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Alternative Energy / Power for the Home

The trend toward homes that are powered by alternative Energy / Power sources, ranging from wind turbines and solar collection cells to hydrogen fuel cells and biomass gases, is one that needs to continue into the 21st century and beyond. We have great need of becoming more Energy / Power independent, and not having to rely on the supplying of fossil fuels from unstable nations who are often hostile to us and our interests. But even beyond this factor, we as individuals need to get “off the grid” and also stop having to be so reliant on government-lobbying giant oil corporations who, while they are not really involved in any covert conspiracy, nevertheless have a stranglehold on people when it comes to heating their homes (and if not through oil, then heat usually supplied by grid-driven electricity, another stranglehold).

As Remi Wilkinson, Senior Analyst with Carbon Free, puts it, inevitably, the growth of distributed generation will lead to the restructuring of the retail electricity market and the generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure. The power providers may have to diversify their business to make up for revenues lost through household Energy / Power microgeneration. She is referring to the conclusions by a group of UK analysts, herself included among them, who call themselves Carbon Free. Carbon Free has been studying the ever-growing trend toward alternative Energy / Power-using homes in England and the West. This trend is being driven by ever-more government recommendation and sometimes backing of alternative Energy / Power research and development, the rising cost of oil and other fossil fuels, concern about environmental degradation, and desires to be Energy / Power independent. Carbon Free concludes that, assuming traditional Energy / Power prices remain at their current level or rise, microgeneration (meeting all of one's home's Energy / Power needs by installing alternative Energy / Power technology such as solar panels or wind turbines) will become to home Energy / Power supply what the Internet became to home communications and data gathering, and eventually this will have deep effects on the businesses of the existing Energy / Power supply companies.

Carbon Free's analyses also show that Energy / Power companies themselves have jumped in on the game and seek to leverage microgeneration to their own advantage for opening up new markets for themselves. Carbon Free cites the example of electricity companies (in the UK) reporting that they are seriously researching and developing ideas for new geothermal Energy / Power facilities, as these companies see geothermal Energy / Power production as a highly profitable wave of the future. Another conclusion of Carbon Free is that solar Energy / Power hot water heating technology is an efficient technology for reducing home water heating costs in the long run, although it is initially quite expensive to install. However, solar power is not yet cost-effective for corporations, as they require too much in the way of specialized plumbing to implement solar Energy / Power hot water heating. Lastly, Carbon Free tells us that installing wind turbines is an efficient way of reducing home electricity costs, while also being more independent. However, again this is initially a very expensive thing to have installed, and companies would do well to begin slashing their prices on these devices or they could find themselves losing market share.

Alternative Energy / Power from the Ocean

Ocean Thermal Energy / Power Conversion (OTEC) was conceived of by the French engineer Jacques D'Arsonval in 1881. However, at the time of this writing the Natural Energy / Power Laboratory of Hawaii is home to the only operating experimental OTEC plant on the face of the earth. OTEC is a potential alternative Energy / Power source that needs to be funded and explored much more than it presently is. The great hurdle to get over with OTEC implementation on a wide and practically useful level is cost. It is difficult to get the costs down to a reasonable level because of the processes presently utilized to drive OTEC. Ocean thermal Energy / Power would be very clean burning and not add pollutants into the air. However, as it presently would need to be set up with our current technologies, OTEC plants would have the capacity for disrupting and perhaps damaging the local environment.

There are three kinds of OTEC.

“Closed Cycle OTEC” uses a low-boiling point liquid such as, for example, propane to act as an intermediate fluid. The OTEC plant pumps the warm sea water into the reaction chamber and boils the intermediate fluid. This results in the intermediate fluid's vapor pushing the turbine of the engine, which thus generates electricity. The vapor is then cooled down by putting in cold sea water.

