A Practical Route to Our Renewable Energy Future
The U.S. is the largest user of energy in the world, accounting for 50 percent of the world's total energy consumption. Any change in global energy use will require burning less fossil fuels — oil, gas, and coal — and more renewable energy sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and hydropower.
Why should we change energy sources? First of all, depletion of fossil fuels is inevitable, they will eventually run out. In the course of becoming scarce remaining fossil fuels will be under the control of nations which may or may not be willing to sell to us. Second, combustion of fossil fuels puts greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contributing to global warming and climate change. Third, pollution from fossil fuels poses many health risks: smog, particulates, heavy metals and carcinogens. Fourth, an opportunity exists for the U.S. to develop renewable energy technologies and be a leader in the world market for them.
But is it practical to change to renewables? Current renewable technologies can meet our engergy demands now. A square 100 miles on a side using photovoltaic panels (PVs) to convert sunlight to electricity would supply all the electricity used by the United States. If other renewable energy sources were included in the mix, the area required for PVs would be smaller.
We spoke with Dr. John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, about the pathways that can lead to a renewable based energy infrastructure.