As our nation stands at the threshold of a 21st century energy crisis, we as utility suppliers are bonded with the duty to serve our customers well. Yet, given increasing demand on a fractured and overburdened system, our current production, storage, and supply methods simply won’t sustain the needs of our growing population.
Our shared obligation calls on all of us to transform the way we power our homes, our businesses, and the infrastructure that supports them.
Embrace our waste
Municipal solid waste (MSW) may be the single, most renewable energy source available, so waste-to-energy is a high priority and arguably our biggest opportunity.
Traditionally, burning MSW was the predominant way to create energy from waste. These incineration stations burn fuel to boil water, which turns to steam, which rotates a turbine to produce electricity.
Alternately, converting MSW through a chemical/catalytic reaction, resulting in biofuel, a fuel used in engines for mechanical work or to produce electricity. These technologies are available, deployable and economic, but most of all environmentally friendly.
For consumers to accept a comprehensive waste-to-energy solution, providers must reduce the emissions associated with it. The biggest barriers, though, may be purely economic: making waste-to-energy more cost-efficient than using landfills and finding investors to finance it.
Solve nuclear negatives
Nuclear energy has earned its place in the mix of energy sources. It’s relatively safe and dependable, and carbon emissions are low because the reactors rely on uranium.
However, uranium has to be mined, so it is not renewable. And because uranium is naturally irradiated, materials used in the process also get irradiated. Additionally, though rare, accidents like Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 cause harmful and lasting destruction.
We also have to resolve what to do with nuclear waste in this country. To simply say we must stop generating it isn’t productive; the medical industry generates low level waste through life-changing and lifesaving diagnoses and treatments; water treatment and manufacturing also generate this waste. Energy-generating power plants leave us with highly radioactive waste. The technology exists to safely store these types of waste, but it consistently falls victim to the “NIMBY” effect (Not In My Back Yard).
Innovate to integrate
It’s widely known that innovation fuels integration, and in the energy business, each new technology bridges the next gap. The most glaring gap in energy reform is how to best transition our system so we can integrate current and emerging power sources into the complex and interdependent system we have now.
Consumers don’t want to see mammoth transmission tower systems and generators. If we think about consumers’ needs beyond electricity, perhaps we can adapt in ways that radically enhance the landscape and benefit local consumers in ways our industry has yet to conceive. Co-locate production with demand.
Rethinking the energy industry is one of the most enigmatic and arduous issues we face. Consumers and the legislators who represent them don’t fully understand where energy comes from nor what it takes to provide it.
The technical, political, physical, regulatory, economic, environmental, and consumer issues we face are immense. Each option has its own complex set of challenges. But collectively overhauling our approach to energy and making good on our shared promise to develop, store, and deliver safe, clean, and renewable power is the most noble objective we can achieve.