The Future of Alternative Energy

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Producing energy from fossil fuels is a dirty, expensive but hugely profitable enterprise. At some point we will have exhausted all the easily accessible sources of fossil fuel and will have to turn to other, cleaner, renewable energy sources. Jeremy Shere looks at what those alternatives will be. In Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy, he tours a traditional coal-fueled power plant, a solar farm at Denver’s airport, attends a Wind Power Expo and a wind farm tour in Texas, and investigates turbines deep in New York City’s East River. He explains the most promising types of renewable energy: namely, biofuel, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower.


Jeremy Shere

Comments [32]

Hal from Brooklyn

I agree with Jack. It may take a hundred years, but photovoltaics (solar panels) will end up being the future of energy. Wind turbines will be remembered as quaint and primitive. Nuclear will be an interesting footnote. Fossil fuels will remain available for specialty uses, but will be expensive compared to PV.

Dec. 19 2013 05:02 PM
Fran from Larchmont

Your guest was commenting on the fact that the U.S. has fallen behind many other European/Asian nations in developing alternative and renewable energy. We are even behind Ethiopia!

Dec. 19 2013 07:01 AM
Vane Lashua from Beacon

Geothermal is the least costly, least polluting means of generating regional electrical power. Period. Too often geo is confused with fracking. Once a geo plant is established, there is no wastewater. Deep steam is used to drive a conventional turbine, a secondary process condenses the steam through a chain of "heat pumps" till it condenses and is re-flowed into the earth.

Externalities are those activities required to support a process. Mine/refine, store, transport, store, burn is a chain of externalities that cost money AND pollute the environment. Geo has none of these. Wind and solar - for regional supplies are variable (sun/wind) and require a tremendous amount of support. Put it on the roof ... ok. Put a train engine with a prop on the Washington monument and you've got a problem.

In Santa Rosa, CA solids are removed from conventional sewage & storm water processing and piped into the several-times boiling deep wells. (It's less costly than hauling it other types of post-treatment plants.

Investment is the issue. CO2 negative by 2050? Lack of clear policy and the commodities industrial complex are the major impediments.

Dec. 18 2013 01:00 PM
John A

Imagine a solar power system that was 100% efficient. Your solar panel could be turned around and be used as a skylight when the sun was gone - much more light than needed! I say that to say that having 10% (combined) efficiency makes me very happy, thank you!

Dec. 18 2013 12:42 PM

If there was a more serious push on conservation we wouldn't have to generate so much power. Of course you see homeowners putting Tyvec on old houses and commercial enterprises have made a lot of strides, and now LED lighting is even better than CFLs etc. But we could do a lot more.

I walked by the Fox News building the other day and the news crawl said something like "Light bulbs to be illegal in January. Only harsh lighting dim twisty bulbs will be sold. Stock up now while you can." (CFLs aren't dim, can replicate tungsten light, don't have to have the visible twisty, and you can get even more efficient LEDs.)Having a national ignorance network isn't helping. If we got rid of all old bulbs tomorrow we would be saving tons of electricity.

Landlords in NYC have put double pane windows on most but not all buildings. But insulate walls - never. White roofs? No. Energy saving heating systems? No, oil burning old steam systems with no thermostadts or way to not heat when you aren't there.

My apartment has two big single pane windows and no insulation and heat that is on when I'm not here. The landlord is too cheap and shortsighted to even replace the windows. Under Obama, a lot of conservation moves like higher CAFE standards and appliance standards etc. have happened. But we should have a national program to quickly reduce heating and hot water usage. Landlords like mine need to get it for free with a promise of saving money for him to do anything.

Dec. 18 2013 12:41 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If drilling is used (sometimes) for geothermal energy, is it safer than drilling for oil or gas? No chemicals injected? Any other hazards?

Dec. 18 2013 12:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Not much investment in solar because not much money to be made from it. Once it's installed, then what? The customer gets electricity cheap, but who else makes money off of that?

Dec. 18 2013 12:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I know 2 people in the renewable energy field who say that solar panels are going to become far more efficient & cheap in the next 2 years.

Dec. 18 2013 12:33 PM
TC from NYC

Please speak to the environmental problems related to mining rare minerals used in solar panels, esp. as it relates to the environment on the Tibetan plateau--

Dec. 18 2013 12:33 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Solar is simple, that is why lots of people don't want them. Too simple to make lots of money from, or to create very many jobs.

Dec. 18 2013 12:32 PM

Geothermal seems to make such sense to me. Are the obstacles technical (ie is it more difficult than it seems) or are we just slow to change our thinking?

Dec. 18 2013 12:29 PM
TC from NYC

Speaking of China, is anything being done to recycle rare earth minerals (mined from Tibet) that are used in solar panels?

Dec. 18 2013 12:29 PM
Amy from Manhattan

*Yes!* I've been saying for years that if we solve the problems w/obtaining cellulosic ethanol, we can make it out of kudzu.

So how are we doing on learning how to make cellulosic ethanol?

Dec. 18 2013 12:27 PM

Joseph Cavalieri: Almost all hybrid cars until a few higher priced plug in hybrids do not get any electricity from the grid. All-electric cars have been often criticised for using electricity from fossil fuels, but of course in most if not all places in the US you can sign up for all-wind or at least all-renewable power. I imagine pretty much all all-electric or plug in hybrid owners have signed up for renewable electric power.

The electric energy stored by hybrid cars is not all from fossil fuels, unlike what the guest said. A lot is from regenerative braking and deaccelleration and going downhill.

Cars don't use petrol just because that's what they were first designed for. Obviously modern cars run on a percentage of ethanol. The real reason is economic: petrol is much cheaper and also more energy dense.

