Lets move on to something a bit closer to where the real oil loss happens: The creation of electricity. When you turn on a light you are using oil. When you boot up your computer you are using oil. When you heat up your home you are using oil, and not just heating oil. anything y0u do in your home that uses electricity uses oil. You see, one of the primary sources of power plants are oil based. There are many alternatives but the world still uses oil (and coal, another fossil fuel) as its main source for electricity. Okay, so I've covered cars but there's no way I can cover electricity. WE'RE DOOMED! DOOMED I SAY! Hold on chicken little, there are at least six solutions in progress of which three can be readily implemented in your own home.
When I was rolling through the hills of Crete I noticed something on nearly everyone's roof. There was a big black panel angled over what looked like a 50 gallon drum. Upon looking at these further, I realized that this was the hoe's source of hot water. They were putting solar panels on their roofs to use as hot water heaters. They had no other purpose than this. They had regular electricity but their hot water was done effectively and efficiently by a three foot by five foot panel of solar cells.
Considering the sloped pitch and flat faces of American roofs, we are predisposed to at least one southern roof face. That's all you need, well, that and sunshine. Most homes in the U.S. get enough of that to support the water heating variety of solar panels. In fact, I've seen a couple in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. They can even work in the gloomy, cloud infested land called Northwest Washington, or the foggy bottom of San Francisco Bay. Water is not hard to heat with the power of the sun. Electricity, on the other hand, is a much different story.
Electrical solar panels can still be used in most places that get partial sunshine, but the panels need to be larger, more efficient and are more expensive. For example, a small 3kw system by BP Solar runs around 27,000$. Go here to calculate your monthly electricity savings. It's not that much for the cost. For this to be a feasable electricity replacement, solar cells have been stagnant in technology and expensive to engineer. Unless you are rich this is not the solution for your home electricity but great for your water heating.
On a commercial level, some of the best locations for industrial strength solar panels are the cheapest, most unpopulated stretches of land in the world. If we're not careful, the Arab world will take control of this area as well. It could also be the saving grace for large swaths of Africa. The best locations for solar power plants are in the desert. Some arab countries are well aware of their energy potential. Some are even talking about changing OPEC to EPEC. Fortunately, we've got our own desert in America that gets plenty of sunshine for production. It's just rather expensive to come up with the initial capital to start these projects up.
Another home solution that people don't really think about is wind power. Most of America can use this resource as well. The most popular name brand of wind generator is the Whisper series of generator. In areas recieving an average wind speed of 10 Mph, you would only need 2-4 of the mid sized Whisper H-80 turbine to be selling your excess power back to the electric company. Wouldn't that be nice? You can get a check instead of a bill form your electric company.
You may want to be cautious before you install this system in your suburban home though. Many neighborhoods are wary about these systems. Due to the propeller length and size many people will consider it an eyesore and not want you to put one up. Some people have an issue with the low hum that emits from the blades as they spin. If you've got your windows closed in the house you will not hear them. That's why they're called the "whisper" series.
Another problem is your local building codes may prohibit such devices in residential areas as there is an increased aviary risk associated with wind turbines. Birds tend to not see the spinning blades and run into them. It doesn't harm the blades but your local audobon society or other bird watchers will give you the evil eye. Some areas have vrey restrictive laws about what type of turbine you can put up and how it can be mounted. Check with your local city hall and by all means check to see if your average wind speed is worth while. If you live in an area that gets and average wind speed of 5 MPH you need to look elsewhere.
Again, on the commercial power plant level, four 1.9 Mw turbine will supply enough power for 700-1500 homes depending on the wind. A project of two of these costs around 5 million to put up. Small towns across America can free themselves from paying the bigger cities with their own power sources by purchasing a system for themselves. This industry is expanding at about 20% per year but is still at about 1% of America's total power output. It is suspected to be about 6% of America's power if current advances prevail. For more information, or information about all major wind power you can go here. They have an excellent breakdown of where all major projects in America are here.
Hydro-electric power covers about 6% of the electricity produced in the United States. This is a very clean, very green technology that has been used for many years. It effectively turns gravity into electricity. What better way to engance the power grid? It also has a couple of major drawbacks.
The first of which is the land modifications involved. By creating a hydro-electric dam you turn a raging river into a trickle and a man-made lake complete with submurged trees and habitats. In addition to this, fish migration, such as salmon, has been troubled due to a great big barrier in between the open sea and their spawning grounds. Fortunately, most of these problems have been corrected with channels allowing for normal aquatic traffic through locks.
The second problem is that hydro-electric is at its end. There are no more great rivers to dam up and suck electricity from. It has been expanded to its fullest extent on an industrial level. The 6% we have now is all we are going to get. Unless someone can come up with an idea of how to get electricity from the rain, which could make Washington state the world's leading energy producer, then there is nothing left to be done with water for anything big.
On a smaller level, there are solutions for those that live close to a fast moving river or a stream on a mountain top. In some cases you don't even need that. Some systems will give you a good amount of electricity in nearly any moving body of water. As with wind and solar solutions, there is an initial buy in cost to hydro power that appears to outweigh the overall benefits. It is also selectively limited to those with expensive waterway access. Since you are putting a system into a moving waterway you will also want to check with state and local authorities for permission. Who knows though, you could give them the idea to put in a small mill-wheel for a local power augmentation. It can't cure your whole city, but it could give it a boost.
