Electrical Energy Future

A sea change in electrical energy production and utilization will be occurring over the next few generations which will make for a cleaner, more sustainable future. The current model for energy generation and distribution relies on relatively inefficient thermal power plants, power by fossil fuels or uranium. They are inherently inefficient, converting only a third of the energy available, the remainder is unusable waste heat. Fossil fueled plants have the added disadvantage of adding Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere and driving global warming.

coal smoke

coal smoke

In 2009 the United States Environmental Protection Agency found that Carbon Dioxide and five other gases constitute a threat the human health and welfare and are a primary cause of global warming. After several years of planning they recently announced actions to mitigate this risk. Over the next 15 years states will on average have to reduce their emissions of CO2 by 30 percent. This will be achieved mainly by moving away from burning coal to produce electricity.

Although the national mandate is 30 percent, the Arkansas requirement is to lower our carbon emissions by 44 percent. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we have recently started in the right direction by demand side management. There are two ways to meet the EPA mandate, either find a way to replace the electrical production with non carbon energy sources (supply side) or reduce demand for electrical energy through efficiency (demand side.)

Recently the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) lauded Arkansas for its progress in enacting aggressive energy efficiency measures. Arkansas was named as one of four “most improved” along with Kentucky, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, moving up six spots from its 2013 ranking. Specifically, the ACEEE noted that “[Arkansas’s] budgets for electric efficiency programs increased 30 percent between 2012 and 2013, while electricity savings more than tripled.”

The beauty of demand side management is that it not only save energy, it saves money. Every kilowatt-hour you don’t use, you don’t pay for. Energy efficient light bulbs such as compact fluorescent (CFs) bulbs or even better light emitting diodes (LEDs) save money and energy. Shade trees on the south side of a home save money and energy. More efficient electric motors save money and energy. Examples abound. A nifty term encapsulates this kind of savings – the negawatt. It is the energy you don’t use, hence money you don’t spend, through efficiency.

The next step is to gradually phase out our older coal fired power plants. This makes sense because as the older plants are the least efficient. You pick the low hanging fruit first, right? Prices for solar panels to generate electricity have been falling rapidly in recent years. Currently the price is such that a solar panel array pays for itself in about 10 years, after that the electricity is essentially free.

wind-farm

wind-farm

A lot of wind generated power is available to us from the west. A large project, Plains and Clean Line transmission line will be bringing clean wind generated electricity to Arkansas and parts east over the next few years.

If we make the right choices the world will be a better place in the future – our children’s children’s future.

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