President Obama was pushing green technology again a short while ago. That got me thinking. How much energy do Americans use, and if we replaced it what would we need. It's great to talk about “going green”, it's another thing when you try to figure out what it really means. To anyone here who has seen what I have written, it's no surprise that I take all the green with a grain of salt.
While trying to find the answers I ran across Professor David Mackay. Dr. Mackay is a professor in the department of physics at the University of Cambridge. Studied natural sciences at Cambridge. He then obtained his PhD in Computation and Neutral Systems at the California Institute of Technology.
One of the common PSAs that you hear on the radio features a little girl telling another that she should unplug her cell phone charger. The little girl denies that she even has a cell phone until it rings. At that time she admits it's hers and says she will unplug it.
Dr. Mackay looked at these “soft” energy savings that are being thrown around on Capital Hill to determine how much energy these item would save. Dr. Mackay wrote, “Take, for example, the idea that one of the top 10 things you should do to make a difference to your energy consumption is to unplug your cell-phone charger when you are not using it. The truth is that leaving a phone charger plugged in uses about 0.01 kWh per day, 1/100th of the power consumed by a light bulb.” To put it another way, it's about the amount of energy that it takes to drive the average car, for 1 second.
MacKay expresses energy consumption and energy production using simple personal units, namely kilowatt-hours. So, for example, one kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the energy used by leaving a 40-watt bulb on for 24 hours. “The chemical energy in the food we eat to stay alive amounts to about 3 kWh per day. Taking one hot bath uses about 5 kWh of heat. Driving an average European car 100 kilometers (km), which is roughly 62 miles, uses 80 kWh of fuel,” he said. “With a few of these numbers in mind, we can start to evaluate some of the recommendations that people make about energy.”
So how does America stack up against the Europeans in the use of energy? Would you believe about double. Europeans use about 125 kWh per day while we use 250 kWh per day. To put that into numbers we can all easily understand, it's the same all everybody leaving 250 light bulbs on around the clock. So if we went green with wind, solar an nuclear, what would we need?
First as the new Energy Czar, I'm writing I can make myself Czar, I'm going to demand that we use no more energy a day than the standard European. Just like that, I cut our energy usage in half. I don't think it's possible, but I am the Czar, for now.
So we are now going to take our new energy level and split it evenly at 42 kWh for each of the three sources. Remember that is per person, per day, for everybody in the country. All 310 million of us.
• To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 95.7 square yards per person of solar panels. This would be a solar panel that would just about cover the entire state of Vermont.
• To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the U.S. would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.
• To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today’s levels.
So as of now, President Obama still has drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on hold. Anwar is still off limits. I delivered to a nuclear power plant that is trying to come on line. They are hoping to get permission to start it. Construction started in about the mid 1970's I'm told. It was put on hold in 1988, and is just now getting finished. 35 years after construction started. While I don't do it, the company that I'm leased to hauls wind blades to the wind farms. They run these truck after truck, day in and day out, but how long is it going to take to cover an area the size of the state of California with a giant wind farm and where are they going to put them?
To want to end the use of fossil fuels may be a great goal. One day we may even find a way to do it. In the mean time we can't force energy prices so high that people will have trouble playing their light bills, or that our economy comes to a complete stop. President Obama has said in his speeches that the price of energy is going to have to go higher. That coal fired electric plants may be built but they are going to be so expensive to operate that they will go broke.
President Obama's dream of green energy and moving away from fossil fuels is a pipe dream, and it's not oil running through the pipe. It may even be a great dream. The problem is, at the rate it takes to construct wind, solar, and nuclear facilities and the infrastructure such as power lines, we are going to have to leave green energy as a dream to be fully solved and put in place for our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.