Harnessing the Power of the Earth

Out of all alternative energies I’ve researched, geothermal energy is in my opinion the most interesting. Geothermal energy is harnessing the heat from below the earth’s surface. By drilling holes in the earth’s surface, steam from underground water is captured to turn turbines. This power’s generators that can hold and transfer electricity. Capturing geothermal energy is extremely popular in some countries because it is an easy and renewable alternative energy source. In fact, more than 25 percent of all electricity in the Philippines  Iceland, and El Salvador is produced by geothermal energy.

A basic diagram of how geothermal energy works.

A basic diagram of how geothermal energy works.

A Look at the United States

The United States has more geothermal capacity than any other country, producing over 3,000 megawatts of electricity from plants in eight different states. Of this capacity, 80% is from California, where over 40 plants provide 5% of the state’s electricity. Although there are plenty of places across the United States that could provide geothermal energy, heat pumps aren’t installed more places because it can be costly. However, some businesses have heat pumps installed so that their buildings can have electricity virtually free of charge.

So what really is below Earth’s surface?

Underneath Earth’s crust there is a layer of hot molten rock known as magma. This magma is constantly producing heat from decaying radioactive materials, such as uranium and potassium. To put this heat into perspective, the amount of heat within 10,000 meters of the Earth’s surface produces about 50,000 times the amount of all energy oil and natural gas provide. Some areas are hotter than others, however, with the hottest areas being around active or young volcanoes. These regions are called “hot spots” because of how much hotter they are. The reason “hot spots” are so hot is because they are located at tectonic plate boundaries, where most volcanoes are located. One of the greatest known “hot spots” near the United States is the Ring of Fire, which is located along the Pacific Ocean. This region affects the entire western side of the United States, giving it temperatures below the surface almost twice that of the East coast. Altogether, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 13 of the hottest western states could produce electricity estimates of 8,000-73,000 megawatts, which is significantly more than the United States’ current production.

The Pacific Coast is notably warmer than the Atlantic.

Unerneath the surface, the Pacific Coast is notably warmer than the Atlantic.

Geothermal Energy in the Future

Geothermal energy is truly a fascinating form of alternative energy. It’s completely renewable, clean, and doesn’t affect the environment like other ways of capturing energy do. If established in more places across the United States and the world, reliance on oil and natural gas will no longer be necessary. Our harmful impacts on the environment will also be cut, increasing sustainability. While geothermal energy may not become a major energy source for a long time, it could (and probably will) one day become the largest energy resource of all.







One of the oldest and readily available forms of alternative energy exists on 71% of the Earth’s surface. Water, a vital part of all life, is used as power around the world. For rivers, dams can control the flow of water and harness it’s natural flow to turn generators. Perhaps the most common dam that Americans think of is the Hoover Dam, which is a dam on the Colorado River that generates up to 10.348 Terawatt-hours of electricity each year. The amount of electricity produced by the Hoover Dam is enough to sustain over 1.3 million homes in Colorado, Nevada, and California.


Hoover Dam.

Hydropower is one of the oldest forms of energy that has been utilized for over 2,000. The earliest way hydropower was used was with water wheels (pictured below). These water wheels would be attached to farms because the wheel would turn a series of gears that would grind grain, saw wood, etc. After setting up a water wheel, it required little or no maintenance. Harnessing hydropower allowed farmers to do multiple tasks at a time because water wheels were self-automated.


An old-style water wheel.

Over the years, more efficient ways of harnessing hydropower were created, such as dams like the Hoover Dam. These dams have a lot of advantages. First, they increase the water level of a river which in turn increases the energy potential. Along with this, dam operators can control water flow to suit whatever situation. If the dam is getting too blocked up, flood-gates can be opened wider to increase water flow. In addition, having a large amount of water available means that energy can still be captured even during times of drought. One of the interesting advantages of hydroelectric dams is that if electricity does not need to be created, then electricity produced by water flow can be used to pump that water back into the reservoir. This creates a situation where nothing is wasted.

