May 21, 2012

Power Up: Renewables


Shelby: Nature is a powerful force, and when it is captured, it can power our world.

Energy from renewable sources, like water, wind, sunlight, and heat, amounts to about 9% of the energy used in the United States. Unlike fossil fuels, which provide us with most of our energy, these sources are constantly replenished by nature and using them does not emit greenhouse gasses.

Power generated by water, or hydropower, produces more electricity than any other renewable source. Here at Hoover Dam, water from the Colorado River can produce enough electricity to power 35 million light bulbs!

During our tour of the dam, we learned all about the water works.

There are more than 2,000 hydro-power plants operating in the United States, and the large ones, like Hoover Dam, usually involve damming a river. When the gates of the dam are opened, the water flows down through a pipeline and rotates the blades of the turbines, which spin massive generators that create electricity. That electricity is then distributed by a series of power lines connected to the grid.

What are some of the benefits of hydro power?

“There are a lot of them. There’s the fact that we don’t put anything in the air and it’s a renewable energy. Mother Nature gives us rain every year.”

Shelby: Mother Nature also gives us wind. And power from wind is the fastest growing renewable energy source. So, we made another stop on our power trip to check it out.

After meeting up with some guides from Texas State Technical College, we harnessed up, reviewed our safety tips and headed to the top of this giant wind turbine!


Shelby: Ready!

We climbed…and we climbed…and we climbed.

On the way up, we learned more about how wind is converted into power. When the wind turns the blades of a turbine, the turbine spins a generator to create electricity.

After 300 feet of ladders, all of that climbing paid off! From the top of the turbine, you can see — and feel — the power of wind. And beyond the blades, you can see Roscoe Wind Farm, the biggest wind farm in the country.

So, after our big climb, we met up with the man who helped get Roscoe up and running.

“This whole wind farm can power 265,000 average homes in the United States.”

Shelby: Like Roscoe, other big wind farms are being built across the U.S., and while the Department of Energy estimates that there is enough wind to power our entire country, Cliff says we can’t completely rely on it just yet.

“Right now, the holdup — or part of the holdup — is energy storage.”

Shelby: Wind power can only be stored for a few hours, but Cliff hopes that with better technology and longer storage time, wind power could help us reduce our carbon emissions and free us from our dependence on foreign oil.

Storing energy is also one of the biggest challenges of solar power. Solar panels have begun popping up on homes or businesses everywhere.

“In fact, researchers say residential and commercial solar panel installations in this country have more than doubled over the last two years.”

Shelby: The panels capture the sun’s energy and convert it into power here in our homes or schools.

Every hour, there is enough energy from the sun to power the planet for an entire year! But we are still trying to find ways to collect, convert and store all of that energy. That is why the government hosts a Solar Decathlon every two years, challenging students to push the limits of solar power.

“This technology is relatively cheap and allows us to harness the power of the sun and use it in both the summer and winter time.”

Shelby: There is no doubt that renewable energy has great potential. But like other sources of energy, it is not without problems. While these natural sources appear free, it can be expensive to collect, store and distribute the energy. And of course, the weather isn’t constant. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. And even though renewables don’t release harmful chemicals into the air, some argue that the environment is at risk. For example, hydroelectric dams can threaten wildlife in surrounding rivers and even create a water shortage. Wind farms can interfere with the migration patterns of birds and bats, and large solar farms can even damage ecosystems if they aren’t managed properly.

Another obstacle to renewable energy?  Something known as “nimby,” or “not in my backyard.’ People may want the energy but may not want the structures built near them.

While the federal government funded about $90 billion in renewable energy projects in 2009, it has reported 140 of those projects have been delayed or blocked by local governments. Experts say we will need to rely on non-renewable fuels to meet most of our energy needs in the near future. But the use of renewable energy is expected to grow over the next thirty years. And with advancements in technology, the forces of nature could be they key to a green energy future.

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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