“Open Cycle OTEC” is not that different from closed cycling, except in the Open Cycle there is no intermediate fluid. The sea water itself is the driver of the turbine engine in this OTEC format. Warm sea water found on the surface of the ocean is turned into a low-pressure vapor under the constraint of a vacuum. The low-pressure vapor is released in a focused area and it has the power to drive the turbine. To cool down the vapor and create desalinated water for human consumption, the deeper ocean's cold waters are added to the vapor after it has generated sufficient electricity.

“Hybrid Cycle OTEC” is really just a theory for the time being. It seeks to describe the way that we could make maximum usage of the thermal Energy / Power of the ocean's waters. There are actually two sub-theories to the theory of Hybrid Cycling. The first involves using a closed cycling to generate electricity. This electricity is in turn used to create the vacuum environment needed for open cycling. The second component is the integration of two open cyclings such that twice the amount of desalinated, potable water is created that with just one open cycle.

In addition to being used for producing electricity, a closed cycle OTEC plant can be utilized for treating chemicals. OTEC plants, both open cycling and close cycling kinds, are also able to be utilized for pumping up cold deep sea water which can then be used for refrigeration and air conditioning. Furthermore, during the moderation period when the sea water is surrounding the plant, the enclosed are can be used for mariculture and aquaculture projects such as fish farming. There is clearly quite an array of products and services that we could derive from this alternative Energy / Power source.

An Energy / Power Alternative: Free Energy / Power

There has been much debate about what is often called “free” Energy / Power-Energy / Power that can supposedly, with the right technology, be drawn straight out of the atmosphere, and in very abundant supply. The debates are about whether the stuff actually exists or not, what it would actually cost were it to be harnessed, and if it does exist is it truly as abundant and efficient as it's being made out to be by proponents of research and development into this potential alternative Energy / Power source.

When one hears the phrase “free Energy / Power device”, one might be hearing about one of several different concepts. This might mean a device for collecting and transmitting Energy / Power from some source that orthodox science does not recognize; a device which collects Energy / Power at absolutely no cost; or an example of the legendary perpetual motion machine. Needless to say, a perpetual motion machine-a machine which drives itself, forever, once turned on, therefore needing no Energy / Power input ever again and never running out of Energy / Power-is impossible. However, it is not so simple to say that a new technology for harnessing the Energy / Power “floating” in the atmosphere is impossible. New technologies replace old ones all the time with abilities that had just been “impossible”. Harnessing the power of the atom for providing huge amounts of Energy / Power was “impossible” until the 1940s. Flying human beings were an “impossible” thing until the turn of the 20th century and the Wright Brothers' flight.

The biggest claim of the proponents of “free” Energy / Power is that enormous amounts of Energy / Power can be drawn from the Zero Point Field. This is a quantum mechanical state of matter for a defined system which is attained when the system is at the lowest possible Energy / Power state that it can be in. This is called the “ground state” of the system. Zero Point Energy / Power (ZPE) is sometimes referred to as “residual” Energy / Power and it was first proposed to be usable as an alternative form of Energy / Power way back in 1913 by Otto Stern and Albert Einstein. It is also referred to as “vacuum Energy / Power” in studies of quantum mechanics, and it is supposed to represent the Energy / Power of totally empty space. This Energy / Power field within the vacuum has been likened to the froth at the base of a waterfall by one of the principal researchers into and proponents of Hal Puthof. Puthof also explains, the term 'zero-point' simply means that if the universe were cooled down to absolute zero where all thermal agitation effects would be frozen out, this Energy / Power would still remain. What is not as well known, however, even among practicing physicists, are all the implications that derive from this known aspect o quantum physics. However, there are a group of physicists-myself and colleagues at several research labs and universities-who are examining the details, we ask such questions as whether it might be possible to 'mine' this reservoir of Energy / Power for use as an alternative Energy / Power source, or whether this background Energy / Power field might be responsible for inertia and gravity. These questions are of interest because it is known that this Energy / Power can be manipulated, and therefore there is the possibility that the control of this Energy / Power, and possibly inertia and gravity, might yield to engineering solutions. Some progress has been made in a subcategory of this field (cavity quantum electrodynamics) with regard to controlling the emission rates of excited atoms and molecules, of interest in laser research and elsewhere.