Although dams are a great way to harness cheap and clean hydropower, they do have downsides. When a dam is installed, the reservoir created floods land upstream, killing plants and driving animals out of their habitats. Also, the dam itself creates a barrier for migrating fish. Fish that have traveled upstream for centuries are forced to remain where they are because of the dam, changing their entire way of life. Finally, dams interrupt the normal development of floodplains downstream. Installing dams to control water flow is a great idea in theory, but it completely changes the environment it is placed in.


A dam in Ontario.

Harnessing hydropower is a great form of alternative energy. It’s cheap, clean, and readily available. Unfortunately, modern-day dams have a ton of environmental impacts that other alternative energy-capturing methods don’t. Wind farms and solar panels produce energy just like hydropower, except they have little or no environmental impact. Environmental impacts aside, hydroelectric dams do produce a lot of electricity. In fact, the United States alone has over 80,000 dams. Altogether, hydropower makes up 7.1% of the United States total energy usage. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, other renewable energies only make up 2.4%. Hydropower is clearly a successful renewable energy source, even if it does have some environmental impacts. However, the question remains: Are these environmental impacts too much?








Capturing the Power of the Wind

The search for alternative forms of energy has led to very interesting technological advancements. One of the best ideas, and also most simple, is capturing the power of the wind. Out of all alternative forms of energy, wind energy is the fastest growing, with an annual growth rate of 30% in the United States. Capturing wind energy is easy, with wind farms being located in different areas across the united states. In fact, a small wind farm out in Wyoming generates enough electricity to power over 9,000 homes! Larger wind farms can produce even more electricity, cutting electricity costs greatly. Although this is a great feat, it’s weird to imagine a slight breeze throughout the day being capable of producing enough power to generate so much electricity. So how do these wind turbines work?


The blades on a wind turbine are turned like an airplane’s blades. This causes air pressure to be uneven, higher on one side and lower on the other. By creating this difference in air pressure, the blade is forced to spin with the wind. The blades are connected to a shaft that only turns around 18 times per minute. This is nowhere near fast enough to generate decent amounts of electricity, so a series of gears are connected to each other inside of the turbine. The final gear is small and rotates about 1800 times per minute (1,000 times that of the initial gear). Because of the high rotation rate, the generator inside the turbine can generate a large amount of electricity. The reason wind turbines are so tall is because winds get increasingly stronger higher off the ground. The taller a turbine, the more efficient it is. Also, the blades on a turbine are around 130 feet long and can sweep a circle in the sky as long as a football field.

Unfortunately, not all areas are feasible for hosting a wind farm. Areas like prairies, deserts, and mountains provide the best locations for harnessing wind energy. Because prairies and deserts are large, wide-open areas, wind can travel freely and is strong enough to produce great amounts of energy. Also, by placing wind turbines on small mountains, the turbines can be powered by stronger winds only found at higher elevations.


Some of the largest wind farms in the United States provide a TON of clean energy. The largest is the Roscoe Wind Farm located in Roscoe, Texas. This wind farm has 627 wind turbines and produces 781.5 megawatts! Altogether the wind farm covers almost 100,000 acres, which is roughly the size of Manhattan. The power produced by the Roscoe Wind Farm provides enough power for 250,000 homes! The second largest wind farm is the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, which covers 47,000 acres. It has 421 wind turbines and produces 735.5 megawatts. The third largest is the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, which is one of the oldest wind farms in the country. It has both the modern three-blade wind turbines plus older two-blade designs. It produces a total of 705 megawatts.


The Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm

Wind energy is truly a fascinating form of clean energy. It is simple in design, and requires very little maintenance. Once installed, wind turbines produce energy completely on their own. While not all areas can hold wind farms, there are still plenty of prairies, deserts, and mountains across the world that can be utilized. Besides that, the only other drawback is not all areas can host wind farms due to space constraints. Despite these drawbacks, wind energy is still a great source of clean energy that powers thousands of homes across the United States.


1. http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/small-wind-electric-systems

2. http://www.pcitraining.edu/blog/top-five-largest-wind-farms/

3. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/wind_energy.print.html

Is Solar Energy Really Feasible?

As we all know, fossils fuels cannot last forever. The pollution it causes tied with its limited supply make it a terrible choice for the future of energy. One of the most widely researched alternatives to fossil fuels is solar energy, which captures the energy of the sun and turns it into electricity. While electricity is not the most feasible type of energy for certain operations (i.e. heating), it is a huge benefit to many others like powering computers, lightbulbs, etc. Although solar energy is an investment that pays off in no time, many consumers are slow to adopt it. However, many companies use solar energy to cut back their own energy costs. According to “Make solar energy economical,” solar energy is a “growing, multibillion dollar industry” that only will get bigger. Although it may not be economically or logically feasible for everyone to adopt solar energy, those who can should in any way possible.
SolarPanel8smDropping thousands of dollars on installing solar panels may not be the most logical plan of action for most, but replacing other appliances to reduce electricity requirements makes solar energy a little bit more economical. For example, switching out inefficient electronic appliances for more efficient gas-powered alternatives would lower the total electricity requirements of a home (“How effective is residential solar power?”). Another example is replacing electric range tops with gas ranges because electric range tops are HUGE consumers of electricity. Electricity is not the most efficient way to heat anything, and replacing anything that uses electricity to heat up would save a lot of money. A final example is electric clothes dryers. Again, electricity is not the most economical way to heat anything and should be switched for a gas-powered alternative. While installing gas-powered alternatives seems counter-intuitive, it saves both money and fuel in the long run. The reason for this is because PECO uses fossil fuels to produce some of their electricity. If homes use only small amounts of fossil fuels for specific appliances and decrease their reliability on PECO, the overall use of fossil fuels will go down.



“Go big or go home.” An example of a house making the most of solar panels.

Although replacing certain appliances is incredibly helpful in increasing the potential of

solar panels, it is not the only way of doing so. By analyzing and adjusting the overall efficiency of a home, adopting solar energy can become a no-brainer. One of the biggest problems with homes is how well they regulate temperature. If a home has poorly-regulated temperature, installing solar panels will cause nothing more than a

headache. Air conditioners and central heating units require huge amounts of electricity and if they aren’t functioning at their most efficient level, thousands of dollars of energy may be wasted each year. To ensure that installing solar panels is worth it, homes must be extremely energy efficient. By lowering the energy requirements of a ho


A final thought when installing solar panels is a home’s location. Not all homes can even use solar panels effectively due to their climate and location. However, some homes that may seem incapable of solar panels can be capable with some minor adjustments. If a home is surrounded by trees, there is the possibility of cutting down some of those trees so that the roof is left uncovered (“How effective is residential solar power?”). Even though cutting down trees just to save some money seems silly, it’s not. The cut-down trees can be used as firewood, which helps to heat a home and cut down heating bills. The entire process may be expensive, but will pay off in no time.me, the total energy savings when switching to solar panels will be even larger.


Installing even just a few panels helps to cut energy costs.


Every home in America will never be able to adopt solar energy. Although optimists would like to believe they can, it just won’t ever happen. But for those who can adopt, the investment can mean huge energy savings. According to “Home Solar Payoff,” “a system might cost $15,000 to $30,000 and take three to 10 years to recoup.” While spending $15-30,000 is a huge investment, it pays for itself in as little as 3 years. After that, the savings continue and no other purchases are necessary. For those who can afford it, solar energy just makes sense.



1.  http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/cms/8996/9082.aspx

2. http://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2010/01/how-effective-is-residential-solar-power/

3. http://www.buildingmoxie.com/2011/07/home-solar-payoff/


Let’s get electric!

