own set of advantages and disadvantages but in comparison to the major disadvantage of continuing to consume fossil fuels at an alarming rate each is well worth considering. One of the major drawbacks to alternative energy sources in general is cost, especially initial cost. This can be overcome by technology. As technology advances new and less expensive ways to create alternative energies come into being. Also, by government and state incentives can help offset the initial costs that may be prohibitive to the average consumer. However, to keep California and the Earth the beautiful and livable places that they are for generations to come, finding a way to implement alternative energies is necessary.
California Energy Commision. Comparative costs of California central station electricity generation technologies. (June, 2007). Retrieved from http://www.energy.ca.gov/2007publications/CEC-200-2007-011/CEC-200-2007-011-SD.PDF
Department of Energy. A consumers guide: Get your power from the sun. (December 2003). Retrieved from: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35297.pdf
Energy Information Administration. Energy kids: Renewable wind. (1998). Retrieved from http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=wind_home-basics
Energy Information Administration. Subsequent events — California’s energy crisis. (8 June 2005). Retrieved from http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/california/subsequentevents.html
Karim, N. And Strickland, J. How Fuel Cells Work. (18 September 2000). Retrieved from http://auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/alternative-fuels/fuel-cell.htm
Sassoon, R.E., Hermann, W.A., Hsiao, I., Milkovic, L., Simon, a.J., Benson, S.M. (2009). Quantifying the Flow of Exergy and Carbon through the Natural and Human Systems. Materials for Renewable Energy at the Society and Technology Nexus, 1170E, 4-8. Retrieved from http://gcep.stanford.edu/research/exergy/flowchart.html
Swenson, R. (2001). The coming global energy crisis. Retrieved May 18, 2010 from website http://www.energycrisis.com/
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