Magazine article The Futurist

Home-Made Electricity

Magazine article The Futurist

Home-Made Electricity

Article excerpt

Energy technologies on the horizon may soon make it possible to generate electricity within your neighborhood, office building, or even your home. By necessity, these technologies will be smaller, quieter, pollution-free, and more fuel-efficient than current large plants.

Large, centralized generation plants have been the norm during the Industrial Age, including those fueled by natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear energy. Since people find these large plants either noisy, pollution-causing, or potentially dangerous, the plants have traditionally been located away from population centers, necessitating "tentacles" of transmission lines to get the power to where it is needed.

Now, the "distributed generation" of electricity is possible, thanks to a variety of alternative energy sources, according to an article in Northwest Energy News. Diesel fuel, geothermal energy, sunlight, and wind, along with newer technologies such as efficient fuel cells, will enable people to generate their own power rather than relying on the larger power grid.

Fuel cells, first applied in the U.S. space program, may be the most promising energy source for distributed generation, says Carlotta Collette, executive editor of the publication and author of the article.

In the fuel-cell process, the fuel is turned into electricity through chemical reactions, without using combustion. Fuel cells are nearly twice as efficient as steam-turbine generation, according to Collette.

The natural byproducts of the chemical process in a fuel cell are heat, carbon dioxide, and distilled hot water, making fuel cells especially attractive for homes or office buildings. With no moving parts, such as turbines, the cells are quiet and pollution-free. Fuel-cell generators already in use range from one small enough to provide the propulsion energy for a city bus to an 11-megawatt unit in Japan that can meet the electrical needs of 4,000 homes. …

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