Its the mean season again, and with the US Presidential race come 2 different approaches to the escalating energy crisis. As both have serious problems – one philosophical, the other in execution – here’s some fresh thought regarding energy options:
Vitally important yet never heard are the time factors underlying the realities of energy sources. To understand the time factor, it is important to understand that, except for geothermal and nuclear, energy sources are essentially different forms of solar energy: direct photovoltaic conversion; solar driven hydro- and atmospherics tapped into by wind generators and dams; solar built life; and last but unfortunately not least – the stored solar energy of fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal.)
Regarding time, imagine the planet completely covered with photovoltaic solar panels, converting incoming sunlight into electricity which is stored in massive subterranean batteries. As time goes by, the batteries charge and as such they can be likened to coal deposits formed by hundreds of millions of years of sunlight collected by photosynthetic plant life, nature’s solar cells. Again, thats hundreds of millions of years.
In such a vast time period much plant life was eaten by animal life which defecated, died, and decayed into pools of oil. Gases were also formed and trapped and the potency of all 3 fossil fuel states are essentially the result of pressure-cooking in geologic crucibles over hundreds of millions of years.
Very near the end of this time period, humans learned to use fire and came to consume vast quantities of wood. As the supply dwindled in the last hundred years or so, numerous localized supplies of much more potent fossil fuels were discovered to be a good match for powering technologically advanced machines, and so it is today.
One could reasonably state that civilization is in the midst of a fossil fuel binge. In essence, humankind is raiding the solar storehouse collected and condensed over hundreds of millions years and burning it in what is likely to be mere hundreds of years. Even as the limits of this storehouse are increasingly felt, these energy sources are taken for granted as lifestyles depend on its consumption almost universally.
When people claim that renewables should be taking the place of fossil fuels they are basically right. However, it should be abundantly clear by now that forays into “solar” and wind energy are coming up short relative to accustomed energy consumption levels. Renewables simply cannot compete with fossil fuels because they manifest solar energy only as it comes in – in real time.
Because energy’s critical time factors have thus far been excluded from debate, policies and practices have been misguided. On the one hand, there is the notion of letting energy sources succeed by “their own merits,” when such merits disregard the raiding of time inherent with fossil fuel consumption. On the other side, manic belief that renewables can replace fossil fuels at accustomed usage levels has begun a raiding of space – the space of earth’s surface - with a big solar projects approach that can not satisfy such energy demand even if the nightmare scenario of 100% coverage were to come to pass.
The solution is to learn to live with less. Leadership needs to tell that truth. Learn to live with what can be generated from the space already allotted for rooftops, tapping into real time energy as it comes in – directly. Toward that end, government might lead by example, harnessing the sun from the roofs of its own buildings, starting with the White House.