Power Electronics

Renewable Energy: A Matter of Life and Breath

As the price of a gallon of gas pushes steadily toward $4 and beyond, and as the price of a barrel of oil is hovering around $100+, the issue of affordable renewable energy comes to mind every time I fill up my gas tank.

Estimates of the world’s oil reserve vary considerably from one source to another. The most optimistic view is that the peak production will be reached within this century to be followed by a sharp decline. The decline will be the first tangible sign that the oil fields are beginning to run dry.

Coal’s reserve is estimated to be between 800 and 900 gigatons, which experts believe will last the world another 300 years at the present consumption rate. One can only imagine the pollution (the byproducts carbon dioxide and sulfur compounds) such use will inflict on the planet in 300 years.

For decades, there have been discussions about the need for realistic, viable and pollution-free alternatives to fossil fuel. But there has been no massive and concentrated investment in research to develop and popularize such alternatives. By that, I mean an effort by several huge corporate conglomerates with a single-minded dedication to developing a multipronged approach to this urgent need of our modern industrial world. All achievements toward this end, so far, have been made by organizations and individuals on a very limited scope and budget.

Now, there are some very bright centers of research all over the world where great results have been achieved. These results should fill us all with great optimism about the possibility of achieving a goal of world consumption that is 100% fueled by renewable energy.

So far, research has been done in solar energy, wind energy, geo-thermal energy, alternate fuel like methane from corn and the list goes on. There are a couple of common threads among all these approaches. First, there is the vivid realization of the need for such solutions. Second, and most important, is the brilliance of the approach and execution of the research projects. This brilliance is a direct reflection of the innovative minds and spirits that have conducted these projects.

The great advances in technology and science that came to maturity over the last few decades give us the ammunition to cultivate and develop environmentally friendly fuel sources. This objective should be viewed as a must as we move toward the second half of this century and beyond. Collectively, we realize that the nonrenewable resources of Earth in the form of oil, gas and coal, as vast as they are, are finite. For civilization to continue to flourish, we need to be the ultimate masters of our destiny.

From the economic point of view, the serious research and ultimate adoption of renewable energy sources will create millions of jobs all over the world. Most likely, these new jobs will more than make up for the jobs lost in the fossil-fuel field. Moreover, if we start working toward this goal immediately, we can completely avert the economic hardships that experts predict will occur as a result of the sharp decline that is expected to follow the peak in oil production.

The other side of the energy equation is conservation. We must embark on a major effort to reduce waste of all sorts and particularly energy. Very simply put, a quick look at any home or office will reveal the extent of the waste in everyday life. This includes electronic equipment, TVs, DVD recorders, computers and numerous power packs continuously turned on night and day, consuming power while not in actual use. Our collective conscience should guide us to conserve energy and limit waste and pollution.

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