Everyone’s focus seems to be on reducing carbon dioxide emissions these days, to combat global warming. But turning animal waste to energy could turn millions of pounds of cow manure and other animal waste into a renewable energy source. Animal waste that is currently releasing nitrous oxide – a GHG that warms the atmosphere over 300 times more than carbon dioxide.
Science Daily writes more on animal waste to energy in their article, Cow Power Could Generate Electricity for Millions.
Ever since the first oil well gushed forth in East Texas in 1866, Texas has been renowned for its “black gold.” An oil-related economy developed around subsequent oil discoveries as the state prospered with its flourishing petroleum industry. Throughout most of the first half of the century, oil was plentiful, prices were low and most of the world’s oil was produced and consumed in the U.S. At mid-century, Texas was the dominant producer in the world oil market, producing more oil than the entire output of the Middle East. From its oil and gas revenues, the state has collected billions of dollars in taxes that have built some of the nation’s best roads, schools and infrastructure.
Until 1972 it seemed that Texas oil would never run out, but in that year Texas oil production peaked and began a decline in both reserves and production until, today, Texas has become a net energy importer. With uncanny timing, the OPEC Oil Embarg hit in 1973. Concurrent with the oil decline, Americans were witnessing long lines of cars waiting to fill up at shocking gasoline prices. It was a major turning point in the world oil market — and a wake-up call. Along with the rest of the nation, Texas is taking a hard look at its energy scenario in terms of developing a stable, clean and plentiful energy future. Texas is at a crossroads wherein development of vast in-state renewable energy sources, coupled with energy efficiency measures, offers Texans the chance to redirect their focus in order to regain and maintain their energy independence.
Texas has more renewable energy potential than any other state, ranking first in practically all categories. Already equipped with expertise and resources in the area of energy production, Texas can recapture its former energy independence by shifting focus to renewable energy. Not only would such a move cut down on our growing dependence on oil imports, it would also spur the Texas economy, create jobs, increase our tax base and clean up our air.
Texas has more renewable energy potential than any other state.
|Texas is beginning to shift focus to its vast renewable and clean energy resources.|
Declining Costs of Renewable Energy
The cost of energy from renewable technologies has steadily declined in the past quarter century. As an example, the cost of wind energy has declined from about 30-45 cents per kilowatt-hour in 1980 to less than 5 cents today. Wind, PV, geothermal, solar thermal, and biomass have all seen significant drops in cost with the improvements in technology.
|It makes economic sense for Texas to tap into its vast renewable reserves. With declining costs, renewable energy sources are becoming more competitive with fossil fuels.|
This DOE PowerPoint presentation shows historical renewable energy cost trends with projections through 2020.
Texas Fuel Demands
Although home to just eight percent of the U.S. population, Texas uses more electricity, natural gas, coal and oil than any other state; and demand is increasing, particularly for electricity. This fact is significant because new energy facilities, renewable or otherwise, will be constructed most rapidly in the context of a large, growing energy economy. The demand is there, the resources are there, and Texas is proving that it has the motivation and expertise to develop the requisite infrastructure to harvest these natural resources.
|Texas Railroad Commission interpretation of U. S. Department of energy data.|
Texas Infrastructure — Making the Switch
As one of the major energy production and consumption centers in the world, Texas has extensive energy infrastructure already in place. The early Texas oil fields served as fertile ground for the growth of numerous supports numerous industries from heavy equipment fabricators to oilfield service providers and fire control experts to specialized petroleum landmen and lawyers. In many cases, members of these fledgling groups have come to be recognized as the world’s most knowledgeable and capable experts in their fields.
The Permian Basin, Texas Panhandle and Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast are among the largest gathering regions and transportation hubs for pipeline gas in North America. Even though competition for access to available energy transportation infrastructure poses a near-term challenge for renewable energy projects, it also represents a considerable long-term opportunity. As it becomes increasingly difficult to construct new energy transmission projects, existing energy infrastructure and transmission right-of-ways may prove to be a strategic asset that benefits Texas renewables. Hydrogen generated by solar plants in the Permian Basin, wind plants in the Panhandle and geopressure facilities along the Gulf Coast, could someday trace the same routes currently used by Texas natural gas to reach markets across North America.
Unique Factors – Unique Opportunity
Texas, perhaps more than any other state, stands to benefit from the rapid development of renewables. Several factors position Texas favorably to pioneer the widespread use of renewable energy resources:
Texas has high total renewable energy resource potential. Texas ranks first nationally in practically all renewable energy resource categories (number one for solar and biomass; number two for wind).