Biofuels as Alternative Sources of Energy / Power

Biofuels are produced by converting organic matter into fuel for powering our society. These biofuels are an alternative Energy / Power source to the fossil fuels that we currently depend upon. The biofuels umbrella includes under its aegis ethanol and derivatives of plants such as sugar cane, as well aS vegetable and corn oils. However, not all ethanol products are designed to be used as a kind of gasoline. The International Energy / Power Agency (IEA) tells us that ethanol could comprise up to 10 percent of the world's usable gasoline by 2025, and up to 30 percent by 2050. Today, the percentage figure is two percent.

However, we have a long way to go to refine and make economic and practical these biofuels that we are researching. A study by Oregon State University proves this. We have yet to develop biofuels that are as Energy / Power efficient as gasoline made from petroleum. Energy / Power efficiency is the measure of how much usable Energy / Power for our needed purposes is derived from a certain amount of input Energy / Power. (Nothing that mankind has ever used has derived more Energy / Power from output than from what the needed input was. What has always been important is the conversion-the end-product Energy / Power is what is useful for our needs, while the input Energy / Power is just the effort it takes to produce the end-product.) The OSU study found corn-derived ethanol to be only 20% Energy / Power efficient (gasoline made from petroleum is 75% Energy / Power efficient). Biodiesel fuel was recorded at 69% Energy / Power efficiency. However, the study did turn up one positive: cellulose-derived ethanol was charted at 85% efficiency, which is even higher than that of the fantastically efficient nuclear Energy / Power.

Recently, oil futures have been down on the New York Stock Exchange, as analysts from several different countries are predicting a surge in biofuel availability which would offset the value of oil, dropping crude oil prices on the international market to $40 per barrel or thereabouts. The Chicago Stock Exchange has a grain futures market which is starting to “steal” investment activity away from the oil futures in NY, as investors are definitely expecting better profitability to start coming from biofuels. Indeed, it is predicted by a consensus of analysts that biofuels shall be supplying seven percent of the entire world's transportation fuels by the year 2030. One certain Energy / Power markets analyst has said, growth in demand for diesel and gasoline may slow down dramatically, if the government subsidizes firms distributing biofuels and further pushes to promote the use of eco-friendly fuel.

There are several nations which are seriously involved in the development of biofuels.

There is Brazil, which happens to be the world's biggest producer of ethanols derived from sugars. It produces approximately three and a half billion gallons of ethanol per year.

The United States, while being the world's greatest oil-guzzler, is already the second largest producer of biofuels behind Brazil.

The European Union's biodiesel production capacity is now in excess of four million (British) tonnes. 80 percent of the EU's biodiesel fuels are derived from rapeseed oil; soybean oil and a marginal quantity of palm oil comprise the other 20 percent.

Developing Nuclear Power as Alternative Energy / Power

Many researchers believe that harnessing the power of the atom in fission reactions is the most significant alternative Energy / Power resource that we have, for the fact of the immense power that it can generate.

Nuclear power plants are very “clean-burning” and their efficiency is rather staggering. Nuclear power is generated at 80% efficiency, meaning that the Energy / Power produced by the fission reactions is almost equal to the Energy / Power put into producing the fission reactions in the first place. There is not a lot of waste material generated by nuclear fission-although, due to the fact that there is no such thing as creating Energy / Power without also creating some measure of waste, there is some. The concerns of people such as environmentalists with regards to using nuclear power as an alternative Energy / Power source center around this waste, which is radioactive gases which have to be contained.

The radiation from these gases lasts for an extraordinarily long time, so it can never be released once contained and stored. However, the volume of this waste gas produced by the nuclear power plants is small in comparison to how much NOx (nitrous oxide-that is, air pollution) is caused by one day's worth of rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles. While the radiation is certainly the more deadly by far of the two waste materials, the radiation is also by far the easier of the two to contain and store. In spite of the concerns of the environmentalists, nuclear power is actually environmentally friendly alternative Energy / Power, and the risk of the contained radiation getting out is actually quite low. With a relatively low volume of waste material produced, it should not be a difficult thing at all for storage and disposal solutions for the long term to be developed as technology advances.

