Wind Power: An Emerging Energy Resource: It Is Ironic That We Think of Wind, Solar, Geothermal, and Other Energy Sources as "Alternative" Energy Resources

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Energy in the News

Events in the energy arena have been in headlines over the last year. Two significant human and environmental tragedies were the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia and the explosion of the Transocean's Deepwater Horizon Drilling rig--causing British Petroleum's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite heroic rescue efforts at the Massey mine, 29 miners perished in the explosion on April 5, 2010. News media reports state that this was one of the worst mining accidents in the last 40 years (Fox News, 2010).

On the international scene there were also other significant energy accidents. About the same time as the Massey mine explosion, the Wangjialing mine was flooded and 115 Chinese miners were rescued after being trapped for eight days. Thirty-six miners were killed at the Wangjialing mine in Shanxi province in China (CNTV, 2010).

Several major mining practices are used to recover coal. These include surface mining such as area mining, contour mining, and mountaintop removal. Underground mining techniques, such as room and pillar mining, are used where coal seams are too deep to recover by surface techniques. Depending on the geology of the land and characteristics of the coal seam and other details, either surface mining or underground mining strategies are followed. Underground mining is hazardous work. Danger from mine collapse, gas or dust explosions, and flooding are a constant threat. Significant measures are undertaken to insure the safety of miners, yet accidents do happen.

The British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that was located in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 21, 2010 and claimed the lives of nine workers. Again, as in mining coal, the recovery of energy resources can be extremely hazardous. The BP Deepwater Horizon well is in 5,000 feet of water in the Gulf and another 13,000 feet into the sea bed and reservoir (CBS News). It is difficult to imagine a well that is three miles into the earth!

Coal, oil, and natural gas are three major sources of energy that are typically used by the industrial nations around the world. These energy resources are what we may call "convenient energy" because they are inexpensive, easy to transport, concentrated, and easy to use. However, there are many costs that we may not recognize as being hazards, affecting humans and the natural world around us. They are finite resources, and the difficulties and challenges increase in the search for new sources of these forms of energy. As we look toward our energy future, there is little question that we need to look at other sources of energy besides oil, coal, and natural gas.

Energy Perspective

We may ask the question, What is energy? Typically the first answers that come to mind are oil, coal, and natural gas or nuclear energy. Most human activities require some form of energy consumption. This may be the energy produced by the food that we eat or the gasoline that is used in cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles. We cannot ignore the fact that we use energy in work and recreation. We use energy when we ride a bicycle to a store, take a bus or airplane trip, or even talk on a mobile phone. We use energy across the spectrum in communications, construction, manufacturing, and transportation. For example, the food that we consume may be produced far from our homes on large farms in another state or even in another country. We may purchase grapes from Chile or hamburger from Canada or fish from Norway. Energy is a key element that is required to produce, harvest, process, and transport that food. We use energy for lighting, heating, and cooling our homes and businesses. It is important to recognize that energy plays a critical role in how we work or play and even survive. However, we may give little thought as to where this energy comes from. Could other forms of energy, such as wind and solar energy, become major players in our energy mix? …