March 08 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Energy Year: General Rating: 10
By Dick Pelletier
By mid-century, solar power and hydrogen technologies could end US dependence on foreign oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Our nation – indeed, the world – has a vital interest in developing new energy sources.
High prices for gas and home heating oil are here to stay. We are at war in the Middle East to protect our foreign oil interests, and as China, India, and other countries increase their demand for fossil fuels, more struggles over energy will be inevitable.
Solar power’s potential is off the charts. The energy in sunlight striking the Earth for 40 minutes could provide all the world’s total energy needs for a year. And adding fuel cells and hydrogen to the equation promises even greater rewards. The following examines the benefits for each of these abundant energy resources.
Solar Power – the US is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for building solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation each year. Converting just 2.5 percent of that into electricity would match our nation’s entire energy consumption for 2007. (cont.)
To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs, which today, is not cost effective. However, CalTech researcher Nate Lewis is exploring nanomaterials that mimic the architecture of grass and photosynthesis to capture and store the sun’s energy; and UC Santa Cruz scientist Jin Zhang has developed a nanofilm that promises more efficient and economical energy conversion. (cont.)
Experts believe that with projected nanotech advances, solar power could provide 69 percent of US electricity needs, and 35 percent of the nation’s total energy requirements, including cars, by 2050.
Hydrogen Energy – Fuel cells generate electricity with no pollutants and are already powering “hybrid” cars. Swedish researcher Nabil Kassem predicts that, “Driving a hydrogen-powered car in 2030 will be a common thing.” At a recent Universidad de Navarra lecture, Professor Kassem said that fuel cells are the most promising technology for our energy future, a future some refer to as the “Hydrogen Society.” He not only envisions hydrogen in cars, but believes that fuel cells will have applications in micro power plants, household appliances, and heating and air conditioning units.
Like solar power, hydrogen is not yet cost effective, but nanotech could soon reduce costs for bringing this technology to market also. The London Global University, UCL, recently offered grants to create cheap, efficient storage for hydrogen and develop large-surface organic solar cells, which could enable this renewable energy to power 50 percent of our cars, homes, and factories, by 2050.
When combined with advances in bio-fuels, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, and radical new fusion energy; solar power and hydrogen could free us forever from the tyranny of oil.
Major roadblocks to this “magical future” are not technological, they are political – too many government officials favor “big oil.” If our next President can convince Congress to support these renewable energy systems with adequate incentives, we will reduce trade deficits, improve national security, and create millions of non-exportable jobs.