The world’s power requirement is enormous. Natural resources like oil, coal and natural gas, the chief fossil fuels relied upon as drivers to facilitate the generation of electricity and heat, is in finite supply; they won’t last forever. And, there are negative environmental effects from their use. Yet they are being relied upon such as they are without even the slightest hesitation, reservation.
I watched the episode of NOVA on the PBS television network the other night called: “Treasures of the Earth: Power.” One of these treasures was coal. Explained in the program was what was responsible for the natural resource’s formation and how coal came to find its way into the energy generation picture.
Discussed also was what made this mineral of choice suitable as an agent of electricity and heat generation once ignited, that is, and how, over time, dependence on such has fallen. The reasons coal has been scaled back in its use – at first as a heat source and then as an electricity generating fuel – are several.
One is the market. The demand for coals has become less, in the United States in particular, as the exploitation, exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas has ramped up. In fact, it was pointed out in the “Treasures of the Earth: Power” installment that the burning of coal currently is used as a supply to generate 33 percent of power in all of America, markedly different from the time when coal was once king (the power-supply element of choice, in other words), the feature’s narrator citing Penn State University Geologist Liz Hajek. This being with population growth what it is today, even.
Meanwhile, in China, one of the mined substance’s biggest users, is slowly reducing reliance on it, the country engaging heavily in the exploitation of clean-energy generation with adoption of solar photovoltaic (solar cell) technology and employing on a massive scale, banks upon banks of lithium ion batteries to store energy to have available for use when the sun isn’t shining. Great news considering China’s horrendous air-pollution problem is mostly coal-burning prompted.
Winds of change
Renewable or fossil fuels: which has the decided advantage; which is the clear winner?
Amazingly, after the discovery of tapping electrons from the sun’s rays, breezes, ocean tides and other renewable sources of energy, there is lack of consensus. What it comes down to is what endeavor or approach in the eyes of those doing the looking, observing is apt or perceived to pay the greenest dividend. And the word “greenest” here has multiple interpretations. On principle, it’s become an economy versus ecology argument. But, I’m wondering if compromise or middle ground can ever be reached.
California, it seems, has found the solution. California has broken new ground in what had once been uncharted territory. To say the state’s economy is a green one, is indeed understating the obvious. Yet, even with the direction in which the Golden State is proceeding, most other states are loath to follow suit.
Okay, let’s look at specifics.
In 2020, a third of the state’s energy production must be derived from non-fossil-fuel-based sources. It is what is called for in what’s known as the Renewables Portfolio Standard. California is almost to that level now. By 2050, there will be an even higher target – 50 percent.
Because California has to come up with ways to cut back its greenhouse gas emissions, this has generated all kinds of products and programs to achieve that end – everything from smarter land use and transportation choices being made to a manufacturing sector that prides itself on turning out everything from zero-emissions cars, buses and trains to solar panels and systems for capturing emitted gases or vapors from fermenting grapes and keeping such from entering air. As a matter of fact, coming online in 2017 is a new biomass facility that will be receiving dead and decaying trees from Sierra Nevada forests which will convert that refuse into electricity for state consumer use. These processes and programs are keeping tons of carbon dioxide from entering our air. The state’s carbon emissions target for 2020 is 431 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent units (MMTCO2e). That’s down ten-and-a-half MMTCO2e from what exists today.
In pursuit of this, the state’s economy has not been hurt in the least. In fact, it has been helped with good green jobs created in the process.
And, this is not to say that unsustainable-type practices and employment have been abandoned and has been eliminated in the process, respectively. They haven’t been.
When we put our minds to it
California is at the forefront of and demonstrating that it does not need to be an economy versus the environment knock-down, drag-out altercation. The Golden State seems to have found the golden egg, a “best-of-both-worlds” scenario. Quite interesting and a turn-around from the days during which driving dominated, freeways were a dime a dozen, electric street railways fell victim to such falling by the wayside in major cities, leaving in its wake deplorable, damaging and deleterious air, I’d say. Other states could reap similar rewards and could likewise prosper as California is doing if differences could just be put aside, people keeping open their minds and agreeing to work together. The very constructs that have enabled America’s most populated state to move ahead the way it is, the air seeing some improvement at the same time. Though some areas, admittedly, are doing a much better job at this than others. Make no mistake.
California, the 31st state, is on track to advance its energy production portfolio and the direction the state is taking to make the switch from fossil to renewable fuels is a good one and the transition from the former to the latter smooth, no question. This didn’t happen by accident. The voters have spoken.
Middle image above: United States Air Force