There Has Never Been a Better Time to Stop Using Non-Renewables, Ever

This is going to seem like a ramble, and I’m okay with that, but I think that something needs to be said. It’s time that we stop depending on the Middle East and despotic regimes like Libya for the oil we use to light our world. While we’re at it, we should also convert from using coal and natural gas to forms of energy that we’re not going to run out of to forms of energy that are essentially good forever. I mean, really – when solar power runs out, we’ve bigger problems to worry about then, don’t we.

Doesn’t this seem like such a no-brainer? Switching from a fuel that is going to run out to a fuel that will never run out?

In my perfect Utopian world that obviously only exists in my head, we harness solar fully in just three states, wind in just two states, tidal and wave on the coasts, and provide the necessary gear for people to very easily use solar and wind at home. I’m a lighting designer, and I imagine a world where every touring production travels with a truck that has a solar and battery setup to self-sustain the show’s power needs. Wouldn’t that be just awesome and amazing?

Those kind of systems exist now. Yep, that’s no bull.

You know what the really sick and creepy thing about all of this energy generation business is? We actually CAN do exactly what exists in my head. We have the technology, desire, and ability to turn our power from coal and oil to wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal, among other forms. But, as we live in a country (and on a planet) that is so addicted to non-renewables like oil and coal, a change like this can only come if we demand it. All of us. Together.

When a place like Libya undergoes a revolt like is experiencing now, everything goes to sh*t around the world. Gas prices skyrocket. Everything costs more because the price of oil goes nuts. I just heard on NPR a few days that a barrel of oil just hit $100 bucks on the market. It’s not expected to get much cheaper any time soon, either. How can we continue to keep doing this, folks? It’s not just our gas that’s going to continue to climb honed and higher, it’s going to be everything in our lives – electricity bills, heating and cooling costs, light and lighting, food, clothing, all of it.

Something that we cannot overlook now is the danger of nuclear power.  Our brothers and sisters in Japan are experiencing the repercussions of the dangers of nuclear power for light after this last unprecedented earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  Have you been watching the news about the fires happening at the Fukushima Daiishi and Daini plants outside Tokyo right now?  Wider protection zones are being requested and considered by high ranking officials around the nuclear power plants in Tokyo, we’re haring news about meltdowns, radioactive fallout, and radiation sickness dangers.  It’s not a secret that nuclear power plants are powerful – but if you compare the bi-products and danger considerations versus those for renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave, is the danger really that worth it?

When the earthquake and tsunami first hit, the stock market was all a buzz about how solar stocks would triumph in this moment of our time.  Now the same people are saying that oil, coal, and gas are making big leaps and bounds because of the earthquake.  How screwed up is it that people spend more time trying to profit from a disaster like the one that just happened and is growing ever stronger and worse, day by day?  Why aren’t we trying to get solar and wind power in there now to help people out?

Think of the amount of energy needed to harvest pretty much every single non-renewable – oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel – each of these methods requires several multiples of the energy actually gained just to make it in the first place.  Renewable energy sources require nearly no extra energy (or carbon footprint).  Why is this so hard for everyone to understand?

We cannot afford to rely on these non-renewables for our light any longer. We just cannot afford to be petroleum slaves anymore.  Our technological development in light is moving in the wrong direction when we base it on what coal, oil, and nuclear power are dictating.

There are so many advancements in solar technology happening right now, as well as with wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave power generation that it is staggering to think we’re not completely utilizing these sustainable sources of power. We are destroying our home with the mining of oil, coal, and natural gas.  Fracking, for example (fracture drilling for you Battlestar Galactica fans), has been proven to cause earthquakes.  Spent nuclear fuel (and live nuclear fuel for that matter) is so dangerous to humans that it must be buried deep underground to keep it away from us.  We have got to knock this stuff off and get involved in having a home that will be around for a long time. At our current rate, we are absolutely screwed.

Over the last few years as politicians have been lobbied by the CFL and LED manufacturers, we as lighting designers have all gotten our underwear in a bunch over being told we can’t use incandescents.  What sucks about that is that yes, it would be awesome to have a replacement for incandescent sources so that our light sources don’t draw a lot of power.  Well, my frank opinion is that if we were able to generate new electricity nearly free of cost, who cares what light sources we use?  Should we keep developing?  Of course.  Should we keep looking for an incandescent replacement?  Of course we should.  We should also work on improving our current power grid so that we have better distribution of power – it would stun your mind how many places across the country (and world for that matter) are operating on an industry-birth set of infrastructure that is as old as the industry is itself.  How much sense does that make?

Of course, what do I know – I only spend 8-12 hours a day looking at the advancement of light in our society.  I know we can do better, we just have to do it.  I want the best for us!  Most of all, I want us to start thinking sustainably – we’re not gonna make it if we don’t.  That is, of course, just my educated opinion.  But again, what do I know?

3 replies
  1. Karl W.
    Karl W. says:

    Hey Jim,

    The problem isn’t energy generation, it’s energy storage. We don’t have any good way to store large amounts of energy. Without storage there is no reliable supply, and without reliable supply we can all forget about exclusive use of alternative energy sources.

    The best we can do today is pump water uphill so it can be run through hydroelectric generating stations again, which is both inefficient and incapable of scaling to meet world demand. The best batteries have to improve 20 times to match the weight-for-weight energy storage density of gasoline. Today’s best batteries require very rare minerals so they are not renewable either.

    Research is underway to improve batteries, and develop alternatives such as massive capacitors. Fuel cells are one attempt to get around the storage problem, but hydrogen is difficult to produce, store, and transport, and not particularly good for energy storage density.Without a better storage solution, solar, wind, wave, and all those other technologies simply will not scale.

  2. Brent Morgan
    Brent Morgan says:

    As a an owner of a company, http://www.kinematicsmfg.com/, that does a lot of our work within the solar, renewable, and clean energy space I have to disagree with you Karl. The problem isn’t necessarily storage it’s more fundamentally based. People in government understand, or claim to understand the importance and need for clean renewable energy yet we still aren’t seeing much being done. What Jim says is mostly correct because we do have the technology and the capability to harness renewable energy. The fact of the matter is we always have to wait till something catastrophic hits before we really take action. I certainly hope that the crisis in Japan and Libya will wake us up… if not then we will all be stuck with could’ve and should of…

    Brent

    • Karl W.
      Karl W. says:

      Hey Brent,

      I don’t disagree with your assertion, but I think my point is still very valid.

      Unless you’ve figured out a way to make solar panels work in the dark (launch them into space and beam the power down via microwave?) then I don’t see them solving the needs of the entertainment industry, where most performances take place in the evening. If you’ve got a solution to making wind turbines generate power when there’s no wind blowing then please let the world know how it is done. We know how to transmit power across continents with acceptable loss so I guess we can use wave power, or geothermal where it is available.technologies.

      I am not saying we should not pursue alternative and renewable energy sources. Clearly they have a part to play in the solution, and we should put more effort into it years ago.Solar certainly works to offset peak demand for air conditioning, for example. But whoever came up with the idea of taking food crops and converting them to ethanol ought to have their head examined. Figure out how to do it economically in marginal arable land instead of forcing the planet to choose between heat and hunger.

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