Kill-A-Watt: A Campaign to Increase Energy Efficiency on the Columbia University Campus

Friday, May 05, 2006

Energy and Its Sources

Many of us take energy for granted. Throughout the day, we check our e-mail accounts, make phone calls, and heat food in a microwave. At night, we do not think twice about turning on the lights to study, or go watch TV if there is nothing better to do.

The blackout of 2003 demonstrated how vulnerable and how dependent on electricity we were and are. Within minutes, hundreds of years of the civilization development were erased. People were in the same state as their ancestors were in, one-on-one with nature. Without modern electricity-powered devices, they were helpless.
We rarely pause to think that the major sources the energy our society uses nowadays are neither endless nor renewable. There is a limit to how much the man can take advantage of the nature.
The greater part of the population is not aware of the sources of energy. A lot of people are also not aware of the consequences of their actions. In my part of the project, I decided to explain various ways of energy generation, its usage and eventual impact on the environment.
Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are remains of organisms that lived centuries ago. It took hundreds of years of natural chemical processes to convert the remnants to this form. Natural gas, oil, and coal are just a few examples of them. Although it took thousands if years to get produced, mankind consumes such an immense amount of fossil fuels within a month.
United States of America use fossil fuels for about 85% of its energy. Every week, an average American utilizes an equivalent of 300 shopping bags of natural resources. If the rate of consumption is not diminished, we will run out of coal in 130 to 200 years, natural gas in 60 to 120 years, and oil un 30 to 50 years.
Nuclear power
In December 1951, an experimental reactor produced the first electric power from the atom, lighting four light bulbs. Nuclear energy has been used since 1953 to power U.S. navy vessels, and since 1955 to provide electricity for home use.
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona is the leading energy producer in the country. It generated 25,807,446 megawatt-hours of electricity in 2005, which is more than all of the energy generated from renewable sources combined.
The United States has 103 power plants, situated in 31 states. As of April 2006, there were 443 nuclear power plants all over the world, and thirty countries are operating them. There are twenty-seven nuclear power plants wunder the process of creation in 11 countries.
Nuclear energy is the world's largest source of emission-free energy. Nuclear power plants produce no controlled air pollutants, such as sulfur and particulates, or greenhouse gases. The use of nuclear energy in place of other energy sources helps to keep the air clean, preserve the Earth's climate, avoid ground-level ozone formation and prevent acid rain.
Uranium serves as the reactant in the chemical process that generates energy. Uranium and uranium oxide are quite common, so if it were to be become the main energy source, there would be enough fuel for a couple of centuries. However, uranium and especially its reaction products are highly radioactive, posing numerous threats such as mutations, and possible extinction to the plant life, biodiversity and environment as a whole.
Today, nuclear power plants—the second largest source of electricity in the United States. However, even though the producers are claiming an absolute safety of the plants and the industry’s by-products, a disaster that took place 20 years go proved otherwise. An explosion of the power plant in the city of Chernobyl took the lives of hundreds of people within the first month and claimed and still is claiming thousands of others every year. Besides, very little is known about the effects of by-products on the surrounding over an extended period of time (a thousand year or so), and it is hard to predict its effects.
Renewable energy
Renewable (“green”) energy is an energy that is regenerated through the natural processes. Major sources of renewable energy are solar energy, wind energy, geothermal and hydro energy.
This blog entry was compliled based on the information by:
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearing House
Department of Energy
P.O. Box 3048
Merrifield, VA 22116
Tel: 800 DOE EREC

Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th St.
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212 727 2700

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