Americans have become huge consumers of energy. Our lives rotate more and more around activities that use electricity. The question is, “Where will the energy we have come to depend upon come from in the future”?
The Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) was established in 1975 with a daunting mission. ODOE is supposed make sure that the people of Oregon have affordable, uninterrupted sources of energy. It is to help the people learn to conserve energy, develop clean renewable energy sources, and clean up waste generated by past power sources. Currently ODOE supports the exploration of several new sources of energy: solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and biomass.
Capturing wave energy is in its infancy in the United States. Europe is much farther along at developing this energy resource than the U.S. Beginning in 2000, interest in harnessing wave energy began growing in Oregon. More than $15 million has been spent on preparing to utilize this resource. It appears to be a nearly perfect renewable resource; yet it is rapidly becoming a source of contention. The areas required are enormous – one company asked the state for the use of 7,000 acres to search for a place to locate its converter. Not only that, but the converter would stand three stores above the ocean’s surface and occupy a space 70 feet by 1,400 feet. These converters need to be located within a few miles of the coast, causing difficulties for fishermen and eyesores for tourists.
The development of wave energy is surging ahead without having guidelines and rules in place. There are many unknowns at this point such as how will the magnetic fields produced by the converters effect migratory birds, fish, and animals.
A site two and a half miles off the coast of Reedsport has already been prepared. A PowerBuoy is in the final stages of assembly, and will soon be towed to Coos Bay where it will be rigged for deployment. When that is complete it will be moved to its destination and connected to the system already in place. During a trial period of unknown length, the PowerBuoy will use its computer system to adjust to the changing wave motion and provide data to engineers. Eventually the company wants to have ten buoys in a ‘wave park’ at this location. Interestingly, hearings will be held on the project beginning Oct. 25 at Reedsport City Hall.
Everyone is familiar with this type of energy. We use it when we burn wood to heat our homes. Biomass is actually any type of organic material: wood chips, pulp sludge from wood-processing facilities, agricultural crops, and animal manure just to name a few. Biomass can be converted into electricity, steam, or gas. It can be used to produce methane, ethanol, biodiesel, or methanol to run machinery. Most exciting is the fact that it can be used in place of petrochemicals to make clothing and plastics.
Many people are concerned about the carbon that is released when biomass is processed. However, if new plants are planted to replace those processed, they will remove the carbon from the atmosphere. Producing biomass energy is considered carbon neutral for this reason. The concern for scientists is that crops to produce biomass energy will replace crops needed for food in underdeveloped countries.
Additionally, care must be taken to reduce the impact harvesting these crops have on the land.
There are several biomass converters in Oregon that together produced over 27 trillion Btu. There is only one plant in Oregon that converts municipal waste to electricity. It has been operating since 1986, in Brooks. It is estimated that the facility produces about 1.7 trillion Btu and generated 99.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.
There are several places in the state where geothermal energy is used to heat to buildings, swimming pools, and resorts. Currently, there is no electricity being generated from geothermal energy in Oregon. It appears that will be changing in the near future. U.S. Geothermal Inc. plans to complete a 26 megawatt plant at Neal Hot Springs near Vale. In 2013, Nevada Geothermal anticipates having a 30 megawatt plant at Crump Geyser near Adel.
Wind energy seems like it would be a clean energy source. During 2011, over ten percent of the state’s energy came from wind farms. However, some pollution is produced in the manufacture of the turbines that produce the energy. The turbines mar the landscape and produce a great deal of noise. Worst of all, winds are unpredictable; sometimes they are storm strength and sometimes they are still.
The turbines, when located on raptor migration routes, confuse the birds and they become lost. A small number of bats are killed by barotraumic stress (reduction in air pressure that damages their hearts and lungs). Unfortunately, bats are killed by the white noise produced by the turbines, over 300,000 bats in a single cave.
Solar power seems to be the cleanest of the emerging power sources. Environmental groups would like Oregon to be getting ten percent of its energy from solar sources by 2025. This seems entirely possible since Germany, which produces more solar power than any other country, has less sunlight per year than Oregon. While Oregon leads the nation in solar manufacturing, it does not implement this technology on any meaningful amount.
However, solar energy does have downsides. Although solar units can be installed on top of existing buildings and built into new constructions, true solar farms take up a lot of space. It would take a 100 mile square of land in a place like Arizona or New Mexico to provide enough solar energy for the nation. The environmental impact would be tremendous, unless land already damaged by mining or other such functions could be utilized. Strategies need to be developed to deal with the inevitable damage to solar panels, which contain oils and molten salts that are hazardous, before any large-scale production of solar energy can be undertaken.
New ways of producing energy are being developed that have the potential to replace the use of fossil fuels in the production of energy. In our everyday lives Americans consume tremendous amounts of electricity. In order to maintain our standard of living into the future, Americans need to develop conservation methods and utilize other methods of producing energy as soon as possible.