For a large number of people the energy crisis is becoming increasingly important. It’s not news now that global warming is having a major impact on both the air quality as well as our bodies of water and plant life. We’re rapidly approaching the point of no return, and in response to this scientists around the world are rushing to create and improve alternative, environmentally friendly forms of energy.
The types of energy being explored range from nuclear, which is already responsible for 19% of the nation’s electricity, to natural gas, used mainly in deregulated energy markets like Ohio (find out more), New York, Illinois, and Nevada, and even bioenergy, which is created from organic materials. However, the two forms of alternative energy that seem to be picking up the most funding, research, and interest are wind and solar power.
An increased interest in these two types of alternative energy could be for any number of factors, but it’s most likely that they’re simply more realistic in the general population’s opinion. We all know that solar and wind are two sources we are never going to run out of, a comforting fact in the face of ever increasing oil shortages.
When it comes to solar power, it’s an interesting time for homeowners who are looking to potentially switch over. As the Buffalo News notes, incentives for homeowners to switch their primary source of power to solar are dropping (and will continue to be phased out over the next decade), but also lowering is the cost of the notoriously pricey solar panels themselves. Many of the companies and engineers behind top-selling solar products are afraid of repercussions when the existing federal tax incentive of reimbursing 30% of the installation costs drops to 20% at the end of 2016. Scott Wiater, the president of Standard Solar, expressed his concerns to The Washington Post saying, “Ultimately, will it put us out of business? No, I don’t think it will kill the industry. But it could slow us way down.”
On the other side of the debate is engineer Deborah Zarbo who insisted that, “People look at the cost of solar over a 25-year period. If grid power prices go way up, as they are prone to do, that’s when people are really saving a lot of money. It’s just like doing a 401k or IRA, but now it’s solar.” It’s that very type of logic that many in the solar power industry are hoping homeowners will consider once the tax breaks end.
Of course, it isn’t all bad news for the solar industry. A fantastic new breakthrough from a research team at the College of Engineering at Michigan State saw the creation of a completely transparent solar panel. While Tech Times notes it is less efficient than the traditional panels (1% compared to 7-15% for the traditional panels) the news of this invention sent engineers, architects, and technology companies into a tizzy with the possibilities. It could mark the end of the generally unsightly solar panels, and windows could even double as solar panels if the technology enables it. Beyond that, future tablet and smartphone screens could act as chargers to the device. Think of simply laying your phone in the sun to get a full charge as opposed to remaining tethered to the wall while it powers up. While the technology has only just been discovered, the possibilities seem endless.
The wind power industry took a hit recently as well, thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Starting in 2009, the VA built four sites for wind turbine farms, meant to power their facilities. However, in a expose from the Saint Cloud Times (one of the cities where a turbine farm was located) it was revealed that after five years and $3.7 million of government funding, only one turbine at all four sites was even functional. While this event has more to do with the gross mismanagement of the VA system than it does with wind power, it’s another black eye which damages the idea that the government can be counted on to lead the charge in the adoption and implementation of renewable energy.
Despite that bad news, there are some positive wind advancements, according to the newly released Wind Technologies Market Report from the Department of Energy. The report for 2013 showed that the U.S.’s share of electricity supplied by wind power reached an all time high at 4.5%, with Iowa and South Dakota channeling an astounding 25% of their electricity from wind. The report also predicted that the cost of wind power bought over long term contracts will continue to drop below its current all time low over the next 20 years. As if those two things weren’t sweet enough, the wind power industry is also creating American manufacturing jobs, due to the 70% of wind power components that are American made.
The battle to create and implement environmentally friendly energy is slowly charging ahead, and in spite of the many delays and challenges that face the industry as a whole, it has established itself as a permanent fixture that won’t be going away very easily. While the outlook may look bleak at times, the technology is there, and all it takes is consumer and citizen demand to put it into use.
Solar Panels at Earth Rangers Centre – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Shepherds Flat Wind Farm, Oregon, USA – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Kate Voss is a freelance entertainment writer from Chicago who loves restoring antique furniture. Her most recent project was upcycling her mother’s old trunk to be used as a coffee table.