What is clean energy and why we should use it?
Affordable, reliable electricity is fundamental to modern life. It provides clean, safe light around the clock, it cools our homes during hot summer days, warm many homes in the winter, and it quietly breathes life into the digital world we tap into with our smart phones and computers.
Although we use electricity everyday, most of us don’t think about where it come from. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, In 2015, the United States generated about 4 trillion kilowatthours of electricity. About 67% of the electricity generated was from burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum).
Burning coal is the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming. Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. Some emissions can be significantly reduced with readily available pollution controls, but most U.S. coal plants have not installed these technologies. Harmful pollutants emitted annually from a typical, uncontrolled coal plant include:
Carbon dioxide (CO2): In 2011, utility coal plants in the United States emitted a total of 1.7 billion tons of CO2.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2): Coal plants are the United States’ leading source of SO2 pollution, which takes a major toll on public health, including by contributing to the formation of small acidic particulates that can penetrate into human lungs and be absorbed by the bloodstream. SO2 also causes acid rain, which damages crops, forests, and soils, and acidifies lakes and streams. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 14,100 tons of SO2 per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including flue gas desulfurization (smokestack scrubbers), emits 7,000 tons of SO2 per year.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx): NOx pollution causes ground level ozone, or smog, which can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 10,300 tons of NOx per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including selective catalytic reduction technology, emits 3,300 tons of NOx per year.
Particulate matter: Particulate matter (also referred to as soot or fly ash) can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility. A typical uncontrolled plan emits 500 tons of small airborne particles each year. Baghouses installed inside coal plant smokestacks can capture as much as 99 percent of the particulates.
Mercury: Coal plants are responsible for more than half of the U.S. human-caused emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. A typical uncontrolled coal plants emits approximately 170 pounds of mercury each year. Activated carbon injection technology can reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 percent when combined with baghouses. ACI technology is currently found on just 8 percent of the U.S. coal fleet.
Cadmium and other toxic heavy metals: 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium. Baghouses can reduce heavy metal emissions by up to 90 percent
Carbon monoxide: Per year, a typical, uncontrolled coal plant emits approximately 720 tons of carbon monoxide, which causes headaches and places additional stress on people with heart disease.
Hydrocarbons: Per year, a typical, uncontrolled coal plant emits approximately 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.
Arsenic: Per year, a typical, uncontrolled coal plant emits approximately 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.
Take a look at this picture:
and tell me that we are not polluting the environment.
Natural gas and oil are also not clean. When these are burned, carbon dioxide is released. Companies are also producing natural gas by pumping toxic chemicals into the ground contaminating our water supply.
With regard to nuclear, in March 2011, a powerful earthquake caused a Tsunami to hit Fukushima I nuclear power plant in Japan, resulting in a meltdown of 3 of its 6 reactors and became the largest nuclear incidents since the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986.
Even though we can build nuclear power plant in a desert in an earthquake-safe zone, considering the radioactive end products, today political climate, the cost of building and maintaining a nuclear power plant, and inefficiency that are involved with transferring electricity over long distance, I am not a fan of using nuclear materials to produce electricity.
When it is time to discuss about energy, there is one term that I really hate. It is renewable. According to Wikipedia, a renewable energy source is generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. However, renewable does not necessarily mean environmental-friendly.
Consider, biomass, which is basically growing plants and grass, drying them into pellets, and burning them just like coal to produce heat, energy, and electricity. Biomass is considered as a renewable energy source, because it can be re-grow. Because biomass is carbon neutral, (the amount of carbon dioxide that it release into the air when burned is exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide that the plant consumed during photosynthesis), some people believe that it doesn’t do any harm to the environment, and therefore can be used.
But, if we do not have a good national policy in place, people may start to grow grass and plant, those that yield high energy when burned (so-called energy crops), instead of growing regular food crops. This will impact the food price, and the chemicals that are used to grow these energy crops may do harm to the land and leak into our water supply. While biomass does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, it does not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air neither (unless we do not use it to produce electricity or energy).
With regard to tides, ocean waves, or hydro (waterfalls), if we put equipments into the water to harness energy from ocean waves or waterfalls, these equipment may kill or injure fishes, other marine mammals, and disrupt the whole planet’s ecosystem.
There are companies that grow algae to produce oil. While this is possible, and they can produce a fair amount of oil, this is like biomass. It is carbon neutral. It does not harm the environment in term of carbon dioxide released into the air, but it does not reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air neither (unless we do not burn the oil that it produces).
Algae, like viruses, have different strains, and these companies are genetically modifying algae to produce more oil. I am concerned that this may lead to other environmental problems, like super-viruses.