A new emerging technology that is in its infancy is something that harnesses the magnetic power of the moon. Huh? The moon? What are you talking about? I'm talking about the Limpet generator wave power solution located only on the Island of Islay. We all know that waves are constantly in motion but are not a continuous flow. There have been previous experiments to harness wave power but have been horrible failures until a company called Wavegen created a system that has been powering most of the sheep farming island for a few years now. Now, a few more places are looking at Islay with greedy eyes, and not just for the sheep.
Speaking of sheep, another technology has been...umm...erupting in rural farms throughout America and elsewhere. Biogas is something that is a completely renewable resource that does not stink as an energy solution. (Okay, the joke stunk.) Two working examples of a crappy power plant are the Rokai pig farm in Kaunas, Lithuania and the Wisconsin Biogas initiative. Both of which have an inherent ability of producing a lot of stink. In this case stink is a good thing. It's also explosive. Have you ever lit one of your farts at a party? Now imagine doing that at a pig farm or dairy farm with a huge (80 cubic meters) pile of enclosed manure. This, although disgusting to some and funny to others, is another viable solution to power problems.
Probably the least popular but most successful energy solution has been the nuclear power plant. These plants produce the most power per capita of any type of plant. It is an excellent source of electricity that frees us from the confines of air polutants and doesn't destroy anything. Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous in case of a catastrophic failure. We're still pulling three eyed swamp monsters out of Chernobyl in case you forgot. Atomic energy has become a very unpopular source of power. People hold demonstrations outside of the plants and no one wants one in their neighborhood. People would rather have a coal plant next door than one that makes them glow in the dark.
Truth be told, nuclear power has gotten a bad rap from the media and popular opinion. In fact, the only country to ever have a major leak has been Russia. Unless I've missed one, they've had two. The failsafes involved with nuclear power are so stringent that you would be more likeley to gain radiation poisoning from a meat packing plant. In fact, the likelihood that a terrorist strike on a power plant would yield any radiation, save the weapon used to attack it with. Knowing all this, I would still be lying if I said that I would let one near my home.
The last power solution I'm going to discuss is not really a power solution as it is a storage solution. One of the biggest problems with electricity is that there has been no real method of storing power. To understand what I'm talking about let me tell you the story of California's rolling blackouts.
California decided to privatize their power and through some stroke of horrible mismanagement ended up with a power shortage at peak hours of the day. It was particularly horrible during the summer months when everyone was using their AC units. We're seeing the same thing in Iraq today. It didn't have to be that way. During the night there is a surplus of electricity that goes wasted every night. Power plants will actually cut production in the middle of the night because there is no need for it then. This is where they could have prevented the outages in California. If they had a power storage solution the blackouts could have been averted. No one would have even noticed.
So how do you hold electricity in a bottle without it going out? The solution is to convert it into something that can be later converted back with little to no energy loss. This solution has materialized in something called a Proton Energy Membrane or PEM. One such solution is the Hogen generator made by Proton Energy Systems. They are about 99.999% efficient in converting electricity and water into stored hydrogen and back again. I would highly suggest these to any power plant you may have connections to. I would also suggest this solution to anyone using a generator for their business. Heck, I should. I own thier stock.
So how does a PEM work? A simple reaction called electrolysis is all that is needed to split a water molecule into its two parts, hydrogen and oxygen. Both of these are flammable gasses by themselves so what you get from this are two tanks with a high potential for blowing up. What pem does is a bit more intricate. Positive and negative charged protons are attached to the hydrogen atoms of water molecules. by passing them through a dipole that has a mesh that is large enough for the negatively charged atoms to pass through but not the positively charged atom you can create an electrical charge. It gets a bit more complicated than what I've just said, but the basic function is being able to store electricity as an inert form of hydrogen that can be converted back to electricity upon request.
Now I've given you both vehicular and electrical solutions for oil. There is still one more hurdle to overcome. That hurdle is plastic and rubber. Everything we do involves one of these two elements. Just look around you and you will be hard pressed to find something is not made from one or the other. It is all around us. We're screwed right? Wrong, we are anything but.
I'm going to make this part rather short and sweet. Vegetable oil can be used to create plastics and rubber. Particularly, corn oil is engineered in such a way as to be a substitute for the black stuff. For more information on what corn can do your you check out Ford's Model-U concept car. It isn't very pretty, but nearly everything is either metal or biodegradable. Your car wants to be planted so that it may sprout.
As a side effect of an increased need for corn oil, many agricultural centers will be taxed to capacity. Other locations will have to start growing more and more corn to keep up with production. I would like to nominate Afghanistan for government subsidation. We will have an increased need to produce corn and they have a problem with poppies. Finally, I've come up a real solution for the worldwide drug war.
NOTE: I almost forgot one thing about absolution from cars. Another interim solution is retrofitting your existing vehicle with a hydrogen generator that plugs into your alternator. It sucks almost no power from your car, costs about 500$, and can provide up to a 15% performance and milage boost while decreasing the temperature of your engine. The only maintenance involved is replacing the chemically aided water source about as often as you change your oil.
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