Energy is the number one environmental problem today. But we don’t want to minimize our use of energy — abundant energy makes possible civilization, especially our kind of high-technology civilization. So the question is: how can we maintain abundant sources of energy without ruining our environment? Here is some information that can help.
This post is under construction.
Pros and Cons of Some Energy Sources
|Coal||Nearly 60% of electricity and 25% of total energy in the United States today; probably will not increase in % because of environmental effects||World’s most abundant fossil fuel; Many coal-fired plants are inplace; 250 years worth of fuel.||World’s most abundant fossil fuel; most polluting; along with nuclear the most dangerous; coal mining is a major environmental and human health problem.|
|Today: 1/6 of the world’s electricity. In the future: Known conventional nuclear reactor fuel will run out in about a century.||Doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.||Most dangerous to people and environment; waste disposal an unsolved problem; power plants expensive and slow to build; expensive to run, and have very limited lifetimes.|
|Solar||More than the world uses or will ever use.||Nonpolluting and renewable; works now.||Needs improved grid and storage.|
|Wind||Texas and the Dakotas alone can provide all the electricity needed in the United States.||Nonpolluting and renewable; works now.||Needs improved electrical grid for distribution and new storage methods; some birds are killed flying into windmill blades; NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem: view and sound of windmills bothers some people.|
Pros and Cons of Energy Sources: More Information
|Source||Dangers||Who Gains||Who Loses|
|Coal||Global warming; acid rain; release of toxic metals and compounds harmful to human health, other life forms, and ecosystems, such as mercury, sulfur oxides.||Big Power and Coal Corporations.||Everyone and every ecosystem exposed to coal burning pollutants; global climate change; miners’ health; land strip-mined.|
|Wastes and spills remain very toxic for 10,000 years.||Previous investors in nuclear power.||People who live near and own property near the power plants; people subjected to radioactive wastes.|
|Solar||None.||Everybody.||Investors in conventional power.|
|Wind||Difficult to brake the blades; in very high winds, the machine can self-destruct.||All users of electricity.||Those who dislike living near windmill installations.|
Copyright © 2010 Daniel B. Botkin
From my book Powering the Future: A Scientist’s Guide to Energy Independence, FT Press