In the last column, I mentioned that we need to maintain a balance in the anthropogenic climate change of our biosphere, primarily in the atmosphere and oceans. Back in the 1970’s the US had already address the pollution of both with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. We even addressed the green house effect on the ozone layer in the stratosphere over Antarctica that was thinning based on certain chemicals. Since 1987, 191 nations – almost every country in the world ratified a landmark environmental treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The Protocol’s chief aim is to reduce and eventually eliminate the production and use of man-made ozone depleting substances. Well here we are again, but this time instead of eliminating a few products like hair spray aerosols, refrigerator CFC’s and DDT, the climate change advocates like Sierra Club, Greepeace and 350.org want to eliminate entire energy sources that are currently the base energy of the world economies, fossil energy and nuclear energy.
After the sun, the first use of earth’s energy resources was wood and that provided heat and light for thousands of years. Even though wood is renewable, early mankind had managed to deforest most of the land in populated ecosystems (forgot to plant replacements) and had to find another source for heat and light. For a while, whale oil filled that void until they managed to exterminate most of them from the oceans also. Then came the discovery of abundant coal and it change the world energy availability and also saved the whales and trees. Oil and natural gas, completes the extracted forms of fossil fuels that have provided the energy base for the industrial evolution which gives us the modern life style that most people enjoy today.
The latest energy trend is the use of what are called renewable sources of energy, even though renewable energy has been around for ages, long before the discovery of fossil. Renewable means that the use of the energy source will have a neutral or balance effect on the biosphere. These sources primarily include solar, wind, hydro and biomass. The sun is an excellent source of energy and has provided heat and light for 4.5 billion years. From early on, man has leveraged the thermodynamics of the sun and most recently has tried to capture that energy for use as electricity on an industrial level. After some 40 years of technical improvements, the technology has finally advanced to where there is some reasonable efficiency to expand its use beyond the individual home.
One of the least utilized energy sources has been nuclear energy. While it’s been sixty years since the first power plant was built, there are only 440+ plants around the world. France is the only country that has the majority of its electric power coming from nuclear energy. Nuclear is the most efficient energy source with the smallest footprint on the biosphere. For political reasons, nuclear energy has been lump in with atomic bombs and fear has been the primary reason for its slow commercial growth. What is so misunderstood about nuclear energy for power plants is that the reactors themselves will never have a nuclear explosion. Atomic bombs can cause serious damage, if used, while nuclear energy from a power plant provides abundance for life through our electrical grid.
I will expand each of the energy sources in more detail and how they can be leveraged to balance our energy usage with the biosphere in future columns.