Compared to the technologies mentioned above, wind is a source of clean energy. At the national and state level, building more wind power plants may make sense. However, for homeowners, owning wind turbine may not make sense, because wind is not predictable, unless you live in a windy area, such as near a beach. Wind turbines typically require a lot of space, and they may make annoying noise that may cause your neighbors to complain.
There are other technologies that are being developed such as fuel cells, geothermal, but these technologies are still new, quite expensive, or not practical for homeowners.
Within the solar category, there are different technologies:
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): This technology use a vast array of mirrors and lenses to focus sunlight to spots to heat water to create steam which then powers turbine engine to produce electricity. This technology is very efficient, and is used to build large solar power plants in the deserts where there is plenty of sunlight. However, there have been sighting where a number of birds just fall dead from the sky around these power plants, and therefore some of these solar power plants were shut down, pending assessment on environmental impacts.
There are different variations of CSP, and not all variations of CSP has environmental impacts. However, these solar power plants share the same limitation associated with traditional power plants. That is, some of the energy produced by these power plants is lost during the long distance transmission from the power plants to your home.
PhotoVoltaic (PV) / Solar Panel: This is your residential solar panels or PV system.
Solar hot water heater: This technology capture the heat from sunlight and use it to produce warm water. Like PV, this technology is very clean, but it is limited to just providing hot water.
The process of manufacturing monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV cells does produce some carbon dioxide and therefore contributes to global warming. However, once installed, solar energy is free. PV systems do not produce any carbon dioxide. The electricity that it produces is very clean, and PV systems are expected to last for a very long time, up to 25 years or more.
It doesn’t require expensive and ongoing raw materials like oil or coal to be constantly extracted, refined, and transported to the power plant. With PV system, the energy is generated near the point of use, and therefore does not lose energy compared with traditional long distance transmission.
As you can see, PV is really good compared to other technologies. It is renewable. It is clean, and environmentally friendly. It helps fight global warming, but there is more. It saves you money, add value to your property, create jobs for your local community.
But be wary of the leasing and power purchase agreements, and the free installation. Read the fine-print. Nowadays, you can get the 15% or 20% saving using a loan, instead of a lease, and you may even qualify for the 30% federal tax incentive. To learn more about the benefits provided by solar panels and various risks, watch my video below.
Is global warming happening?
I know that some American believe that global warming is a hoax, or is not caused by human, but over the past 2 years, I have done a lot of reading, and my belief is that global warming is happening. Look at the picture above and tell me that we are not polluting the environment and contributing to global warming.
Global warming is projected to have a number of effects on the oceans. Ongoing effects include rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and warming of the ocean surface. Global warming impacts the supply of fish. For example, salmon are highly sensitive to river temperatures, and warmer temperatures are threatening Alaska’s fisheries. Global warming, or more precisely, the increase of carbon dioxide gas in the air also lead to more acidic ocean, putting marine life in danger.
Global warming also leads to the drying off lakes, and grass growing in Anchorage, Alaska.
Most scientist agree that global warming is happening, and it increased about one Celcius degree since the industrial revolution, however I am not sure if we can trust the data or the prediction models. And even if one Celcius degree is accurate, global warming impact us differently depending on where we are in the world. That one degree may be very significant for people living in areas such as India where it is typically very hot all year round.
Here are some more pictures to think about:
The 2015 heat wave in India killed more than 2,500 people, and the US government predicts that the heat wave of summer of 2030 can kill 11,000 people. Read the resources below for more detail. There are solutions to this global warming problem, but it will require your involvement. If you want to know more about global warming, please contact me, or leave a comment below.
I live in northern California, and from where I live, I can see blue sky and white cloud. Occassionally, I drive to San Francisco, and I see fog. But recently, our family drove across Los Angeles, and the sky was strangely gray, and it was noon. This gray air was everywhere. We thought that it was caused by a wild fire, but after discussing it with a friend, she told us that was not fog, it was smog, pollution caused by cars.
Take a look at these images:
The picture on the left was was we saw when we drove through Los Angeles this July, 2016.
Benefits and Risks of using solar panels:
Here is the video that I mentioned:
If you need a printable transcript of this video, please print the home page. Please also share this page with your friends and family on social media.
- Climate change may be a burning issue – but election campaign tells another story
- 6 Ways Climate Change in Alaska Will Affect You
- List of Parties that signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April
- Summer of 2030 heat wave could kill 11,000, White House says
- India blames heatwave deaths on climate change
- Mercury rising: India records its highest temperature ever
- Are the Effects of Global Warming Really that Bad?
- Sea-level rise will cause more than flooding — these 5 other impacts of rising oceans are just as bad