Ideal Energy Future

I’ve written a lot on this blog about different renewable energy resources, and the downsides to fossil fuels.  Obviously, I favor technology that would eliminate as much use of fossil fuels as possible.  If we aren’t using fossil fuels for our electricity and fueling our vehicles, then what ARE we using to sustain our voracious energy appetites in (my) ideal future?

Photovoltaic Solar systems for businesses and homes

As prices come down and efficiency goes up, more and more properties will install PV solar systems to generate a substantial portion of their electrical needs.  Businesses stand to gain the most, seeing as the commercial sector uses the most energy.  They can greatly reduce their overhead by installing solar, increase their profits, and boost their public image!

Wind Turbines on the grid

Wind farms are springing up across the country are starting to add a significant portion of electricity to the grid.  Wind farms will begin to produce the majority of grid tied electricity.

Storage

Now the big question:  If the solar and wind provide the majority of our electricity, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

This is THE question for a renewable future.  Sometimes renewables produce more electricity than needed, other times less.  People are working on all sorts of systems to store the excess electricity so that it can be used during other times when demand exceeds production.  Until this question is answered, we wont be able to completely ditch traditional power sources.

So what will these storage systems look like?  Giant battery packs? I hope not.

Batteries are expensive, have relatively short life spans, and use very harmful heavy metals.  Unless we invent a radically different battery technology (which would be great!) then I don’t think batteries will meet large-scale needs.

Some storage options are already in use, such as pumped storage hydroelectric systems like the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station in Missouri.  Which broke in 2005.  Dumping a billion gallons of water through the countryside.

Whoops.

Whoops.

One promising solution is Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) systems.  These systems compress air using excess electricity, then release it back, spinning a generator and producing electricity during high usage periods.

More energy storage info at Slate.

Fuel

Now that takes care of our future electricity production, but what will we fuel our vehicles with?  Do I dream of a future filled with electric cars and some sort of EV planes?  Nope.  As i previously stated, batteries (required for any electric vehicles) are heavy, expensive, use polluting heavy metals, and have limited lifespans.  In addition, electric vehicles require a long charge time to ‘refuel’.

I like hydrogen cars.

Hydrogen is an extremely potent fuel, and an extremely viable fuel for our future.  Most car manufactures already have at least one all hydrogen prototype.

The benefits of hydrogen fuel is that it has a lot of energy, yet when it burns it only puts off oxygen and water!  Also, it is relatively cheap to produce, needed only electricity and water.  Sure, we will need to build a fueling infrastructure  and there are some storage issues with hydrogen fuel.  But we are building towards great new things.

Hyundai's ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

By the way, the navy just tested a drone that flies for 48 hours straight on hydrogen fuel.

via rt.com

via rt.com

So that’s the idea, run our homes on solar and wind power, store extra power with air, and run our vehicles on hydrogen produced by clean electricity.  Will that rid us of fossil fuels for good?  Unfortunately not.  We will still need our precious plastics after all.  But a huge step forward, on to the next wave.