US Energy and the Environment

A Future Perspective

Susana Cabrera, Ashley Cline, Grant Ellis, Juan J. Lozoya, Evan Remmele

Prevalent energy production practices are outdated. They are outdated because they do not take into consideration long term sustainability. Wars, climate change, social unrest, oil spill are some of the "buzzwords" that come into mind when examining the modern energy industry. The world has been dependent on fossil fuels for generating the immense and rapid economic growth of the 20th century. Major steps have been taken to shift such dependency; wind and solar energy are quickly advancing as technology improves. However, with a booming world population demanding more land, more water, more food and more energy the onset of another major revolution, a Sustainable Revolution, is needed.

We Need to Find Alternative Energy Resources. However, We Cannot Get Rid of Oil Overnight.

Oil Addiction: Achieving Energy Independence

We cannot get rid of oil overnight

  • The United States is very dependent on oil.
  • You fill up your car with oil. The majority of our transportation systems run off of oil.
  • You don’t think twice about filling up your car with gas. You just do it.
  • However, oil is running out. Not quickly, but it is slowly running out.
  • The United States has become a little too dependent on foreign oil and we must find alternative energy resources.
  • Problem is that we cannot get rid of oil overnight.
  • Politicians say one thing and do another.
  • Must invest in research and/or our own oil.

  • The United States is a big customer for foreign oil. We are clearly oil dependent. According to Rebecca Hammond, a student from the University of Pittsburgh, “with thirty-six percent of all energy needs depending on oil, it is currently the primary energy source in the United States”.
  • According to Rebecca Hammond of the University of Pittsburgh, “oil also provides ninety-three percent of the energy used for transportation”.
  • According to Margaret J. Jennings, “the U.S. consumes roughly 20 million barrels of oil. Over half of this (more than 10 million barrels) is imported”.
  • We are clearly dependent on oil and use quite a bit of it.

  • Oil is a non-renewable resource and the oil will eventually run out.
  • According to Rebecca Hammond of the University of Pittsburgh, “even though oil is relatively easy to store and transport and is cleaner and easier to burn than coal, it is non-renewable”.
  • We have enough oil reserves to use as well, which will eventually run out.
  • We need a policy of energy independence. According to Joshua P. Fershee, “energy independence, which would seemingly cure our addiction [to oil], has long been a goal of U.S. energy policy”.
  • Alternative energy resources key to future energy output. Plus, it would also bring jobs to the U.S. economy (important, but separate issue)

  • It is too costly to be solely dependent on oil because it brings about several problems, including cost of oil and environmental impacts. However, we cannot get rid of oil overnight.
  • According to Sean Charles Starr, the “American goal of eliminating dependence on foreign oil coupled with the immense environmental damage” is precisely why we must look for alternative energy resources.
  • However, we cannot get rid of oil overnight because the majority of our transportation systems depend on oil.
  • One way to do is to follow this idea from Steve Yetiv of Cornell University: there is “vast untapped potential for reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil through conservation, the promotion of mass transit, and fuel efficiency”.
  • However, Steve Yetiv goes on to say that “‘the stability of oil supply has increased [which] does not mean that the aggressive pursuit of alternative energy sources is’” extremely important. (it is but isn’t)
Chasing Ice Clip 1

Environmental Impact

The BP Oil Spill and the Keystone XL Pipeline are two classic examples of what is impacting our land.

The BP Oil Spill

  • The BP Oil Spill in 2010 that caused around $15 Billion dollars in damages to the beaches, animals, and water. Science Magazine said that around 80% of the funds were spent on economical and ecological damages.

  • While trying to clean up the oil spill they used surface and subsea dispersants, which at the time they were unsure of what the actual risks of the dispersants were.

  • The total amount of dispersants were 1.84 million gallons, 771,000 of them were subsea and were located 5,067 feet below the surface according to the article The Use of Surface and Subsea Dispersants.

  • The dispersants act like detergents that contain surfactants and solvents to break up the oil into smaller particles so it can mix into the water easier.

  • One of the biggest risks of that is that the oil that did not get cleaned up spread over a greater area meaning it affected more ocean life.

Keystone XL

  • This pipeline ferries bitumen from Canada’s tar sands to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, this bitumen is more carbon-intensive which makes it more corrosive causing a greater risk of leaks. This information was from Tar Sands Pipeline on Hold.

  • The proposed route for this pipeline would run through the Nebraska Sand Hills which is a very large wildlife region and it also sits above the Ogallala aquifer.

  • They came up with 7 other options and are reviewing the environmental impacts of those routes, the pipeline would be a new investment costing up to $7 Billion in fossil fuel infrastructure.

  • After extraction of the bitumen it will be transported through six states to refineries where it will be made into petroleum based products.

  • When burned this fuel will produce 175,000 metric tons of Carbon Monoxide daily. That’s more than 10 million cars annually according to the article Keystone XL Pipeline Climate Catastrophe.

  • The extraction of the bitumen would also be the reason to clear hundreds of thousands of acres of Canadian boreal forest.
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Promising Wind Energy

Wind power is a promising alternative energy source that has the potential to replace traditional energy production.

  • According to Michael Goggin, an electric industry analyst, wind energy is the largest sector in US renewable energy, it provided 4.1% of all electricity generated in 2013.

