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Renewable Energy: A Thought or Two

February 2, 2018

Photo Courtesy of US Green Technology

If you happen to follow me on Twitter, then you might have seen me tweet out a paragraph fueled with disappointment over the current energy conundrum that the world faces today. No, there is not an energy crisis, but oil is starting to become a bit more expensive which is giving our country the diplomatic upper hand. It was when I was reading an article about oil from the Seattle Times that I realized how lost in the past our country is. It is 2018 where we have begun creating cures for diseases, manufactured many types of artificial intelligence that can learn, and are on the brink of quantum computing, but we still need coal and oil to keep the lights on? In my opinion, that is pretty pathetic. Although, I assure you there is hope.

Jim Robo, the CEO of NextEra Energy, claimed that by the early 2020’s renewable energies, like wind and solar, will become cheaper than coal. It sounds like a long shot, so I did some digging. In 2016, Zachary Shahan, the Director of CleanTechnica who is also globally renown as an expert of solar energy, electric cars and energy storage, wrote an article about the costs of coal compared to wind and solar. He mentioned that a study done at Harvard Medical School found out that coal costed the U.S. $500 billion per year in extra health and environmental costs. He noted that current costs of coal per kilowatt/hour would be 3.5 cents on the low end while solar and wind would at four cents on the high end. Similarly, David Roberts of Vox wrote that in the early 2020’s coal will be upwards up five cents per kilowatt/hour while unsubsidized wind would be between two and 3.5 cents and unsubsidized solar between three and four cents.

Costs aside, the more prevalent reason for switching to renewable resources are the effects on the environment. When coal is burned it releases airborne toxins and pollutants into the air like mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and various other heavy metals. Some of the health impacts can range from breathing difficulties, brain damage, heart problems, cancer, and neurological disorders. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sought out to prevent some of the emissions, but many of the plants that use coal do not have these pollution controls installed. Due to the excessive burning, that means microbes of ash float and disturb the delicate ecosystem that we need to survive. Coal-fired power plants produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash every year which ends up in various bodies of water, large and small. Now, the big one. Global warming. Coal is mostly carbon and when it is burned creates carbon dioxide. It then acts as a blanket by trapping heat within our atmosphere and eventually warming the earth. The consequences include drought, flooding, severe weather, and even extinction of species. Left unchecked, we could see catastrophic outcomes.

I know that there are other forms of harmful energy use like oil and natural gas, but there is not enough space in this newspaper to go over everything. I am a simple journalist operating out of Monmouth, Illinois, but the near future is pointing towards clean energy. It is up to us, the people currently living on earth, to follow the breadcrumbs and strive towards a cleaner tomorrow. We are visitors on this planet and should leave it better off than when we found it.

Riley Hess
Editor in Chief

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