Understanding our Energy Requirements and the “Green” Ideology

Nov 30, 2009 by D. J. Schwartz

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The term “Going Green” has become a catch-all expression for anything that is eco-friendly, from reusable tote bags, electric cars, solar power, can, glass, and plastic recycling, and everything in-between. 

Unfortunately, where and when energy is involved, “going green” is more slogan than reality.  Let me explain:

To keep energy on an even playing field, I’m going to use BTU’s as a standard measurement.  Almost every type of energy, can be translated into BTU’s, using this calculator:

Or to quickly understand and visualize how energy types generate BTU’s, this should help:

Conversion Table of Common Energy Sources to Btu:

Conversion Table of Common Energy Sources to Btu

The Myth of "Going Green"

From the cross-referenced diagram and chart below, in order to increase the use of alternative energy, we would have to replace other types of energy supplies and their concomitant usage by source and sector:

U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2008

Alternative Energy comprises only 7% of our Energy Supply

Broken down further, Alternative Energy is comprised of the following:

The Role of Renewable Energy in the Nation's Energy Supply, 2008

Most Renewable Energy Goes to Producing Electricity

Electricity producers consumed 51% of total US renewable energy in 2007. Most of the remaining 49% of renewable energy was biomass consumed for industrial applications (principally paper-making) by plants producing only heat and steam. Biomass is also used for transportation fuels (ethanol) and to provide residential and commercial space heating. The largest share of the renewable-generated electricity comes from hydroelectric energy (71%), followed by biomass (16%), wind (9%), geothermal (4%), and solar (0.2%). Wind-generated electricity increased by almost 21% in 2007 over 2006, more than any other energy source. Its growth rate was followed closely by solar, which increased by over 19% in 2007 over 2006.

Why We Don’t Use More Renewable Energy

Renewable energy sources and generating technologies are environmentally benign compared with fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, but there are two main reasons why we don’t use more renewable energy:

  1. Renewable Energy is Expensive and Capital-Intensive: Renewable energy plants are generally more expensive to build and to operate than coal and natural gas plants. Recently, however, some wind-generating plants have proven to be economically feasible in areas with good wind resources, compared with other conventional technologies, when coupled with the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit.

  2. Renewable Resources Are Often Geographically Remote: The best renewable resources are often available only in remote areas, so building transmission lines to deliver power to large metropolitan areas is expensive. 

Although "Going Green is a useful and nice slogan, in the real world, we need real fixes to get us out of our energy source and usage conundrum. This is one of the last great business, political, and energy frontiers, and I can hardly wait to see what the future has in store for us.

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3 Responses to “Understanding our Energy Requirements and the “Green” Ideology”

  1. Mike Goad says:

    It is all too unfortunate that the color green has come to “mean” something that is more dream than reality. I cringe every time I hear it used in a slogan or an ad — most especially when it comes to power production.

    My entire career was spent in an industry that activist environmentalists ardently opposed — until recently when some began to view nuclear in a better light since it’s carbon emissions are negligible.

    Now that nuclear is green (cringe) energy, it’s okay. ;)
    Mike Goad´s last blog ..Balcony House and more My ComLuv Profile

    [Reply]

    LisaNewton Reply:

    @Mike Goad, I couldn’t agree more. I hope that we are moving away from “green” nuclear and toward green wind, solar, and other “renewable” energy sources.

    [Reply]

    Solar Power Expert Reply:

    @Mike Goad, I’m with you on this one but I would even take it a step further. I think the term “green” is being bastardized just like any other better idea because there is money to be made. For example, it is turning into the same exact thing as the organic movement. Explain to me how organic cheese puffs are healthy and conventional cheese puffs are not? As long as there is a dollar to be made, we’ll be hard pressed to find a real solution. That is until there is a dire need.

    [Reply]

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