New Energy Developments
It is strategically important to develop all safe energy technologies. Virtually all of the energy currently used in the world is created by the sun and stored in a myriad of different ways until we end up using it (those energy storage methods include petroleum and coal, BTW). There isn't any one magic solution and we haven't got time to try these technologies one at a time. The following is my assessment of the technologies I have looked into. It is incomplete: There is just too much going on for me to keep up with all of it, run for office and do the job I get paid to do. I believe all of these technologies are getting R&D support from the DOE and in many cases, the DOE is the primary researcher. This should, obviously, be continued. The real choices to be made now are what to support for deployment.
It is just as important to ensure the new technologies are safe. For example, windmills shouldn't be located near residential neighborhoods. And any energy storage technology has the potential for severe fires and even explosions if not protected adequately.
Practical Energy Technology
This category includes Technology that will pay for itself at current energy prices with little or no incentives. And energy prices are likely to go up. We need to keep consistently providing incentives for this technology and we need to make sure they are made in the US.
Windmills are practical with modest government subsidies or with price guarantees. Windmills should not be deployed too close to residential areas because the blades could become a hazard in the face of severe weather.
There are two common ways of using solar energy: Hydronic (i.e., solar hot water) and photocells. Hydronic solar (i. e., solar water heating) is practical for domestic hot water in most locations in the United States. Many systems call provide domestic hot water and supplement home heating, too. Electric solar panels are still a little expensive, but can pay off for home use when subsidies are available. Large solar electric applications are starting to compete favorably.
Storing energy for later use is critical to any new energy infrastructure. It is important that we provide incentives make sure this technology is manufactured in the US.
Air conditioners are, in fact, one kind of heat pump, but there are also designs that pump the heat to/from the ground or body of water: These are called geo-thermal heat pumps. They are practical for new construction in areas where land is relatively inexpensive.
Promising New Developments
The technologies listed below are some that I think will warrant support in future deployments.
Biofuel technology in the United States is not ready for prime time. There are new technologies coming that will produce fuel cheaply from cellulose (i.e., trash), but I'm not sure they will be capable of large scale production any time soon. Biodiesel also looks promising; however, current production methods would require all the farmland in the country to produce the amount needed. Experimental techniques that produce biodiesel from algae are much more efficient and might make the technology viable on a large scale.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen fuel cells have been around a long time, but have been very expensive and generating hydrogen has been too inefficient. The cost of the fuel cells has come down to the point where they can be practical and some techniques for generating hydrogen efficiently from electricity have been found recently. As with any energy storage medium, safety is an issue with hydrogen.
Other energy technologies coming along:
- Super efficient air conditioners
- Super efficient internal combustion engines
Failed Energy Technology
It is important to recognize failed energy technologies so we don't waste any money on further support for them and redeploy the resources they are consuming to something practical.
The current plants that distil corn mash to produce Ethanol are approximately energy neutral (i.e., they use as much energy as they produce) and they increase net carbon emissions. Sugar cane does work well as a source of biofuels, but it doesn't grow in the US. There are also recent studies that claim clearing the land to grow crops for biofuel releases so much carbon that it will take 93 years for the resulting fuel production to become carbon neutral (Seattle Times). Not to mention that current biofuel technologies use food as a raw material and people are starving elsewhere in the world.
We generate some energy from nuclear fission, but that is not a viable solution for generating the amount of energy we need because
- The current nuclear power plant designs are not safe.
- it produces waste that is incomprehensibly poisonous.
- It only uses 3% of the energy available from the fuel. That's even worse than a 1960s gasoline engine.
- It has been around more than 40 years and still requires government subsidies including free liability insurance and construction load guarantees.