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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions

Alternative Energy Overview

Alternative energy overview and resources for Southern California's wheelin' ways

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california green energy solutions Which do you want first in our fly-by summary -- traditional energy or alternative energy? Okay...traditional it is. These short paragraphs will indicate WHY alternative energy strategies are important to you as individual, family leader and workplace decision maker.

Traditional Energy Sources

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas -- currently provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, nearly two-thirds of our electricity, and virtually all of our transportation fuels. Moreover, it is likely that the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will actually increase over at least the next two decades even with aggressive development and deployment of new renewable and nuclear technologies.

Oil is the lifeblood of America’s economy. Currently, it supplies more than 40% of our total energy demands and more than 99% of the fuel we use in our cars and trucks. Remaining U.S. oil fields are becoming increasingly costly to produce because much of the easy-to-find oil has already been recovered. Yet, for every barrel of oil that flows from U.S. fields, nearly two barrels remain in the ground. Better technology is needed to find and produce much of this “left-behind” oil.

Natural gas Domestically produced and readily available to end-users through the existing utility infrastructure, natural gas has also become increasingly popular as an alternative transportation fuel.

Coal-fired electric generating plants are the cornerstone of America's central power system. To preserve this economically-vital energy foundation, innovative, low-cost environmental compliance technologies and efficiency-boosting innovations are being developed by the Energy Department's Fossil Energy research program. To tap the potential of the nation’s enormous coal supplies, the Office of Fossil Energy is working with the private sector to develop innovative technologies for an emission-free coal plant of the future.

Electric power America – and much of the world -- is becoming increasingly electrified. Today, more than half of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal. For the foreseeable future, coal will continue to be the dominant fuel used for electric power production. The low cost and abundance of coal is one of the primary reasons why consumers in the United States benefit from some of the lowest electricity rates of any free-market economy. The key challenge is to remove the environmental objections to the use of coal in tomorrow’s power plants.

With the significant energy and environmental challenges facing the nation in this new century, the nuclear energy is increasingly being considered. Nuclear energy research and development programs are working to strengthen basic technology and chart the way toward introduction of the next generation of nuclear power plants. There's that "future" word again...

Alternative Energy Sources

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen and biomass play an important role in the future of our nation.

Solar technologies that take advantage of the clean abundant energy of the sun is important to reducing greenhouse gasses and helps stimulate the economy. Examples of solar technologies being developed are Photovoltaic cells, concentrating solar power technologies and low temperature solar collectors.

  • Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity and are made of semiconductors such as crystalline silicon or various thin-film materials.
  • Concentrating solar power technologies use reflective materials to concentrate the sun's heat energy, which ultimately drives a generator to produce electricity. These technologies include dish/engine systems, parabolic troughs, and central power towers.
  • Low-temperature solar collectors also absorb the sun's heat energy, but the heat is used directly for hot water or space heating for residential, commercial, and industrial facilities.

Wind energy uses the energy in the wind for practical purposes like generating electricity, charging batteries, pumping water, or grinding grain. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of the wind into other forms of energy. Large, modern wind turbines operate together in wind farms to produce electricity for utilities. Small turbines are used by homeowners and remote villages to help meet energy needs.

Biomass is used to produce biofuels such as ethanol (from biomass residues as well as grain) and renewable diesel; and for making plastics and chemicals from renewable, biobased materials.Bioenergy technologies use renewable biomass resources to produce an array of energy related products including electricity, liquid, solid, and gaseous fuels, heat, chemicals, and other materials. Bioenergy ranks second (to hydropower) in renewable U.S. primary energy production and accounts for three percent of the primary energy production in the United States.

The term "biomass" means any plant derived organic matter available on a renewable basis, including dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials.

Geothermal energy is the heat from the Earth. It's clean and sustainable. Resources of geothermal energy range from the shallow ground to hot water and hot rock found a few miles beneath the Earth's surface, and down even deeper to the extremely high temperatures of molten rock called magma.

Hydropower (also called hydroelectric power) facilities in the United States can generate enough power to supply 28 million households with electricity, the equivalent of nearly 500 million barrels of oil. Researchers are working on advanced turbine technologies that will not only help maximize the use of hydropower, but also minimize adverse environmental effects.

Hydrogen is a clean energy carrier (like electricity) made from diverse domestic resources such as renewable energy (e.g. solar, wind, geothermal), nuclear energy, and fossil energy (combined with carbon capture/sequestration). Hydrogen in the long-term will simultaneously reduce dependence on foreign oil and emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants.

Fusion is a distant hope. Plasma and fusion sciences, are researching the long-term goal of harnessing fusion as a viable energy source.

SOURCE of factual information:
US Department of Energy

California's Energy Overview

The State of California has supported the development of alternative transportation fuels (fuels other than gasoline or diesel) since the creation of the Energy Commission in 1975. Nearly 100 percent of the state's transportation system is fueled currently by fossil fuels. Moving toward a more diversified approach to fuels and supporting the advancement of higher efficiency vehicles is one of the goals of the State's programs. So says the California Energy Commission.

A few of the more "consumer-interest" programs being implemented statewide include:

  • Hydrogen Highway Initiative
  • Clean Cities Coalition
  • Non-petroleum Fuel Working Groups
  • Clean Diesel Program
  • School Bus Demo Program

Alternative Transportation Fuels

Nearly 100 percent of the state's transportation system is fueled currently by fossil fuels. Moving toward a more diversified range of fuels and supporting the advancement of higher efficiency vehicles is one of the goals of the state's programs. You can find out more about alternative transportation fuels and the vehicles that use them. Try this list of links to learn about:
  • Biodiesel
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Ethanol & E85
  • Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) Fuels
  • Hydrogen as a Transportation Fuel
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
  • Methanol & M85
  • Propane (LPG)
  • Truck Stop Electrification
  • Tips to Reduce Your Fuel Costs, NOW!

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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