Sunday, March 9, 2014

What We Do and Don't Know About Energy

As we all know, energy is a hot topic in many different
ways. The citizens of the United States are hooked on energy! We are talking
about energy and energy policy, and also arguing about energy and energy policy
at every turn. What is the best option for our energy needs in the future,
considering the fact that we have an incredibly high demand for energy? Should
we continue to predominately use fossil fuels, or switch to more sustainable
alternative forms of energy? Should we mine coal here in the states, or put mining
on hold in order to take advantage of foreign resources? Should we build an oil
pipeline between Canada and the United States, or are we not willing to take
that environmental risk? How long will it really be before we are going to be
forced to utilize sustainable forms of energy…and will we be ready when that
time comes?

There are many questions that, as Americans, we haven’t completely
answered (or come to an agreement on) concerning our energy policy. However,
there are a few definitive facts that Americans can all agree upon:

Air pollution is bad.
I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys the strong industrial smell of
factories and ash, and the fact of the matter is that it is also bad for us. If
you can smell it, it has definitely infiltrated your lungs. We know that as a
society, we have to swallow certain risks when we live in certain areas…one of
those risks is air pollution. As the writer of this blog post, I know that I
would much rather live in and breathe the clean mountain air of the Shenandoah
Valley. However, as a writer, there may be better job opportunities in DC – an incredibly
populated and highly urbanized area. The air pollution there is a risk to my
health that I am willing to take. I wouldn’t be willing to live in Beijing,
Hebei, or Tianjin, however, where 30 percent of China’s pollution is produced
in an area that only takes up 8 percent of the country’s territory. I know that
the sheer amount of smoke that infiltrates the air there cannot be good for me,
or any human being.

Natural resources are
not limitless.
It would be so great if they were limitless, and we could
continue using them with the reckless abandonment with which we use them today.
However, according to the National Academy of Sciences, we have enough coal
reserves in the United States to meet the nation’s needs for more than 100
years…if we continue at the current rate of consumption and are mainly using
coal for electric power. The Energy Information Administration determines that coal
provides around 37% of our nation’s energy needs, and fossil fuels (coal, natural
gas, and petroleum) provide around 68%. What happens in 100 years when our coal
reserves start to run low, and we need some other source of energy to make up
that 37% we are missing? Natural resources are finite, and cheap, abundant
energy is something that we need as a nation.

The United States
utility grid is stressed.
This January, the PJM power grid skirted
incredibly closed to blackouts with the frequent winter storms. According to an article by Jim Pierobon, a blogger for, “The five
biggest demands – ever – on PJM’s grid, and eight of the 10 largest, occurred between
January 7 and January 30.” As temperatures dropped lower and lower on those
days, the Eastern portion of the PJM energy grid (that’s us!) continuously “flirted
with rolling blackouts,” typically around 8 am and 7 pm. As Americans, we
understand that we have an incredibly high demand for energy – sometimes so
high that the people who provide us with that energy can’t really keep up. Our
energy infrastructure is pushed to the brink.

And finally, As
American citizens, we need to make informed choices about any and all factors
that might affect our country.
This includes energy demand and energy
policy! If we are to be good, solid American citizens, we need to educate
ourselves on what is best for our country. On the surface, citizenship is
simply the status of a person who is accepted by law as having the rights and
privileges of an area. However, I think it means so much more than that. Active
citizenship requires participation in our communities and our political choices
as a country. So let’s all be active citizens and educate ourselves on the ins
and outs of energy possibilities. It is incredibly important for our country,
especially in the coming years, to be able to develop an inclusive energy policy
that meets the needs of every citizen…so let’s do it!

Like I said previously, we don’t necessarily have the
answers to the big questions. We know that, at SUNRNR, we take all facts into
consideration when we think about energy and energy policy. Hope you all had a
great weekend, and that the beautiful sun we got today sticks around!  

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