Renewable energy may be the future for the United States of America, particularly as the economic situation in the United States changes. The United States of America has to change the way it interacts with the world and the level of consumerism that it engages in, particularly insofar as the topic of renewable energy is concerned. Renewable energy sources come in many different forms, and making a few necessary changes to the current set of regulatory bodies in the United States could, conceivably, change the overall future of the United States of America in terms of renewable energy sources. Solar power, wind energy, and hydropower are all forms of renewable, “green” energy sources that can be harnessed and utilized by the population in the United States as a whole.
Renewable energy is a very important topic in the world today. With the increasing amount of globalization and industrialization that the world is facing, the importance of utilizing supplies and resources that can be replenished for years to come cannot be overstated. Renewable energy, sometimes referred to as “green” energy, is energy that comes from resources that are readily available around the world, and that will be easily replaced in a rapid manner (Haugen and Musser, 2012). Renewable or “green” energy may come from sources that are replenished very quickly and easily, such as sunlight or wind; some other types of potential renewable energies may come from forces like rain, waves, or geothermal heat (Haugen and Musser, 2012). These more unpredictable types of energy sources may not be effective or realistic given current technologies, but technology in the future may be able to change the ineffective status of certain types of energy source collection (Haugen and Musser, 2012).
II. RENEWABLE ENERGY BODY PARAGRAPHS
There are, according to Haugen and Musser (2012), four generally-accepted areas in which renewable energy is applied to the everyday consumer’s life. These areas are heating, electricity, fuel for vehicles, and off-grid energy services, such as those that offer electricity to rural locations (Haugen and Musser, 2012). To understand the current issues that have led the United States to seek out alternative fuel options, it is important to understand the magnitude of the problem that the United States is facing. According to Haugen and Musser (2012), as of 2011, anywhere from 12-15% of the United States’ energy consumption comes from renewable resources (Haugen and Musser, 2012). This means that a great deal of the energy that is consumed by the United States is in the form of non-renewable energy. The problem with non-renewable energy sources is not only that they are due to run out in the foreseeable future, but also that burning many of these non-renewable sources of energy cause problems for the environment, such as greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere (Jakab, 2010). The United States government has long dragged its feet on the issue of climate change and the adoption of renewable energies, but that is slowly changing. According to Byrne, Hughes, Rickerson et al. (2007):
Climate change threatens significant impacts on global ecosystems and human populations. To address this challenge, industrialized nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and undertaken commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the primary agents linked to anthropogenic alteration of earth's climate. By contrast, the US government, led by the Bush Administration, has rejected mandatory targets for curbing emissions under the Protocol, and has instead pursued voluntary mitigation measures amid a larger push for clean coal and “next generation” nuclear technologies. These actions in total have fueled global perceptions that the US is not acting in substantial ways to address climate change. Nevertheless, action within the US is indeed moving forward, with states, cities and regional partnerships filling the federal leadership vacuum. (Byrne, Hughes et al., 2007).
Solar power, wind power, and hydropower are all types of renewable energies that are gaining popularity in the United States, as they are cleaner and more cost-efficient sources of energy. Although they can be costly at the beginning because of start-up costs, Byrne, Hughes et al (2007) suggest that many governmental bodies within the United States have decided that the initial cost is offset by the benefits of the use of these technologies.
Solar power is, today, one of the most ubiquitous types of renewable energies in use in the United States. Solar power is captured using solar panels, which can be described as “active” solar panels or “passive” solar panels, depending on the ways that these solar panels work to capture the sun’s energy (Jakab, 2010). No solar panels are completely efficient, as this would violate scientific laws; however, in places where the sun shines for much of the year-- like California and the American Southwest-- solar panels can be a very effective way to power a home, business, or ever a county (Jakab, 2010).
One of the best things about the use of solar power in the United States is that the relative cost of the technology is low, because it is such a ubiquitous technology at this point. As Painuly (2001) writes, “The enormous potential of renewable energy sources is sufficient to meet the world energy demand many times they can also provide commercially attractive options to meet specific needs for energy services However, to achieve this goal, a number of barriers will have to be overcome to increase market penetration of RETs (Renewable Energy Technologies). Few RETs can compete with conventional fuels on a strict cost basis. Clearly, the cost of production has to come down” (Painuly, 2001). The cost of production and installation of solar paneling in the United States is relatively low compared to other types of renewable energies. However, solar power is not an option for everyone in all geographical locations, and in some locations there is not enough solar power available to completely replace other forms of energy for use in one’s home, office, business, or other building.
Wind power is another potential type of renewable energy that is commonly used in the American southwest and California (Jakab, 2010). Because these places are relatively flat, with large stretches of land that act as perfect wind tunnels, large swaths of windmills or wind turbines can be built along the empty stretches of desert (Jakab, 2010). However, like solar energy, the success of wind energy is very dependent upon location; the wind energy industry in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah is quite successful, but it is successful because the environment in these places lends itself to the use of these natural resources (Jakab, 2010).
Wind turbines are not something that the average consumer can have built in his or her backyard, so programs that utilize wind energy must be built based on governmental or private industry support for the renewable energy program (Jakab, 2010). Jakab (2010) suggests that the current global potential for wind turbine energy creation is five times what its output was in 2008; this means that there is huge potential in the wind energy business that is not being fulfilled. In addition, offshore wind turbines are very marginally utilized, and Jakab (2010) suggests that they are much more efficient than onshore turbines.
Hydropower functions on a similar theory as wind energy; water, like air, is a fluid, although it is much denser. It therefore produces much more energy when it is passed through a small space, like water through a hydroelectric dam (Midilli, Dincer, and Ay, 2006). Usually, hydropower is captured by damming a river, stream, or other moving body of water; however, sea swells and the energy from waves can also be captured and used to create hydropower (Jakab, 2010).
Hydropower is another type of energy that cannot be utilized by the average consumer in the same way that solar power can be utilized by the average consumer. Creating a dam that harnesses the power of a particular body of water is no mean feat-- it is a marvel of engineering that must be taken on very carefully. The Hoover Dam in the United States and the Three Gorges Dam in China are both excellent examples of dams and the level of complexity and engineering that it takes to construct one (Jakab, 2010). However, the electricity from the Hoover Dam alone is enough to provide electricity to much of the American southwest (Jakab, 2010). With damming up a river comes potentially significant environmental issues, however; damming a river can cause habitat destruction and flooding if improperly conducted (Jakab, 2010).
Other Potential Types of Renewable Energies
There are a number of other potential types of renewable energies available to countries, governments, and individuals. One type of energy that is constantly debated is nuclear energy; although not commonly thought of as a type of renewable energy, nuclear energy is, in fact, a type of “clean,” renewable energy (Koroneos, Spachos and Moussiopoulos, 2003). However, there are very real geopolitical issues that limit countries from participating in nuclear energy programs.
There are also other types of renewable energies that are more accessible to the consumer. For instance, hybrid vehicles-- vehicles that run on fuels other than or in addition to petrol-- have become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years (Jakab, 2010). These vehicles reduce fuel costs for the owner and reduce the overall impact on the environment that the individual has. Sometimes, these vehicles may also run on biofuels, which are fuels that are made from plant matter like corn oil (Jakab, 2010). These are all relatively consumer-friendly options for individuals in the United States. Some of these options are even supported by local, state, and federal governments in the form of tax breaks and refunds. The government’s involvement in the renewable energy market has been slow, but has nonetheless been increasing steadily in recent years.
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