While technology will be necessary to shift a fossil fuel energy infrastructure to clean, renewable energy, technology is not a panacea. The use of energy is just one, albeit the largest set of human actions, that must change. The manner in which human live upon the planet must change in fundamental ways and technology is one set of tools to use in this transformation.
Solar energy is the technology used to intercept the sun’s energy and convert it into thermal and electrical energy. The three solar technologies are photovoltaics, solar heating and cooling, and concentrated solar power. Photovoltaics generate electricity directly from sunlight using solar panels. Solar heating and cooling uses the heat generated by the sun to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pooling heating from residential to industrial size. Concentrated solar uses mirrors to focus the sun energy on a single tower to drive traditional steam turbines and engines.
Wind power harnesses the wind to provide mechanical through wind turbines to turn electrical generators. They can be mounted on land or on the ocean’s seabed just offshore. The latest and most efficient wind turbines are a mile wide.
Geothermal energy is derived from tapping the trapped heat underground, which is harnessed to generate electricity and to warm buildings. The earliest forms of harnessing geothermal energy were the natural hot springs, which are still found throughout the world. This deep underground heat is found on every continent.
The energy infrastructure around the United States is over 100 years old and is based on systems designed in the first decades of the 1900’s. As we are learning, many of the large transmission towers, one of which caused the Paradise fire in Paradise, CA, are almost as old as the technology. Huge quantities of electricity are generated just to keep these transmission lines, which run for hundreds of miles in every direction, alive twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This electricity does not even light one bulb. A new digital infrastructure will make these huge transmission lines with their substations unnecessary, saving massive quantities of watts of electrical generation.
Minigrids and Microgrids
A microgrid is a local energy grid that can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. Microgrids are self-sufficient and serve a specific and distinct geographical location. Minigrids are off-grid energy distribution networks with their own generation and energy storage unit. They are smaller than a microgrid, generating below 15 megawatts.
Community Solar is a term used specifically by government and energy companies to describe solar energy generation for more than one building or property. A solar farm supplying energy to an adjacent neighborhood is a good example of community solar. Community solar is also an investment vehicle for people who want to purchase “shares” (watts) of solar generated electricity when none is available in the immediate area.
Battery Storage Power Station
Because solar does not generate electricity in the absence of sunlight and turbines do not turn in the absence of wind, storing the unused watts for later use is necessary. Battery storage power stations is the last technological step necessary to remove fossil fuel generating power plants from the new digital grid. These batteries are already common in vehicles and are available for residential and small commercial properties. New technology is a race to balance high-performing electrical output with long-term functionality, which means a battery with a hefty kick that lasts a long time.
Efficient Energy Usage
Energy Star Appliances
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a longstanding program of encouraging and promoting appliances and devices that adhere to an escalating standard of decreasing use of watts with better application outcomes. All mechanicals used in the home, office, and in commercial buildings are eligible for an Energy Star rating.
Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from outside to inside and in reverse, from inside to outside. They are used to heat and cool buildings, adjusting to the season and the needs of the building. They are also highly energy efficient.