A Convenient Truth about Clean Energy: The Earth Is Awash in Energy; We Just Need New Infrastructure to Tap It. A Chemical Engineer Shows How We Could Break Free of Fossil Fuels by Deploying the Power of Ammonia and Hydrogen

By Schoder, Carl E. | The Futurist, January-February 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Convenient Truth about Clean Energy: The Earth Is Awash in Energy; We Just Need New Infrastructure to Tap It. A Chemical Engineer Shows How We Could Break Free of Fossil Fuels by Deploying the Power of Ammonia and Hydrogen


Schoder, Carl E., The Futurist


The convenient truth is that the world does not have an energy shortage; it simply lacks an energy infrastructure capable of using the abundant source of solar energy that we receive from the sun every day. The current worldwide demand of about 363 terawatt-hours per day could be met by covering just 0.5% of the world's land area with silicon solar panels. Doing so, and building out other necessary infrastructure requirements, could meet our energy needs and eliminate dependency on nonrenewable petroleum.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As we examine our energy future, we should keep in mind three fundamental requirements:

1. Abundance. Because of the value that energy gives us in improving the quality of life, the long-term abundance of an energy source and of the materials required to produce it is very important.

2. Cleanness and greenness. Clean, green energy is important because we only have one Planet Earth. When we pollute and damage it, we are destroying our home.

3. Widely distributed availability. Moving energy from point to point is an energy-consuming and wasteful practice, so ease of transport and accessibility are important considerations in building the energy future.

Energy Supply

We typically refer to fossil fuels as sources of energy. In reality, fossil fuels are stored forms of potential energy created from solar energy ages ago, so the real source was the sun. These fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy; formed over eons, they are now being spent in a matter of decades.

Gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, and electricity are not true sources of energy because they need to be converted from other sources into these more convenient forms. Whenever one type of energy is converted into another type of energy, some of the source energy is lost as waste heat or friction (entropy). This entropy waste is one of many reasons why the conservation of all natural materials--including petroleum--is for the betterment of society.

Solar energy, however, is different; it is constantly being generated and radiated into the universe. Any solar energy that we do not use becomes wasted light and heat energy, dispersed into the empty void of space as a sort of dark, weak energy that is unavailable for our use.

A basic source of energy is fusion energy, which is in fact the primary source of all energy in the universe. Our sun is a fusion energy source, as are all of the billions of suns in the universe. Our sun has been producing reliable fusion energy for several billion years and is estimated to have a remaining life of more than 4.5 billion years. All we need is an infrastructure to collect and utilize the already ample solar energy it sends our planet's surface daily--more than 2 million terawatt-hours.

How much solar energy do we receive from the sun? Let us look briefly at the sources.

Amount of Solar Energy Available

There are four major types of energy sources that we get from the sun: heat, wind power, photosynthesis (biomass cultivation), and photovoltaic power. Heat is what warms the earth and makes it livable as a planet. Wind power is available, useful, and relatively inexpensive, but it is too limited to fulfill worldwide demands. Biomass is also an available option, but as a product of photosynthesis, it is less efficient than photovoltaic generation of electricity. Also, the competition for resources among agriculture, forestry, and energy must be carefully and cautiously evaluated before considering the use of biomass for energy on a large scale.

Now let us look at how much photovoltaic solar energy is available from the sun. Starting with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Solar Constant data measured at the stratosphere, we can estimate the average amount of sun continuously reaching the Earth's surface at 174 watts per square meter, which obviously varies by latitude, season, cloud cover, and other variables.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Convenient Truth about Clean Energy: The Earth Is Awash in Energy; We Just Need New Infrastructure to Tap It. A Chemical Engineer Shows How We Could Break Free of Fossil Fuels by Deploying the Power of Ammonia and Hydrogen
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?