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:

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:

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:

Why I may like global warming

Why I may not like global warming

But is this sustainable? What happen when Alaska becomes a hot desert?

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.

Benefits and Risks of using solar panels:

Here is the video that I mentioned:

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Reference materials: