Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oil Prices Heading Up Again? Car Manufacturers Get Bailout? Affect on Alternate Energy?

Well, you may have noticed that oil prices are going up again (after the nice drop back in October, November, and December of last year)... and, since the Feds (in the U.S.) have given bail-outs to the banks and the automotive manufacturers, they are still pushing the gas-guzzling monsters. Maybe oil prices have to exceed $90/barrel before the screaming and fussing will cause more interest in alternate energy.

Ever since I took classes in alternate energy and solar energy and environmental sciences back in the 1970s (yeah, I'm that old) at the University of Guam and the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus Guam Extension, I've had a continuing fascination with the alternatives to oil and coal and nuclear as energy sources. It's not that these three energy sources don't work... they do... but it's the end-result... what to do with the "left-overs" that is the major concern. With the first two options (oil and coal), these are non-renewable resources (and they also involve some pollution problems from more places than you'd expect).

With nuclear power, the quandry of what to do with the spent fuel, what to do with the depleted uranium or other fissionable products is the major concern. Also, you have issues with security, controls, earthquake and natural hazard/disaster risks in addition to the disposal and storage of the hazardous waste/byproducts.

So... what does that leave us with?

Wind power. Solar power (PV, concentrators, passive designs, etc). Hydro (river) power. Tidal power. Oceanic wave power. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Renewables in the form of easily grown, non-food plants (blue-green algae, shrubs, cellulosic alcohol conversion, etc.).

With existing homes and buildings... just replacing incandescent lighting with fluorescent or LED lighting can save a significant amount of money on power bills. Planting appropriate and strategically located shrubbery and vegetation can shield the building from winter winds and summer direct sunlight. Addition of solar-shield tint to windows (and perhaps overhang awnings) can also shield from direct solar heat coming in through those windows. Upgrading and repairing insulation on windows and doors. Adding photovoltaic panels to the energy sources for the structure can also save on power bills. Same with solar concentrator water/air heaters.

New structures should be required to use energy-efficient designs and construction--passive solar heating/cooling tromb walls, thermal mass, clerestory windows (properly positioned), under-floor heating/cooling equipment, architecturally integrated solar PV panels, LED lighting/skylights, proper insulation, and surrounding landscape design. And, maybe some integrated vertical-axis wind power generators (like the ones shown on the Hybrid Boat post I made a few weeks/months ago).

And, this is just the beginning. We need to rethink our views on automobiles and commuting. Why, in the age of the Internet, do we have to commute even 20 miles (let alone 50-80 miles) to a job? If we already do teleconferencing from a meeting room equipped with Skype or WebEx or Polycom with folks in other states (as well as other countries half a world away), why can't we do it from a home office (or local office within a mile or so from our home)? This not only ends traffic congestion, but it gives us less stress and allows us to be more productive. We need to get back to the concept of working in our own town ... In my town, a fellow has set up a "Virtual Office" where for a minimal fee teleworkers can set up their laptops and either work in an enclosed office (with a door) or in a communal area. The "Virtual Office" provides free WiFi, Coffee, sometimes donuts (!), and a pleasant place to work where we don't have to drive far to get there.

This should be the new paradigm of work. We can produce the same if not more valuable product without having to eat up oil resources and automotive time/equipment to do it.


1 comment:

  1. The price of oil fell again Wednesday with new government data showing that U.S. crude supplies increased last week, a sign that demand remains weak. Benchmark crude for October delivery slipped 62 cents to settle at $71.43 a barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude fell 17 cents to settle at $71.65.
    The Energy Department reported Wednesday that U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 200,000 barrels for the week ending Aug. 21. The same report a week ago showed a large and unexpected draw on oil, which sent prices soaring.