Learning from sustainable energy

Energy & Sustainability
Learning from sustainable energy

There are lots of reasons why we should be weaning our society off of carbon based fossil fuels and moving to sustainable, renewable fuels.

Pick which ever reason you like and get to work:

Security: Do we need to barricade solar panels and wind mills like nuclear power plants?

Decentralized power: If a corporation owns the nuclear power plant, coal fired plant, natural gas plant or other big energy producer, then will they have your interests in mind as they make decisions? Would the same be true about a person who has a windmill on his or her property? Who should be in control, the corporations or the people? Both?

Safety: Have you ever seen a car burning with a with a full or partially full tank of gas? It is quite a sight when the tank blows. If it spills, then the gasoline makes a big mess. Lots of kitty litter. Are gas stations known to be clean? Would you grow food on the same property as the coal power plant or nuclear plant? Would you grow food at the base of a wind mill? How about next to a solar hot water installation? Would that be safe?

“Magic”: Creating energy out of ‘nothing’ is pretty much magic, at least it seems that way. You don’t have to ship wind from across the world. Sunlight falls on the ground if we don’t intercept it with a solar panel. There are other examples for each renewable energy source.

Making your own power is fun: Make some electricity today. Shake a flashlight, crank up a radio, charge a cell phone with light, heat your snack with the sun. You may just be surprised at how fun it is to generate electricity or capture heat.

Because we can: Generating more of our own power is something we can do. If we do it, we will have to learn more about how things work. We will have to learn about making systems function. It won’t be entirely easy, but it can be done. So why not give it a shot?

Social Justice: In the news today, pay attention to the countries mentioned as having the worst human rights records. Then check out whether they have oil reserves. They probably do.

Buy Local: If we spend our energy dollars on oil that has been shipped from across the world, we are sending dollars outside the country. Do they need it more than we do? What are they going to do with our money? What could we do with that money?

Limited supply: When is/was/will be peak oil? US peak oil happened sometime in the early seventies. It was predicted by M. King Hubbert during the fifties that the US would use up the half of the oil in the ground in the seventies. Do you hear much about Pennsylvania crude anymore? He is credited with Hubbert’s curve, and often is credited with the term Peak Oil. He made other predictions about world oil supply and when it would peak. Oil will not last forever. How come we don’t use whale oil to provide us with light at night? Whale oil used to be a big industry.

Build a new industry: If the technologies for harnessing the energy of the sun and planet come from the US, then the jobs, profits and credit for the solution also goes with the US or whoever actually solves the problem.

Fossils are from the past, not the future: We are going to move away from fossil fuels eventually. Fossil fuels are not renewable. We use them up much faster than we can replenish the supply. The last drop of oil will never be pumped. The last drop will remain in the ground because it is too impractical to extract it. Why not move towards energy independence because we want to create something better? We could wait for $7 a gallon gasoline, but then we are not working from a position of strength. In the face of rapidly fluctuating energy prices like we have seen in the past couple of years, we have reduced the amount of energy we are using. We don’t have to do it in a panic. We can make this transition with a sense of patriotism, environmentalism, personal finances, curiosity or whatever positive motivator we want.

Many people don’t know how to move towards using more renewable fuels. Take some simple steps yourself as soon as you can. Make some electricity yourself. After you make it, find out how a part of the system works. It is usually simple stuff that just seems complex. If you turn a dc motor, it can be a generator. So you can convert your muscle power, or water falling, or a spring unwinding into electricity for light, sound, computing or many other uses. Solar garden lights are pretty cheap these days. Get some and see how they work. See what you recognize in the system and learn from there.

How can we begin doing the important work of teaching people to be more careful with the energy we have, and generate more of it ourselves? What is the best way to teach about energy generation? What can kids do to make their schools and homes more energy efficient? How can we encourage students to show us the was towards a more secure and sustainable future?

Feel free to add ideas in the comments that suggest a constructive path towards our future energy system.

Mr.Solar has some good information

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Making things is the best way to learn about our world.

View more articles by Chris Connors
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