Everyone knows CO2 emissions from cars do absolutely no good for the environment. This fact has been drilled into every Americans’ head. To combat this problem, we’ve been offered alternative electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius. However, these alternative vehicles have been slow to grow in popularity. Why would anyone want to trade in a perfectly good car for one that’s more eco-friendly? Although companies have pushed for these alternative vehicles, most people haven’t been buying them because they don’t need a new car. And even if they did, the struggling economy certainly doesn’t help people to throw down extra money for an electric car. Aside from not needing an electric car, many people don’t want to switch because electric cars are slower to accelerate and have less power. Cars a like big toys. The rush when accelerating and flying down a highway is something  a lot of people wouldn’t give up just to be eco-friendly. For this and many other reasons, the switch to electric cars is an uphill battle.


The Toyota Prius, one of the most popular eco-friendly cars.

While skimming through the business section of the New York Times, I came across an article on General Motors (GM) and Nissan changing their approach to selling electric cars. At the Detroit auto show this past Tuesday, both GM and Nissan showed off more models of eco-friendly cars. GM showed off the Cadillac ELR, a luxury version of the Chevy Volt. This past year, GM sold only 23,000 Volts, totaling less than 1% of total sales. Ouch. By providing more options to consumers, GM hopes to increase consumer interest in going green. Unlike GM’s plan to create more models, Nissan is scaling back prices in hopes to make people switch. This past year was tougher for Nissan, who sold half the number of Leafs they expected.  If a surge in sales doesn’t occur soon, the cost of Leaf production will far outweigh revenue. Nissan hasn’t lost confidence, however, as they’ve introduced another, more moderate Leaf priced $6,200 cheaper. While the switch to electric cars hasn’t been exceptionally successful, both GM and Nissan haven’t lost sight of their goal.


The Cadillac ELR at the Detroit Auto Show.

Switching to an electric vehicle is something many people won’t do for awhile. No matter how strong the incentive may be, there will always be those who don’t want to switch. Regardless, companies like GM and Nissan have been working with the government to do their best to coerce people to switch. One of the biggest ways they’ve done so is through providing tax cuts. According to the article, “Volts, Leafs and other electric cars typically qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit and sometimes state credits that lower the effective purchase price” (2 Makers Press the Case for Electric Cars). By providing tax cuts as large as $7,500, these cars become a lot less expensive. However, such a large tax cut is still not enough to beat the price of many other conventional cars. For less than $20,000, consumers have a variety of options from many different manufacturers (Best Cars for Under $20,000).


The Nissan Leaf is a 100% electric car.

It seems that for every step car manufacturers and the government make to push electric cars, there’s always another reason why people won’t switch. Perhaps the biggest problem with switching to electric cars is that there is no immediate reason to. Sure, the amount of CO2 emissions released each year is alarming, but do we see a difference in our daily lives each day? Not at all. Some reports even indicate that air today is cleaner than 30 years ago (E.P.A. Calls US Cleaner and Greener Than 30 Years Ago)! How could anyone see this switch as necessary when there is media that makes it seem so much less important?pollutingfactory2

Nowadays, factories can no longer pollute like they used to.

In my opinion, a real change won’t occur until the issue becomes serious. For years, the issue of gun control was discussed in Congress but no definitive answer was ever found. Now that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, the topic of gun control has become a serious issue that people are discussing. Although no simple answer may be found, people are much more motivated to find one than they were before. In the same way as gun control, the switch to electric cars will not occur until something serious occurs that forces people to do something. This may mean something as serious as all the polar ice caps melting, but until then people won’t take this switch as seriously as they probably should. People just don’t like change.


Losing these little guys may be the only way we see change.



1) 2 Makers Press the Case for Electric Cars


2) Best Cars for Under $20,000


3) E.P.A. Calls US Cleaner and Greener Than 30 Years Ago