The splitting of an atom releases Energy / Power in the forms of both heat and light. Atomic power plants control the fission reactions so that they don't result in the devastating explosions that are brought forth in atomic and hydrogen bombs. There is no chance of an atomic power plant exploding like a nuclear bomb, as the specialized conditions and the pure Plutonium used to unleash an atomic bomb's vicious force simply don't exist inside a nuclear power plant. The risk of a “meltdown” is very low. Although this latter event has happened a couple of times, when one considers that there are over 430 nuclear reactors spread out across 33 nations, and that nuclear reactors have been in use since the early 1950s, these are rare occurrences, and the events of that nature which have taken place were the fault of outdated materials which should have been properly kept up. Indeed, if nuclear Energy / Power could become a more widely accepted form of alternative Energy / Power, there would be little question of their upkeep being maintained. Currently, six states in America generate more than half of all their electrical Energy / Power needs through nuclear power, and the media are not filled with gruesome horror stories of the power plants constantly having problems.

Renewable Fuels for Alternative Energy / Power

The Germans have really taken off when it comes to renewable fuel sources, and have become one of the major players in the alternative Energy / Power game. Under the aegis of the nation's electricity feed laws, the German people set a world record in 2006 by investing over $10 billion (US) in research, development, and implementation of wind turbines, biogas power plants, and solar collection cells. Germany's “feed laws” permit the German homeowners to connect to an electrical grid through some source of renewable Energy / Power and then sell back to the power company any excess Energy / Power produced at retail prices. This economic incentive has catapulted Germany into the number-one position among all nations with regards to the number of operational solar arrays, biogas plants, and wind turbines. The 50-terawatt hours of electricity produced by these renewable Energy / Power sources account for 10% of all of Germany's Energy / Power production per year. In 2006 alone, Germany installed 100,000 solar Energy / Power collection systems.

Over in the US, the BP corporation has established an Energy / Power Biosciences Institute (EBI) to spearhead extensive new research and development efforts into clean burning renewable Energy / Power sources, most prominently biofuels for ground vehicles. BP's investment comes to $50 million (US) per year over the course of the next decade. This EBI will be physically located at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The University is in partnership with BP, and it will be responsible for research and development of new biofuel crops, biofuel-delivering agricultural systems, and machines to produce renewable fuels in liquid form for automobile consumption. The University will especially spearhead efforts in the field of genetic engineering with regard to creating the more advanced biofuel crops. The EBI will additionally have as a major focal point technological innovations for converting heavy hydrocarbons into pollution-free and highly efficient fuels.

Also in the US, the battle rages on between Congress and the Geothermal Energy / Power Association (GEA). The GEA's Executive Director Karl Gawell has recently written to the Congress and the Department of Energy / Power, the only way to ensure that DOE and OMB do not simply revert to their irrational insistence on terminating the geothermal research program is to schedule a congressional hearing specifically on geothermal Energy / Power, its potential, and the role of federal research. Furthermore, Gawell goes on to say that recent studies by the National Research Council, the Western Governors' Association Clean Energy / Power Task Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all support expanding geothermal research funding to develop the technology necessary to utilize this vast, untapped domestic renewable Energy / Power resource. Supporters of geothermal Energy / Power, such as this writer, are amazed at the minuscule amount of awareness that the public has about the huge benefits that research and development of the renewable alternative Energy / Power source would provide the US, both practically and economically. Geothermal Energy / Power is already less expensive to produce in terms of kilowatt-hours than the coal that the US keeps mining. Geothermal Energy / Power is readily available, sitting just a few miles below our feet and easily accessible through drilling. One company, Ormat, which is the third largest geothermal Energy / Power producer in the US and has plants in several different nations, is already a billion-dollar-per-year business-geothermal Energy / Power is certainly economically viable.