  • As discussed in The Electricity Journal The wind industry has the potential to improve US economy by creating well paying jobs in engineering, stimulating domestic manufacturing

  • The industry is attracting millions in investment from major investors: for example, MidAmerican Energy, owned by billionaire investor Warren is adding over 1000 MW of wind power by end of 2015. Also, Microsoft entered a 20 year contract to cover up to 10% of its energy needs with wind power.

  • If renewables had a way to store excess power they could easily overcome their intermittent issues-irregular supply associated with wind energy production-the wind doesn’t always blow, and it blows faster at night when demand is lower and compete with, even replace continuous sources of power such as coal plants.

Energy 101: Wind Turbines

Energy 101: Wind Turbines - 2014 Update

US Wind Power Growth Trend

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A Smart Grid

  • According to the science journal Nature, current grid is outdated technology from the 60’s and little has been invested in improving it, since the electricity industry only spent 0.17% percent of net sales on R&D from 2001- 2006.

  • For example as shown on Energy Policy Texas is the largest and fastest growing wind power producer in the united states but in 2010 7.7% of wind power was withheld due to transmission line overload.

  • According to Nature, a smart grid will allow for the storage of wind energy to use at peak demand hours. It will provide variable competitive utility rates that will incite consumers to use energy more efficiently

Texas Wind Farms and Electrical Grid

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A smart grid will :

  • Allow for the storage of wind energy to use at peak demand hours.
  • Provide variable competitive utility rates that will
  • Incite consumers to use energy more efficiently

A schematic of how a smart grid would operate is shown below.

Smart Grid

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Bill Nye - How Stuff Works - Solar Energy

Solar Energy

--process that uses radiant energy emitted by the sun to generate heat or electricity for human use.

Benefits of Solar Energy

  • Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, states that “The use of solar energy or PVs for the everyday electricity needs has distinct advantages: avoids consuming resources and degrading the environment through polluting emissions, oil spills and toxic by-products.”
  • A 1-kW PV system producing 150 kWh each month prevents 75 kg of fossil fuel from being mined.
  • It avoids 150 kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and keeps 473 l of water from being consumed.

  • Is It Time to Shoot for the Sun?, ‘In 2012, wind energy and solar photovoltaics (PV) were two of the fastest growing electric generation technologies in the U.S.”
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Solar panels in your homes

  • According to Convergence Energy, “if we put solar panels on your house…the power doesn’t go to you, it goes to the utility grid.”
  • Solar panels could produce most of their power when not needed, so it’s stored to a utility grid.
  • The Huffington Post, “Electricity from fuel cells can be used in the same way as grid power: to run appliances and light bulbs.”
  • It would make no sense to have energy flowing into your house when you have no use for it.
  • That way the power that is generated isn’t wasted and is instead saved to used at a later time.
  • You essentially get paid for having the solar panel.
  • You’ll have two meters for electricity.
  • One meter will record all the energy you used and you’ll have to pay for that.
  • The second meter measures the power your panels make, and the utility pays you for the power that goes out through this meter.
  • Basically, if your electricity bill is $1000 and your panels make enough energy to where you get paid $1000, your bill is free.

Calculate Solar Panel Energy Savings

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Future of Renewable Energy

  • Electricity production accounts for more than one-third of U.S. global warming emissions, with the majority generated by coal-fired plants

  • Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy are an order of magnitude smaller in their emissions than nonrenewable resources, such as coal, oil, and natural gas
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  • Switching 80% of our energy production from non-renewable to renewable resources by the year 2050 would cut emissions from that contribute to global warming from energy production by 81%

  • Wind and solar are less prone to large-scale failure because they are distributed and modular, meaning they are spread out over a large geographical area, so a severe disaster in one area will not cut off power to an entire region.

  • A future planned around renewable energy would provide a more stable energy production system that creates jobs and keeps the price of energy stable
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  • Non-renewable energy was at an all-time high in 2008
  • Energy prices fluctuate due to the supply and demand of coal, natural gas, and oil
  • Look at how your gas prices fluctuate every summer and winter; it's not a coincidence that these prices rise and fall, it's our dependence on non-renewable resources (including importing from other countries)

Renewable Energy and Job Creation

Switching to renewable sources of energy will actually create more jobs than nonrenewable resources do to produce the same amount of electricity.

  • Harnessing renewable resources is less mechanized and more labor-intensive than harnessing nonrenewable resources such as coal and natural gas, and the installation and maintenance of renewable resources will provide these jobs

  • A plan to produce 25% of our energy needs by the year 2025 will create three times as many jobs as the equivalent amount for fossil fuels would, creating over 200,000 jobs by 2025

Importance of Harnessing Renewable Resources

  • We have the potential to satisfy all of our energy needs through just renewable resources

  • If we do not switch from harnessing primarily non-renewable to renewable resources, we will not only be missing out on utilizing these inexhaustible resources, but we will be allowing tons and tons of greenhouse gasses to continue to pollute our environment

  • We will be missing out on the economic stability and benefits of renewable resources

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How Can You Contribute?

  • Solar panels are easy to install, and will often earn you money for the electricity you will be producing
  • Our dependence on non-renewable resources is just that; a dependence. It is up to you to decide how dependent you want to be on non-renewable resources.
  • Think about using renewable resources every time you fill up your car, ride a bus, use hot water
  • Harnessing renewable resources will reduce our carbon footprint and reduce our contribution to global warming.


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