Energy, to paraphrase the Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition, most relevant to us, energy is “usable power”. With technology becoming so engrained in the way we live our lives, this power is more a part of our lives now, than ever. But these things don’t just work on their own, laptops don’t magically catch a charge every time you want to boot it up and read a blog. This energy has to come from somewhere and it comes at a cost. In the Balance simulator, there were five energy resources showcased; Oil, coal, nuclear, solar and wind. Each having varying effects on the balance between people, planet and profit.
According to a study in 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences, 84% of energy used in the United States is generated by fossil fuels. There are a few reasons as to why fossil fuels dominate the energy sector. The first reason being that they are cheap, coal being one of the cheapest of the options, on average costing $110/MWh compared to the next lowest in nuclear at $113/MWh (see levelized cost of energy). Another reason being that the technologies around these resources have been well developed as they have been harvested by society since the 1800’s, giving us plenty of time to maximize the process. Which then bring us to the third reason which is very much a result of the former reliability. Due to the gross abundance of fossil fuels (i.e. in 2008 1.7B tons of coal was mined with an estimated 270B tons still to be mined ), in conjunction with the developed processes of harnessing them, they have become a steady source of energy, as we are able to generate more power from them as necessary.
There are also many downsides to the use fossil fuels, environmentally and economically. One of the biggest disadvantages of using fossil fuels is the impact on the environment. Fossil fuels have been noted as major contributors to global warming, production of fossil fuels expels heat-trapping gases which have made a large impact on the rise in atmospheric temperature. Also fossil fuels are non-renewable; there is a limited amount of fossil fuels available for consumption, though many can be naturally restored as they are a result of natural processes, it takes millions of years for them to develop. There are also many ways accidents can result from the use of fossil fuels, such as oil spills, acid rain, etc. Economically fossil fuels remain cheap due to government subsides, $4.22B in direct subsides were recieved by coal, natural gas and petroleum, while solar power had recieved $1.13.
The most used source of renewable energy was not available in the simulator, this being hydroelectricity. Hydro is electricity produced by the power of running water. Usually harnessed through a dam system in which the water is lead through a penstock leading to a turbine attached to a generator which converts the power to electricity. There is a much less utilized method of producing hydroelectricity, this method being tidal power. Tidal power is produced through large underwater turbines placed in areas of high tidal movement capturing the kinetic movement of the ebbing and surging flow of the ocean tide. Though there is currently only one major tidal power plant operating off the northern coast of France. A study by The Electrical Power Research Institute found that strategically placed turbines could make tidal power offered at competitive rates to alternatives such as natural gas. Although it is not reliable enough to produce all energy for use in America, if pursued it could help relieve the impact of some communities aiding in lessening our reliance on non-renewable resources and contributing to a lessened environmental impact.