Texas has high current and projected energy needs. Ironically this is a plus for Texas, for although abundant availability of a resource is a prerequisite to widespread use, development of any resource is strictly limited by the demand for it. As demand is growing, so is the scramble to find alternative ways to supply the growing energy needs of Texans.
Texas has considerable existing energy infrastructure. Texas already has an existing energy infrastructure, as discussed in the previous section on Texas Expertise.
Texas is strategically located relative to Latin American markets. Growing demand in Latin America for raw energy, energy technology and services represents opportunity for all Texas energy enterprises. Texas’ physical proximity to and prominence with Mexico, Central America and South America must be considered a strategic advantage for trade with those regions. Furthermore, 60% of the electrical interconnection points and 75% of the major gas pipelines between the U. S. and Mexico meet at the Texas border.
Texans have a rich and colorful past in mining nature’s energy resources, of seizing the moment when opportunity is promising but uncertain. Wildcatters were after oil, they knew it was there, but where exactly? They risked everything to find a “wildcat,” an oil gusher as yet unexplored and unclaimed. What began with wildcatter foresight ended with the Texas oil boom?
Enlightened by the rich history of the Texas oil industry, Texans now have the opportunity to recapture that “wildcatter” experience and capitalize on the enduring benefits possible from nurturing a vibrant domestic renewable energy industry through the early development of the state’s vast renewable resources.
Although hydropower and biomass have long contributed to our nation’s energy mix, the renewable energy industry is in its early stages of development. Wind and solar technologies, in particular, are seemingly on the verge of capturing a significant share of new energy markets. If renewable energy sources emerge as a dominant contributor to future energy markets, economics benefits will accrue to those regions that pioneer the development of successful renewable energy technologies.
When decision makers contemplate priorities for investing in the development of renewable resources, Texas offers a logical proving ground with superior potential for high return on investment. Texas is well positioned to reap the benefits from the early development of renewable resources and the continued development of the infrastructure to service and market these resources.
The United States currently relies heavily on coal, oil, and natural gas for its energy. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable, that is, they draw on finite resources that will eventually dwindle, becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. In contrast, renewable energy resources—such as wind and solar energy—are constantly replenished and will never run out.
Most renewable energy comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. Sunlight, or solar energy, can be used directly for heating and lighting homes and other buildings, for generating electricity, and for hot water heating, solar cooling, and a variety of commercial and industrial uses.
The sun’s heat also drives the winds, whose energy is captured with wind turbines. Then, the winds and the sun’s heat cause water to evaporate. When this water vapor turns into rain or snow and flows downhill into rivers or streams, its energy can be captured using hydropower.
Along with the rain and snow, sunlight causes plants to grow. The organic matter that makes up those plants is known as biomass. Biomass can be used to produce electricity, transportation fuels, or chemicals. The use of biomass for any of these purposes is called biomass energy.
Hydrogen also can be found in many organic compounds, as well as water. It’s the most abundant element on the Earth. But it doesn’t occur naturally as a gas. It’s always combined with other elements, such as with oxygen to make water. Once separated from another element, hydrogen can be burned as a fuel or converted into electricity.
Not all renewable energy resources come from the sun. Geothermal energy taps the Earth’s internal heat for a variety of uses, including electric power production, and the heating and cooling of buildings. And the energy of the ocean’s tides comes from the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun upon the Earth.
In fact, ocean energy comes from a number of sources. In addition to tidal energy, there’s the energy of the ocean’s waves, which are driven by both the tides and the winds. The sun also warms the surface of the ocean more than the ocean depths, creating a temperature difference that can be used as an energy source. All these forms of ocean energy can be used to produce electricity.
Renewable energy provides many important benefits including:
|The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service uses a photovoltaic system to provide clean energy at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge.|
Renewable energy technologies are a lot friendlier to the environment than conventional energy technologies, which rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contribute significantly to many of the environmental problems we face today—greenhouse gases, air pollution, and water and soil contamination—while renewable energy sources contribute very little or not at all.
Greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons, and chlorofluorocarbons—surround the Earth’s atmosphere like a clear thermal blanket, allowing the sun’s warming rays in and trapping the heat close to the Earth’s surface. This natural greenhouse effect keeps the Earth’s average surface temperature at about 60°F (33°C). But the increased use of fossil fuels has significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, creating an enhanced greenhouse effect known as global warming. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon dioxide is responsible for one-half to two-thirds of our contribution to global warming. Renewable energy technologies, however, can produce heat and electricity with a very low or no amount of carbon dioxide emissions.
Energy use from fossil fuels is also a primary source of air, water, and soil pollution. Pollutants—such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and lead—take a dramatic toll on our environment. On the other hand, most renewable energy technologies produce little or no pollution.
Both pollution and global warming pose major health risks to humans. According to the American Lung Association, air pollution contributes to lung disease — including asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory tract infections — and close to 335,000 people in the United States die from it every year. Meanwhile, the long-term effects associated with global warming may be even more devastating. Deaths due to extreme weather could increase, and diseases could have a greater potential to thrive as temperatures rise.
Ultimately, renewable energy technologies could help us break our conventional pattern of energy use to improve the quality of our environment.
Energy for the Future
|This cornfield can be used to make ethanol—a fuel we won’t run out of as long we grow corn and other comparable plants.|
What will the world’s energy use be like in the future? Well, we can be pretty certain that electricity use will grow worldwide. The International Energy Agency projects that the world’s electrical generating capacity will increase to nearly 5.8 million megawatts by the year 2020, up from about 3.3 million in 2000. However, the world supplies of fossil fuels—our current main source of electricity—will start to run out from the years 2020 to 2060, according to the petroleum industry’s best analysts. How will we meet those electricity needs? Our best answer could be renewable energy.
Shell International predicts that renewable energy will supply 60% of the world’s energy by 2060. The World Bank estimates that the global market for solar electricity will reach $4 trillion in about 30 years. Biomass fuels could also replace gasoline. It is estimated that the United States could produce 190 billion gallons per year of ethanol using available biomass resources in this country.
And unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are sustainable. They will never run out. According to the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability is the concept of meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That means our actions today to use renewable energy technologies will not only benefit us now, but will benefit many generations to come.
Jobs and the Economy
|A certification test engineer, shown here measuring the noise from a wind turbine, is one of many careers available in the renewables industry.|
Many U.S. communities have to import fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, to provide electricity, heating, and fuel. The cost of these fossil fuels can add up to billions of dollars. And every dollar spent on energy imports is a dollar that the local economy loses. Renewable energy resources, however, are developed locally. The dollars spent on energy stay at home, creating more jobs and fostering economic growth.
Renewable energy technologies are labor intensive. Jobs evolve directly from the manufacture, design, installation, servicing, and marketing of renewable energy products. Jobs even arise indirectly from businesses that supply renewable energy companies with raw materials, transportation, equipment, and professional services, such as accounting and clerical services.
In turn, the wages and salaries generated from these jobs provide additional income in the local economy. Renewable energy companies also contribute more tax revenue locally than conventional energy sources.
The economic advantages of renewable energy also extend far beyond the local economy. The whole country benefits. In 2001, the United States spent about $103 billion dollars outside the country for oil. But as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of renewable energy systems, we can bring in more money with the increased use of renewable energy sources around the world. Currently, for example, the United States manufactures about two-thirds of the world’s photovoltaic (PV) systems. And it exports about 70% of these PV systems, mostly to developing nations, resulting in annual sales of more than $300 million.
|NREL’s Solar Independence Exhibit featured a 4-kilowatt photovoltaic system that is used for mobile emergency power.|
Our nation’s energy security continues to be threatened by our dependency on fossil fuels. These conventional energy sources are vulnerable to political instabilities, trade disputes, embargoes, and other disruptions.
U.S. domestic oil production has been declining since 1970. In 1973, the United States only imported about 34% of its oil. Today, our country imports more than 53%, and it is estimated that this could increase to 75% by 2010.
Most of the world’s oil reserves are now in the Middle East. We have witnessed this shift in economic influence through the last three sharp increases in the world’s oil prices: the Arab Oil Embargo in 1974, the Iranian Oil Embargo in 1979, and the Persian Gulf War in 1990. It has resulted in periods of negative economic growth and a rising trade deficit.
But with renewable energy, we can decrease our dependency on foreign oil imports. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that if we displace 10% of our petroleum use for transportation with biofuels, which are produced from organic material, we could save about $15 billion over 10 years. A 20% displacement could save us about $50 billion. This would strengthen our energy security, as well as our economic and national security.