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Another Advent: An Optimistic View of Our Energy Future

December 20, 2017   By Elizabeth Kress in Energy Matters

The Colleton Solar Farm near Walterboro is part of Santee Cooper’s power-source diversity.

Energy policy, as with most aspects of government policy, swings like a pendulum between the extremes.

When science and commerce compete for a voice, many times the money of commerce speaks louder than the individuals who understand the science. Fortunately, even at a time when it may seem we are moving in the wrong direction, there is progress that takes us to new possibilities.

We are at the beginning of some exciting changes in energy use. These are new energy transformations in all senses of the word: energy from the sun and the wind transformed into electricity, and again transformed into stored energy. These new capabilities to store energy will help reduce inefficiencies in how our energy is made, moved and used.

We pay a huge price for being inefficient with our energy. To give you an idea of the extent of the energy wasted, Lawrence Livermore Labs produced a summary chart showing a balance of how all the U.S. Energy was produced, and how it was used, based on Energy Information Administration data. The most recent chart published showed more than 60.6 percent of the energy produced from all sources was wasted (lost, rejected or whichever word you want to use).

Energy storage is one way to move that wasted energy to useful energy. The cost to produce electricity from the wind and sun has dropped incredibly in just a few years. However, that electricity peaks when the sky is clear or the wind is strong. An ability to store the production at peak and move it to the time needed most will change our ability to utilize these low-carbon sources of energy.

Additionally, electric motors are vastly more efficient than gasoline engines for automobiles. Improved energy storage is creating an opportunity for us to move to electric vehicles. There are many more efficiencies to be tapped that use these technologies for our electric transmission and distributions systems. Achieving this will require our collective technical brainpower as well as our investment and focus.

How quickly do we need to embrace these new technologies? The overwhelming majority of scientists in the world are asking us to move faster to reduce carbon.  What can explain our reluctance to change? John Kenneth Galbraith tells us, “Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”