Earth News Journal 37: Energy Efficiency

Bill Chameides of Duke University summarized a recent United States energy study conducted by Mort Webster of MIT for the journal Nature Climate Change, in contribution to National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge.

Energy consumption is a widely debated topic in developing and developed countries alike, particularly in the United States. When discussing energy in America’s economy, one must contemplate the ramifications of future increases in consumption, the changing climate, as well as available water supplies. All three of these elements contribute to the American energy grid.

Chameides stated, “Figuring out the best way to do all three is critical, and decisions need to be made soon.” According to one estimate, the United States demand for electricity will increase by about 37 percent in the next 40 years.

Therefore, our society needs to formulate a revolutionary design for future energy infrastructures. Will we depend on coal-burning power plants, hydroelectric power, or natural gas? These varied mediums all pose solutions to curtailing America’s spike in electric dependency, but the economics of each scenario offers its own set of caveats.

The study conducted by Webster posed three alternatives to American electric consumption: cut carbon emissions by 75 percent and water usage by 50 percent; mix the use of coal and natural gas; a reliance on ‘nuclear hybrid’ energy instead of relying upon coal fuel sources. Chameides argues that the study would have benefited from including “the cost of environmental externalities and… more economic information in all [the] scenarios.”

Nonetheless, Chameides petitions for American energy producers to vastly increase their efficiency, as a short-term solution. David Brewster of the Boston-based company EnerNoc said, “If you look at the overall electricity grid, it is a highly inefficient system, and, in fact, about 10 percent of the power plants that we build are only utilized one percent of the time.” Perhaps by redesigning current systems, the American budget would be spared from constructing entirely new power plants.

Reflection

Energy consumption has become a prominent issue in the American society of the twenty-first century. With the introduction of tech-savvy gadgets, such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets, the average American seems rather addicted to the conventional outlet. All of these technological amenities require electric power to operate, and that means more electricity generated from largely-inefficient power plants across the country. I second the demand for more efficient models of energy consumption that would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the reliance on water sources. Currently, much of the American southwest is experiencing severe droughts, due to lack of water resources – we shouldn’t invest in ‘improved’ energy technologies that depend upon water as fuel. We as a nation just don’t have the necessary resources to make this proposition a sustainable solution. I also believe that the United States should attempt to detach itself from coal-burning facilities because of the myriad of health concerns from the combustion of coal (lung cancer, hazardous particulate matter, etc.). Efficiency should be our primary goal for energy consumption within the coming century.

Chameides, Bill. “Electric Power Conundrum at the Crossroads of Energy, Climate and Water.” National Geographic. N.p., 7 Nov. 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2014.

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