Energy powers the world and creates prosperity. That's the fundamental message behind Our World of Energy. However, energy comes with a downside. And not its cost, which is actually at an historically low point when adjusted for inflation. Rather the cost is to the environment and the planet. And, in particular, the impact that the burning of fossil fuels is having in terms of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and its role in climate change. Just recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million in 2014, a nearly 50% rise on pre-industrial levels, and what is believed to be the highest since the Pliocene Epoch, 2.6-5.3 million years ago. Back then sea levels were at least 30 feet higher and the planet 2 or 3C warmer. Burning of fossil fuels by humans can be linked to a global carbon dioxide concentration rise of more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times. Click here to see the Bloomberg Atmosphere Carbon Clock that visually displays the carbon dioxide concentration in the planet's atmosphere in real time. The site also shows the historical trend in carbon dioxide concentration.
While this is a very sobering statistic, as with any difficult news comes the opportunity for change. The good news is that for the first time there are proven, cost effective alternatives to burning fossil fuel for energy. In the past wind and solar power had huge potential but supplied only niche markets due to cost. That has rapidly changed, and other, more exotic forms of energy are now being developed and waiting for the technological breakthroughs to make them viable alternatives for the future.
OWOE sees energy in America at a critical crossroads as a number of very powerful forces converge - the tremendous growth in energy demand driven by the emerging economies of the world, the recognition that burning of fossil fuel is the primary driver behind climate change, and the rapid evolution of technologies that have the potential to dramatically reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuel. Thus, we are at the beginning of a transition period from traditional fossil fuel to renewable sources of energy, and the biggest question is how long this transition will take. While some take a pessimistic view and see the transition taking many decades or even centuries, others believe the momentum will quickly build.
OWOE's vision of the future of energy is one in which all sources are exploited to best take advantage of their unique qualities. Hydro, geothermal, solar and wind power will be widespread, taking advantage of geographic locations that provide the necessary conditions to generate sufficient quantities of power. Biomass will provide an opportunity to turn biological waste to energy where available, thus addressing both the problems of energy and waste. Nuclear will continue to be an important source of continuous, stable, emissions free energy. Transportation will utilize a wide variety of energy sources with an emphasis on electric and hydrogen powered vehicles that take their power from clean electricity sources. And fossil fuels in the form of natural gas for electricity and heating, and oil for transportation, will have important roles, albeit vastly diminished from today's roles, where they are the most effective forms of energy for the given location and circumstance.
The Introduction to Energy Topics package provides information on a variety of energy topics of general interest to the American public.Key references are provided that can be used to find more detailed information.