Power for the People

Posted on 15. Jun, 2017 by in Grays Corner, Recent News

Power for the People

Gray Stanback

Most, if not all, of us rely on electricity to help us with our daily lives, and this is something it is easy to take for granted. After all, we simply flip a switch and the lights, radio, television, and any other number of other household conveniences turn on—and we seldom pay any further attention to where than electricity comes from. However, all electricity is not created equal. Sources of electricity can be roughly divided into two categories—renewable and nonrenewable, depending on whether more of them can be made in a short time.

            The classic source of nonrenewable electricity is coal, which is mined out of the earth in huge “strip mines” or seams. Although the earth’s supply of coal can theoretically last for several centuries longer, extracting it is a wasteful and dangerous process and using it as fuel produces large amounts of excess greenhouse gas. Nevertheless, coal was the first of the so-called “fossil fuels” to be widely used, and it continues to be the preferred fuel source for electricity-producing power plants.

            Oil, on the other hand, is mainly drilled for at sea, and is not used as often to fuel power plants. It is used more often than coal, however, as a base for automotive fuels such as gasoline. Like coal, however, the use of oil as a fuel results in the emission of deadly greenhouse gases that can drastically alter the climate of an area.

            The cleanest fossil fuel—for a relative sense of the word “clean”—is natural gas. Natural gas is familiar as the fuel used on stoves and grills, and it is the fossil fuel that emits the smallest amount of greenhouse gas per amount burned. However, these advantages are largely offset by the manner in which it is obtained—hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short. In this process, an underground seam of natural gas is filled with high-pressure water in order to force out the gas inside. When the water comes out it is often contaminated with chemical injected into it to force the gas out. This can poison groundwater supplies and make people and animals who drink it violently ill.

            Renewable electricity includes such things as solar, wind, and hydroelectric (water) power. Davidson itself is built alongside a large hydroelectric power plant, the dam of which is the one that formed Lake Norman. Although hydroelectric power plants are emission-free, renewable, and use only existing technology, they have downsides of their own. Every time a dam is built, it blocks the flow of a river and floods the underlying land, essentially destroying the local ecosystem.

            The other forms of renewable energy, solar and wind power, do not have these disadvantages. They can be made and used anywhere provided there is consistent wind or sun, and will continue to provide electricity for as long as that continues to be the case. However, there is a catch—so far, neither of these power sources are capable of providing the amount of energy that would be necessary to fully replace fossil fuels in our society.

            What, then, is there for a person conscious of their carbon footprint to do? A good first step is simply not using fossil fuels where they are not necessary; for example, not driving for your daily commute if you live only a half a mile from where you work. And if you must drive, make sure your car has the highest possible mile-per-gallon rating.