Alternative Transportation and Energy Sources


Traditional energy sources have served us well for a long, long time. But since the dawn of the industrial revolution, energy has evolved to meet society's needs and standards. Petroleum surpassed coal; the internal combustion engine beat out the electric version. As we enter the unchartered waters of the 21st century, it may be time for us to become constructive critics of our energy production use and to explore new ways to address fossil fuel shortages and pollution problems.

HYBRIDS:
American drivers are adverse to inconveniences. Hence, road rage. Requiring that they plug in their cars to recharge the battery has, thus far, doomed pure electric vehicles. But there is a way to use some of this technology with no plugs or added infrastructure needed. Hybrid vehicles are designed with gasoline and electric engines. Two important features that cut down on gas guzzling are regenerative braking and the idle-stop. Regenerative Braking: energy from forward momentum is captured during braking and then used to recharge the battery. Idle-Stop: The gas engine shuts down when the driver shifts to neutral and takes his/her foot off the clutch. When the car is put back in gear, the engine starts up again. The two hybrid vehicles on the market today are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. The Prius is a four-door, five-passenger vehicle; the Insight two-door and two-passenger. DaimlerChrysler and Ford plan to introduce hybrid versions of their popular Durango and Escape SUVs, respectively, in 2003.

FUEL CELLS:
The buzzword of the future for environmentally friendly transportation is "hydrogen." Fuel cell vehicles are expected to be available en masse in the coming decade, with DaimlerChrysler pledging 100,000 by 2004. This is a huge step because it eliminates the need for fossil fuels as hydrogen and oxygen are combined in a fuel cell to produce electricity, with water and steam as the only known byproducts. Already used in the space program, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to make the rocket propellant used in the main engines of the space shuttle. A hydrogen-powered car produces no exhaust, no pollution, and less noise. Scientists are even looking into ways to force green algae to produce hydrogen (they already do so naturally). Another problem to tackle will be the lack of infrastructure to fuel and service hydrogen-powered vehicles.

EARTH, SUN, AND WIND

As we gobble up finite fossil fuels, scientists are searching for ways to exploit available resources in a sustainable manner. Thus far, the quest for renewable energy has focused on the earth's crust -- Geothermal Energy -- the sun's rays -- Solar Energy -- and the atmosphere's winds -- Wind Energy. Replacing limited and polluting energy sources with clean, renewable, and cost-efficient sources is a respectable goal.

GEOTHERMAL: Geothermal leads the renewable energy race in the United States, with more than 300,000 geothermal heat pumps installed in the last few years, mostly in the Midwest; Geysers geothermal field in Northern California has been generating electric power for 35 years. Geothermal fields produce one-sixth the carbon dioxide that natural gas-fueled power plants do. Futher, with an almost unlimited amount of heat generated by the Earth's core, geothermal sources are available almost every minute of every day.

SOLAR: Harnessing the inexhaustible energy of the sun is poised to be the way of the future, as evidenced by the increasing number of solar panels across the globe, most notably in Japan, Germany and certain enclaves in the Western U.S. Solar cells, also known as photovoltaics, convert sunlight into electricity.

WIND:Wind energy is the least expensive renewable energy technology, and it is abundant and infinite. Denmark leads the world in power generated from windmills; there are 6,000 wind turbines in the country, making wind "farming" the second largest industry behind agriculture. In 2000, wind turbines accounted for 13 percent of Danish electricity consumption. That number is expected to jump to 50 percent by 2030. Offshore wind parks are also in the works.

Nonetheless, fossil fuels remain the established source of energy across the globe. Alternative sources require research and development which in turn require funding. Despite cries from the White House about an imminent energy crisis, President Bush's proposed budget, however, does not seem to recognize the merit of alternative and renewable sources of energy. The Department of Energy budget is cut by 2.5 percent, cutting by half the money available for solar and wind power. Ironically, this funding would be increased starting in 2004 when revenues from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are available. The Department of Interior may see budget cuts of 4 percent; within that, funding for onshore and offshore energy exploration will increase 30 percent. And the Environmental Protection Agency could see funding drop by 6.4 percent.

Why should you care?
If doing your part to save the earth is a little too tree-huggish for you, think of the savings you will see on your power bills or at the gas pump. Another one of the myriad reasons it is important to consider alternative fuels and forms of transportation is the threat of GLOBAL WARMING The notion of global warming is a controversial one; however, the theory upon which it is based -- the greenhouse effect -- is one of the most accepted theories in science. The greenhouse effect, in fact, makes life on Earth possible, but it is believed that human activity since 1950 has caused a sharp increase in global warming. What this means for humankind depends on who you talk to. The more dire predictions include a rise in sea level, disappearance of ecosystems, increased frequency of natural disasters, and widespread extinctions as plants and animals are unable to adapt to changes that, on an evolutionary scale, could occur with crushing swiftness. Others say that the warming will be minimal, we will be able to adapt to any changes, and that a rash response now could have dire economic consequences. Conventional wisdom on global warming stems from reports compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- a network of hundreds of scientists convened by the United Nations in 1988. The IPCC has said that temperatures could rise from 2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.


KEY LINKS:

RENEWABLE ENERGY LINKS:

Find out more about renewable energy at the National Renewable Energy Lab site , part of the Department of Energy.

For specific information about solar power, try the National Center for Photovoltaics site.

For specific information about wind power, visit the National Wind Technology Center or learn from the Danish example.

More information about geothermal energy can be found at the Geothermal Resources Council site and the Geothermal Energy Program.

Look for sustainable energy and development information at Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology site.

GLOBAL WARMING LINKS:

Read the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

You can find out much more about global warming through the Pew Center for Global Climate Change or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Get a more conservative perspective from the Cato Institute.

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION LINKS:

Get the scoop on the hybrids Honda Insight and Toyota Prius.

Or see what environmental initiatives are in the works at Ford and DaimlerChrysler.

Read the Time magazine article "Is This Clean Machine for Real?" about electric cars.

Visit the U.S.C.A.R. Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles information page.

Check out the Ecology Center's Auto Project.

Read about the Clean Car Campaign as well as the Clean Car Pledge and Clean Car Standard.

LINKS TO HELP INDIVIDUALS MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

Go to the Earth Day Energy Fast site to use their emissions calculator and product search to see how you can limit your energy use.

Calulate your Ecological Footprint at Redefining Progress.

Check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website for their Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings and their Green Book environmental guide to cars and trucks.


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