The guest is also wrong about the White House solar panels. They just installed new ones. Oh, just now he was corrected and then sort of remembered what he denied a few minutes ago. Also, actually under Bush II (!), some electricity generating panels were put on some White House buildings.

Dec. 18 2013 12:27 PM
Cantwell Carson from Manhattan

Ask about solutions to the problems of intermittency with renewables (solar and wind) as in the mismatch between power supply (sunshine and wind) and the demand (peak demand, etc).

Also, should we incentivize carbon capture and storage technology to create zero-emission coal-fired power plants like the SaskPower boundary dam plant?

Dec. 18 2013 12:26 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The reason why solar is being suppressed is because not enough interests can make money from it. Farmers don't make money. GE and other producers of windfarms don't make money from it. Those who want to build nuclear plants can't make money from it. The simple fact is, everyone is trying to ignore or kill solar, because they can't make money from it.

Dec. 18 2013 12:26 PM
Guy from NYC

Interesting to me that Shere can dismiss local reactions and reservations about wind turbine schemes because he stood next to a wind turbine and didn't hear anything.

If you look more closely at the Cape Wind fiasco, which I think he is obliquely referring to, you will find a much more complex picture. Enviro-fundamentalists and corporate scam artists are unfortunately on the same side here, arrayed against wealthy island owning plutocrats and religious groups who don't want the views of the ocean spoiled by enormous unsightly wind farms. The public needs to take simplistic renewable energy claims with a grain of salt and be skeptical about technofabulist claims; there are always political tradeoffs. We also need to recognize visual and noise pollution, and look closer at the corporate interests behind the wind farms and the promises they make about cheaper energy for the regions they want to operate in.

Dec. 18 2013 12:25 PM
steve from queens

today's show reminds me of a comment I made to my father-in-law as we stood on the coast of County Wexford in Ireland. We were looking at a wind farm and he was telling me how the locals did not want all of the turbines there and had staged some protests. I said "it could be worse, it could be a nuclear power plant". to that he replied, "oh, we already went through that." I did not ask anymore.

I later learned that they had proposed a nuclear power plant on the very same coastal land back in the mid 1970's and the entire country turned out in massive, headline grabbing protests which successfully shut that idea down.

This just reaffirms what the speakers said "there is no free lunch."

Dec. 18 2013 12:24 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Solar is the answer. Everything else is baloney. They are diversions. Solar power will be equal to coal in cost in a few years.

Dec. 18 2013 12:21 PM

Please check out Productive House montreal. the concept or Rune Kongshaug funded and built a 9 unit condo which includes, solar, geothermal and recycle water. The project is operating on 60 % less energy than conventional. This project is modern and beautiful as well, there is even shared electrical car on premises.

Dec. 18 2013 12:21 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Leonard could you please share the name of the documentary about wind mills. I would like to share that with my island friends trying to come to a decision about wind power. Thank you.

Dec. 18 2013 12:20 PM
John A

For apartment dwellers, manageable sized solar panels are available on Amazon. I can use my electronics (radio, computer) in a blackout now. It was a fun project.

Dec. 18 2013 12:19 PM
jf from reality

John a. Ignorance is sad. Cannabis cure cancer and 500 other diseases, and replaces 10,000 toxic unsustainable products.You would have millions rotting in jail and their children being abused in foster homes for your precious drug war. (you probably make money off of)

Dec. 18 2013 12:19 PM
art525 from park Slope

I spend summers on a tiny island in Manie. Right now there is a big debate going on about putting in large wind turbines. We have heard numerous reports of people having medical issues with the turbines. They also would be less than esthetic on this tiny little picturesque island. THe guest says he has been by windmills and they are quiet. I have stood next to the huge windmills on Vinalhaven Island in Maine and even on a still nonwindy day they werre nodiy making a constant whooshing noise.

Dec. 18 2013 12:19 PM
Sean Quinn from Fanwood, NJ

The guest doesn't drive a hybrid because its too expensive? My hybrid saves me $60 per month. Hybrids make sense every which way you look at them. If you are going to spend energy to create motion it makes sense to capture and reuse some of that energy.

Dec. 18 2013 12:17 PM
John A

JF - How many gallons of hemp oil can we put you down for?

Dec. 18 2013 12:16 PM
jf from reality

The wind power can come from piezoelectric leaves on "trees" that produce electricity and provide a home for life and vines to grow on.

Dec. 18 2013 12:16 PM
jf from reality

Wave energy can power the world 100x over or more. Nuclear power plants can not be made to last for the millions of years that they are toxic. They were made to last 30 years and are 50 years old now. Magic bullet is making petroleum illegal!

Dec. 18 2013 12:14 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

The Toyota Prius, regenerates it’s battery by moving. No need to plug in anywhere.

Dec. 18 2013 12:13 PM
Joseph Cavalieri from east village

One point on your guests choice of NOT buying a hybrid car...
You can choose 100% wind power as an electricity choice now to charge your car. (at least here in NYC)
So you really don't need to use coal generated power.

Dec. 18 2013 12:13 PM
jf from reality

Diesel trucks owned by the city could all be using recycled oil that they can collect in sanitation trucks and use it to power their whole fleet for free. No conversion needed. Tell me no corruption was responsible for that not happening.

Dec. 18 2013 12:12 PM
jf from reality

Most alternative energies were invented 100 years ago. Diesel was invented for hemp oil, peanut oil. Diesel causes cancer and asthma, was used instead of recycled vegetable oil because petroleum companies bought corruption.

Dec. 18 2013 12:10 PM

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