Renewable Energy: Not as clean as you’d imagine

Ever since Edison and Tesla made electricity commercialized, mankind have been dependent on its almost unlimited power. But can it run out? Which is better, renewable or nonrenewable? And, well, you might be surprised by the outcome.

Electricity, the cornerstone of technology, without it we wouldn’t be able to have most of our daily comforts or run our most vital machines. Unlike water or food waste, electricity cannot reenter the environment after it has been used, leaving the question can it run out.

Well the answer is no, since electricity is energy which cannot be broken or destroyed, that’s is just not gonna happen. But the process of generating electricity can stop on a large scale. For the most part, the way we create electricity from generators is from magnetic induction, which is when you excite electrons by moving them between the opposite poles of a magnet. However, to start this process, we need turbines to start this process and start the power generation. And what fuels the turbines? Mainly finite resources such as fossil fuels and natural gases (nonrenewable). While other turbines depend on wind, solar power, geothermal, or falling water (renewable).

We all know that going green and using renewable energy is great in the long run, but renewable energies still have downsides to them.

Wind Energy

Wind Energy, one of the cleanest ways to harvest energy. They don’t require any fueling, just the wind to turn it’s turbine. But for wind turbines to fully function properly there is one thing needed, land. Since wind turbines work better with larger fans, it requires more and more space.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “they use between 30 and 141 acres permegawatt of power output capacity (a typical new utility-scale wind turbine is about 2 megawatts). However, less than 1 acre per megawatt is disturbed permanently and less than 3.5 acres per megawatt are disturbed temporarily during construction”.

Compared to coal’s 12 acres per megawatt, wind requires a lot more space. Now wind farms are moving to the shores, but again these require a lot of space and can affect fishing, aquaculture, and recitation activities. They also affect ship’s navigation causing them to divert their courses. Overall, wind turbines require a lot of space to work, and some think of them a ‘sight pollution’, but that might be the price we pay for clean energy.

Solar Energy

Unlike wind turbines, solar power plants require less space to operate, creating 3.5 to 16.5 acers per megawatt depending on the type of solar system used. However, unlike wind, you cannot use the land underneath it productively.

For the most part, solar facilities requires a lot of water to cool the panels. Usually cooling towers use between 600 to 650 gallons of water for every megawatt-hour. And since many ideal areas for solar plants are in dry climates, water usage becomes increasingly more important. There are some dry-cooling (not using water) methods, but these are less efficient and redly work at temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

PV solar cells, which are commonly used for homes or commercial buildings, are manufactured using hazardous materials. These materials are used to make the semiconducting face which captures the energy from the sun. The chemicals used can pose dangers to the health of the environment and to the people making the solar cells. However, many manufactures recycle these materials, so the usage of the materials are cutdown.

 

I firmly believe that we need to do what we can to help save the planet we live on. If we keep treating the way it, sooner or later it will fight back. And the idea that since renewable energies are coming out doesn’t necessary mean all is saved. As I’ve showed above, a lot of these technologies can cause other problems within the environment. It takes commitment to solve this global problem, not technology. Even some of the most promising energy harvesting methods have drawbacks, it is just our job as a nation to determine whether or not we can make things more efficient, both socially and environmentally, or to live with the best we got, and from looking at all of the methods in place now, we can do better.

 

 

 

https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/45834.pdf

https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-wind-power#references

https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-solar-power.html#.WnHHGainFPY

Water, Water Nowhere

To quote the famous lines from Samuel Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Water, water, every where, /Nor any drop to drink”, would be fitting of our current standing with our water supply in the United States.

The resource that can lift nations into existence or crumble them into the dust is water. And according to the EPA, 40 states would experience water shortages by 2024. With water supplies decreasing every year, many ethical questions can be raised about one of the United States most well known city, Las Vegas. And when I mean ethical issues, I’m not talking about the gambling or the partying, I’m talking about their water usage. Most of you already know that Las Vegas is dead smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Not only does being in a desert make things hot, it makes things dry, really dry. The average rainfall in Las Vegas, Nevada is about 4 inches. So this means that a lot of water has to be shipped or pipelined down into the city, about 90% of the drinking water comes from the Hoover Dam and more specifically Lake Mead.

How does using a reservoir made for  cause ethical issues? Well, Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam was constructed. Over 25 million people rely on the reservoir within Arizona, Nevada, and California. And as of 2016, the lake is at 37.5% capacity. This is from a mixture of above-average rainfall and increase in population. With more and more people requiring water every day, you have to stop and ask yourself whether it’s alright to drench a desert. Now before you mention it, I do know that Las Vegas has been at the forefront water wastage reduction and water recycling, but the suburbs of Nevada, Arizona, and California are using water supply to keep their lawns neat and clean.

Although there strict rules about watering lawn in these areas, but the fact that it isn’t outlawed in these areas feels like a problem to me. Let’s take California as an example. On average, households (three-person family) within California use about 150,000 gallons of water each year. Approximately uses 51% of its water usage on maintaining their lawn. That means 76,500 gallons of water is used on the lawns.

