I’m a very open-minded person when it comes to
how I, you or anyone else does things. It’s the individual threads that make up the tapestry…But I also enjoy looking at things at their face value, and yes, even as a Girl, making my decisions based on what is there in my face and not on how I might be emotionally pulled.
This blog isn’t necessarily going to be about renewables. See, there’s my emotional pull. Clean Earth, healthy economies. No…This is about what has been front and center lately and is the results of each of your choices over your entire lifetime on how you’ve powered your existence.
Let’s take a look at what you’ve chosen, paid for and used…
We’ll start with oil:
Crude oil is extracted from beneath the ground/ocean floors and sent to refineries to become petroleum products placed in barrels. The world uses an estimated 84 million barrels per day and the
U.S. uses about 21 million of them, but produces only about 5.3 million of them.
Oil has become the lube of our lives, used mainly for transportation (fuel). It’s the mother lode substance of over 6000 petroleum-based products, and a much smaller percentage of it is used for electricity production. It’s obviously not considered a renewable source because once it’s pulled from the ground and burned it’s not replenished.
There are 3 techniques used to convert oil into electricity: Conventional steam, where oil is burned to heat water to generate electricity. The next is combustion turbine technology, where oil is burned to produce hot exhaust gases to turn a turbine. And the third is combined-cycle technology, where oil is combusted and the exhaust gases generates electricity, then exhausts are recovered, heat water and turn a second turbine.
Between the drilling, the transport and the refining of oil, quite a few toxic, hazardous and flammable materials are produced that (as we’ve all seen) have had varying destructive degrees of impact the water, ground and air.
This is good topic right now and one that I’m enjoying learning more about. Uranium is a naturally occurring low-level radioactive element that is mined and extracted from the earth. Mines crush the uranium, grind it and leach it with acid. It’s then separate by ion exchange, dried and packed.
After it’s refined, it becomes a heavy, dense whitish-silvery metal that is softer than steel and malleable. Uranium is an isotope, meaning that it’s a variant of a basic element (it has different numbers of neutrons in its nucleus even though it has the same number of protons, which gives it its atomic number).
U(ranium)-235 (isotope) is fissile and is the one we use to fuel most of our nuclear reactor power plants. When the nucleus of a U-235 atom captures a moving neutron, it splits in two (fission). This expels a couple of neutrons and releases energy in the form of heat. The expelled neutrons then cause other U-235 atoms to split, releasing energy, causing more to spit, and so on. In this a small amount of uranium is used to create a big amount of energy. The core reactor uses fuel pellets placed inside thin metal tubes and assembled into bundles. It is then the “burning” of these uranium pellets that produces heat to make steam to generate electricity.
Nuclear power supplies about 20% of the electricity requirements in the
U.S. and does this through 104 reactor power plants. Worldwide there are 443 nuclear reactor plants operating in 47 different countries. Nuclear power is considered both non-renewable and renewable. It utilizes natural resources that can become depleted, but it also utilized itself as a chain-reaction power source.
The environmental and human impact from nuclear energy is pretty serious. Plutonium is a man-made waste product as a result of nuclear fission. It’s radioactive and remains toxic for thousands of years. Nuclear reactors produce what is called “high-level” waste and used fuel that has to be reprocessed or stored (most is stored). It is first stored in cooling ponds at the reactor sites for several years to allow the radioactivity to decay and then the remainder requires isolation from the environment for a long, long time. The most favored method is burial at approximately 500 meters deep in stable geological locations.
Coal can be considered “stored energy” in solid form and is extracted from the ground usually in the form of “strip-mining”. Because of the large amounts of coal found beneath the earth’s surface, it has been a cheap and easy way to produce electricity as it is simply crushed and fed into a combustion unit where it’s then burned. The burning of it creates steam which turns a turbine to produce electricity. This is also not considered renewable.
Electricity from coal provides about 48% of the electricity needs in the U.S.
But…Coal power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions going out into the earth’s environment and I would gander to say an enormous player in the pollution game. And…because coal has uranium and thorium (both radioactive elements), the waste from a coal-fired plant is also radioactive, only up in the air…
Natural gas, like crude oil and coal is considered a fossil fuel and non-renewable as it takes millions of years to be created. It is found in vaporous forms under the ground in reservoirs mostly made of methane which is a hydrocarbon that when burnt, gives off a good deal of energy. To create electricity, the gas is superheated, pressurized in pipes and used to turn turbine engines.
Natural gas provides about between 18 and 23% of the energy used in the
U.S. and is considered to be the cleanest of the non-renewable energy sources extracted from the earth.
Environmentally natural gas combustion produces nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxides at about the same pace as coal and about half the
CO2 as coal. In combined-cycle power plants, a significant amount of water is also commonly used in the process.
Oil, nuclear, coal and natural gas are pretty much the main energy production methods that we use to power our lives. Renewables are obviously in there and gaining ground with each passing day. But this isn’t about renewables…
Now take a look at a bigger picture. All of the above energy production methods, as usual, end up having some key things in common.
· They are all non-renewable in one form or another. This means they all need heavy subsidizing to continue attaining new source material and cannot ever sustain themselves.
· They all are burned to create heat. Whether it’s oil, coal or natural gas, they are burned in power plants to heat water. With nuclear, chain reaction fission to create the heat.
· They all have waste due to that burning. On various levels of toxicity, oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear all negatively impact planet earth and its people.
· They have, in each industry, provided us with disastrous results lately making me almost embarrassed to think that I have been a complacent part of the equation. A spill of a billion gallons of coal ash waste sludge 6 feet deep, a natural gas line blowing up a couple of city blocks…and people, oil spills dramatically changing our oceans and food source, and radioactive material floating around the world, visiting a neighborhood near you.
To sum it all up…
These have been our choices. They’re not wrong in that they have provided method and means for hugely accelerated growth in so many ways. They’re simply outlived and have mostly gone as far as they will be able to go technologically when considering the results of their use.
It’s time to decide on something new that gives results driven by the idea of life, not decay. What, again, are we afraid of? Last I remember there were a few things: First, we don’t like change. Second, we don’t want to pay more. Third, we don’t want to be inconvenienced and feel like we’re moving backwards to caveman status.
Are you aware how fast clean technology has evolved? Lightspeed…
Renewable energy that can sustain itself without having to dig up too many things Used to come at a lofty price tag with much less efficiency and effectiveness when utilized in the “real world”. It Used to be unable to supply firm power to the grid. It Used to be big and bulky.
New decisions will yield new results…