The Myriad Forms of Alternate Energy
The need for renewable sources of energy is critical. Energy use skyrockets, fossil fuels gradually disappear, and we (Americans, especially) cross our fingers and hope that our way of life might continue. The huge concerns about the polluting nature of fossil fuels has become subsumed by the concern that fossil fuels have or will soon become an energy sources which is simply unavailable.
The problem of peak oil is the biggest concern of the moment. In brief, it's the reality that as oil supplies diminish, the work required to extract remaining oil increases. As a result, we expend more energy resources to acquire more energy resources. So the question isn't "how much oil is left?" Instead, we have to ask how much oil we'll need to use in order to extract the remaining resources.
But this isn't an article about the peak oil crisis or fossil fuels: it's about alternative energy sources.
Following a recent article describing an idea to use children's playground equipment for energy production in Africa, the obvious conclusion comes to mind: why just Africa? There's a huge focus on providing renewable energy resources in areas such as Africa largely because we can't readily afford to divert fossil fuels into those communities. They can't afford to buy it, and we can't afford to give it away.
But, in the long term, we won't be able to afford our own existing resources. This idea, taking an existing tool (or toy!) and using it for energy production is extremely sensible.
Although it's unlikely that children playing could produce enough power to keep the grid afloat (although I've known some children with a lot of energy,) children are far from the only way that our day-to-day activities could be converted into power production. Take the gym. Many people, as a result of their day to day sedendary office jobs, dedicated a portion of their available time to exercise. Why couldn't a stationary bike be a generator?
Finding alternate energy sources isn't just about creating gigantic wind farms, solar energy factories, or finding new way of extracting fuel from grass (an inherently flawed idea, as it is.) Renewable energy needs to be about finding ways of minimizing our daily energy use and finding whatever ways we can to create other energy sources.
We haven't yet found a single fuel source which is as efficient as fossil fuels in the sheer generation of energy - and it may well be that we never will. Finding numerous small resources and personal energy generation may be the only sustainable path.
Updated by Joe Dolson on 24 August, 2009