Opinion: The future of energy production



Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young is a senior philosophy major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.Contact him at [email protected]

Today, more than 75 percent of the United States’ energy comes from coal, oil and natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The remainder is supplied by nuclear power and renewable energies, such as hydroelectric dams, wind power and solar energy.

Our excessive energy demands are crippling most of the world, and our reliance on dirty fossil fuels makes us friends with terrible regimes that we would normally condemn. We account for five percent of the population but consume close to 25 percent of the world’s energy production.

Our current society can only be paralleled to Charlie Sheen’s drug-infused binge last year. Just like Charlie, we are addicted, and we won’t face reality no matter the consequence. Consume, consume and consume some more until there is nothing left, and then worry about what to do. Sounds like addiction to me!

Assuming we eventually run out of our supply (or suppliers), how will the post oil-addicted United States operate?

Many say that nuclear energy is the future, but I completely disagree. The recent disaster at the Fukushima reactor in Japan highlights the fact that many of our reactors are old and incapable of handling large earthquakes or other disasters. It only takes one time for a meltdown to contaminate an area for lifetimes to come.

Germany has decided to halt its nuclear program and will most likely phase out all of its nuclear reactors because of the drastic effect that Japan’s meltdown is having on its society.

Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t as compelled by Japan’s potential economic collapse and the large amounts of radioactive materials that are leaking into the ocean. Well, I guess if we didn’t mind parts of the Gulf of Mexico being polluted with crude oil for generations to come, what’s a little radiation, right?

Either way, another meltdown somewhere in the world is only a matter of time, thanks to the good ole capitalist mindset that cheaper is better. Until some tragic catastrophe happens, no short-term solution offers an option of giving up nuclear power, regardless of the fact that it produces nuclear waste that has no place to go.

However, dumping toxic waste into the world’s oceans and inside mountains is like peeing in your pool, hoping it will attenuate in the water or throwing a newspaper over a pile of puke in hopes it will eventually biodegrade. It’s playing pretend and only delaying the inevitable.

Natural gas is another drum certain politicians (and gas companies) are beating. The gas is collected in a process called fracking, where they pump a nasty cocktail of chemicals into the ground to release it. The documentary, “Gasland,” shows people who can light their kitchen faucet on fire by turning on the water.

Earthquakes right here in Ohio were attributed to fracking this year. It is safe to say that we are a ways away from being able to harness natural gas safely and effectively, and even if we eventually can, it is still a fossil fuel with a limited supply.

The real truth is that, short of a technological miracle, our future energy needs will be achieved through a multipronged approach. There are some families already achieving an energy-free lifestyle in what is called a “zero energy home.”

This type of house uses no outside electric or gas power because of its use of more than one way to achieve efficiency. First, the houses are stuffed with incredibly effective insulation. The house is completely sealed, including doorways, windows and even the nails in the studs.

Next, the house has energy-efficient windows and doors, which lock in heat or cool air. Solar roofs are usually standard, along with a geothermal heating system. The walls and floors have tubes filled with coolant, and the tubes continue under the house or sometimes under a pond.

The temperature 20 feet down is a constant 60 degrees, give or take. The difference in temperature heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer — at least partially. It’s not any one technology that makes the house self-reliant energy wise. Rather, it is the combination that makes it possible.

The major hurdle for taking a notion like this nationwide is twofold. The first hurdle is that major oil, gas and coal companies do not want anyone capable of energy independence, as they would go out of business. They have large lobbies and control a good portion of lawmaking.

The second hurdle revolves around the lack of energy storage options. For a home to be totally energy independent, constant energy is needed. This requires storage of energy made through wind or solar energy (aka batteries). This allows you to store heat from sunny days for cold and cloudy days.

The technology is getting better, but a lot of holdup has been due to lack of funding along with corporate attacks from fossil fuel conglomerates. Either way, it is only a matter of time before technology will allow for citizens to be completely energy-independent — no longer slaves to fossil fuels and corrupt politicians, and no longer making others slaves for our addiction.