Consumers. People are consumers. That’s what we do. Consume. And consumption at its essence is no better typified than in the home.
It was expressed in America Revealed, Episode 3, “ELECTRIC NATION,” a 2012 Public Broadcasting System broadcast, that in America in the typical home, on average, can be found 26 different electronic devices. Everything from washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers to televisions, computers, fans and alarm clocks. And each of those appliances as well as others runs on electricity.
To feed a nation that has a seemingly insatiable appetite for electric power, according to the show’s presenter Yul Kwon, nationwide, there are nearly 6,000 power plants providing the power to help America meet its current and growing energy requirements. “And each one needs fuel so it can supply power 365 days a year. Today, they use a mix of energy sources, from nuclear to renewables like solar and wind; from hydro to natural gas.”
It is one essential, natural but non-renewable resource, coal, available in vast quantities to meet electric demand that, in fact, “supplies nearly half of America’s electricity,” Kwon remarked, adding, “With our vast reserves, it’s no wonder America is still so reliant on the simple black rock to power the grid, even though coal-fired power plants are among the biggest air polluters in the U.S.”
Another of America’s fossil-fuel finds is natural gas. Of all the fossil fuels available, natural gas, of course, is the cleanest-burning of the bunch. And like coal, it too, is in abundant supply.
“Major gas shale deposits can be found in 28 different states,” Kwon noted. “If you add them all up you get a gas reserve that’s even bigger than the world’s largest oil reserve in Saudi Arabia.”
The growth in domestic natural gas drilling, meanwhile, has been phenomenal, being virtually non-existent in 2005 compared to what it is today, “supplying 20 percent of our natural gas needs,” according to Kwon.
But drilling for that gas has been controversial; said controversy surfacing apparently over the means by which natural gas is extracted from the subsurface shale deposits in question, that is, via the drilling process involved, in this case, what’s referred to as hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”
As it may relate, Kwon cites the following exchange between two well-known figures: Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Kwon declared, “In 1931, Thomas Edison confided to his friend Henry Ford. ‘We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy: sun, wind and tide.’”
And to think this was in 1931.
Does such insight foretell what’s in store regarding America’s energy-production future? Is the future bright for wind? What about solar?
There has been extraordinary growth of wind-power as of late. It’s “America’s fastest-growing renewable resource,” according to the America Revealed show presenter. In fact, coast-to-coast no fewer than 36,000 wind turbines are a definite driving force in America’s energy picture.
And not to be forgotten is photovoltaic technology or solar cells.
In America between 2010 and 2012, an additional 100,000 residences were outfitted with photovoltaic systems, enabling those in the private-citizen sector embracing this technology to be far more energy-independent.
The aforesaid renewables – wind and solar power – are, of course, subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature. In coming to terms with that reality it is apparent that the case that continued reliance on power derived from the burning of fossil fuels is still strong and will likely remain that way for some time.