But overall, the amount of water used on lawn annually only accounts for 7% of the total water usage in California. Over 77% of water is used on agriculture.

Now this is where the lines are drawn: On one side you have critics saying that watering lawns is luxury and provides no value other than aesthetics while on the other side you have defenders of the lawn saying that the agricultural industry needs to become more efficient with their water usage.

Of the 25 million people that use Lake Mead, 19 million are from California. So that means Californians have the greatest impact on the other 6 million people. So the decision on whether lawn care is necessary affects more than the lawn owners. Many people opposed to watering lawns suggest other ways to keep lawn neat and clean like suggesting other drought resistance plants, or even native plants and are already accustomed to the environment. But on the other hand, about 2% of farmland in California uses overhead irrigation, which is water efficient since there is barely any waste from water seeping too deep for the plants. 40% of the farmland uses floor irrigation which isn’t water efficient and is costly. And changing to the newer overhead irrigation can be expensive. So in other words this debate can be whittled down to whether industry or private homeowners should answer for the water shortage.

So, either Californians could either give up their green lawns or Californian farms have to pay out to make farming more efficient. It really depends on who is willing enough to take the largest hit. And whatever decision happens, it won’t only have an affect on them, but the nearly 20 million people who rely on the most basic resource. I just hope and answer comes soon because with the current state that California is in with the mudslides and the wildfires, water conservation could come quicker, it all just really comes down to who is willing to suffer for the goodness of the community.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/las-vegas/nevada/united-states/usnv0049

https://www.vox.com/2016/5/23/11736340/lake-mead-water-drought-southwest

https://priceonomics.com/california-lawn-watering-economics/

https://www.newsdeeply.com/water/community/2016/06/22/california-catching-up-with-the-irrigation-world

Landfills: The Unexpected Cornucopia

Today we live in a society where we can get anything we want with just press of a few buttons.  Technology gave us this wonderful luxury to relax in our homes rather than working out in the fields harvesting our own food. We can just go online and order out groceries  In our nation today, less than 2% of the US population are farms. On the outside, these numbers are outstanding. Being able to feed over 300 million people with only using 3 million farms is incredible and a feat in technology and agricultural advancements. But the underlying cyst underneath all of this growth can threaten us worse than any plague of locust. I’m talking about overconsumption folks.

So what do I mean by over consumption? By the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, overconsumption is the “excessive consumption or use of something”. Overconsumption nowadays is almost synonymous with American lifestyle. We see it virtually every single day through web banners or in our trips to the grocery store. Buying food in bulk is made more enticing with the promise of discounts and coupons so readily available. Hell, there is even a show called Extreme Couponing where people empty grocery stores and only pay a faction of what it is cost. How needs 75 tubes of toothpaste?? Overconsumption is ingrained in our culture and I personally feel that we will never be rid of it. Since we can’t get rid of it, how do we manage it? And furthermore, how will it affect us later on in the future?

First off, let’s go through some statistics. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2010, approximately 30-40% of the United States’s food supply was wasted and thrown out to be placed in a landfill. That means 1/3 of produce produced in the United States are never eaten and are just made to be thrown away. Not only is this a waste of product, it is a waste of capital. The 133 billion pounds of food waste cost $161 billion. To put that inter perspective, that is enough to

This is amazing to me, and not the spontaneous backflip type of amazing, more of the ‘what the f&@%’ type of amazing. Nearly 1/3 of what we buy as food consumers is wasted. Not only is this affecting us financially, this is causing huge damage to the environment by causing landfills to get larger and larger to accommodate all of this waste. Landfills are the 3rd largest contributor to methane gas in the atmosphere. Although a study done by Ohio State University in 2016 showed that a large portion of Americans are aware of the food wastage crisis, a Johns Hopkins study showed that people care more about a leaky faucet or leaving the lights on than throwing away food.

I did my own research of this:

Cost of a leaky faucet: $60-200 per year

Cost of leaving the lights on: $100-200 per year

Cost of food waste: $2,200 per year

What I gather from my mock research is that Americans are more concerned about the current pressing issues when it comes to saving money. It’s easier to flip a switch or to fix a faucet than to not throw out food. This seems to be a trend in American culture: If you can’t see it, don’t worry about it. But now we can see it, and with the environment already being in the terrible state it is now, this is an issue we all need to see now.

Thankfully, this food waste problem is being recognized by the USDA and efforts have been made to limit the amount of food we waste. By 2030, plans are to cut down food waste by nearly 50%. Although this is wonderful, we still need to inform the public about this. Soon enough, with all the drought and wildfires happening nationwide, the once plentiful fields we love and engineering so much will be gone and with it, our extravagate life styles. The fact is that we change either change now, or wait until the all the grocery stores are empty. At that point, those precious buttons we love some much are worth as much as the food we wasted, trash.

 

 

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/30/why-americans-waste-so-much-food/355864001/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/16/food-waste-america-throwing-away-food-too-soon/320035001/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit-vegetables-perfect?CMP=share_btn_tw

http://www.dadislearning.com/2013/07/29/how-much-does-it-cost-to-keep-the-lights-on/

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/04/22/americas-165-billion-food-waste-problem.html