Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Energy at the Core

People can debate about the safety of fossil fuels and the earth’s environment, but no one can argue about the importance of affordable energy to an economy. Without the fuel to turn turbines economies cannot sustain themselves and grow. We all need power for daily living, to operate machinery, for transportation, for security and for survival.

As much as it would be nice to think it could be so, fuel sources do not generate energy themselves. Solar energy relies on capturing sunlight and storing it. Oil and coal just didn’t appear one day; they required millions of years of decomposition of fossil materials. Wind is only semi-reliable depending on weather. Someone has to build a dam to generate hydro-electric power.

Having sources of energy and finding ways to efficiently utilize these sources safely is at the core of the environmental debates about energy. The war on coal is about burning it cleanly so it doesn’t spoil the environment as it burns in factories and home boilers. Oil is plentiful and affordable, but delivering it to where it is needed poses all kinds of environmental hazards from oil tanker leakage to pipelines blocking natural migration routes of indigenous animals. Solar cells can occupy millions of acres in the desert which are less than attractive additions to a landscape. Wind power requires fields of towers for efficiency and pose a danger to migrating birds. Dams can fail and change the ecological habitats of fish and other wildlife species. Nuclear energy, once thought of as the answer to all of mankind’s power needs now and in the future, presents its own risky profile in terms of safety and in the geo-political sphere.

Energy is a basic requirement for an advanced and civil society. The question remains as to how to provide affordable energy that does not create more problems as it fuels the wheels of commerce and industry. It is interesting to note that the move towards electric cars does not solve the problem but rather it puts a ‘friendlier’ face on the problem. Electric cars still need electricity to charge their batteries. Where does the electricity come from to charge these batteries? Coal in most cases. So it does appear that in avoiding oil, electric car owners are depending on another fossil fuel, coal, to run their vehicles. Humorous really.

Energy, or the lack thereof, has been the cause of wars throughout mankind’s existence and will continue to be a distinguishing factor between advanced economies and those that are not, and will never become, advanced. It is a balancing act between supply and demand, and safety and utility.

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