The great power play: Can America really move to a low-carbon economy?

When you talk to Wayne Laufer about the future of wind and solar power, don’t refer to those forms of power generation as “alternative” energy.

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Where it comes from, where it goes

Petroleum, coal and natural gas combined to provide more than 83 percent of the energy generated in the United States in 2008, as the flow chart below illustrates. Meanwhile, three of the most talked-about renewable energy sources – wind, solar and biomass – combined to create just 12.4 percent of all generated energy. While more than 40 percent of all generated energy powered homes, businesses, factories, and our planes, trains and automobiles, 57 percent of it was rejected – or wasted as emissions or exhaust.

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A visual look at the world’s energy consumption

 

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What can we do right now?

What can we do right now to address the nation’s energy crisis? Richard J. Stegemeier, PetE’50, has a few ideas, which he shared with the campus during a guest lecture last fall.

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Nuclear energy: critical for the country

Since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island scare in Pennsylvania, no new construction permits for commercial nuclear reactors have been awarded in the United States.

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Natural gas: Between rock and a tight space

The United States consumes about 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in an average month. Consumption typically spikes to about 2.5 trillion cubic feet during a cold winter month.

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The clean(er) coal conundrum

Edward I, known for being ruthless, banned the burning of coal in London because his mother didn’t like the smell of it. Despite threats of hangings, the ban didn’t work. People defied the king because coal was cheaper than wood.

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rAMPing up energy storage standards

As researchers and manufacturers race to develop electric vehicles and the battery components necessary to operate them to meet recent federal mandates, S&T researchers believe a major component is missing.

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Blowing in the wind

Mike Haas, AE’87, envisions a future where nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity could come from wind and solar power. And he should know.

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A comfort (and energy-efficient) zone

Freezing offices, stuffy gyms, harsh lighting, noise. Most of us have to put up with these annoyances daily. What if you could come home to a house that you programmed to your own specifications? Imagine: the climate is perfect, the plants are lush (without any attention from you), your favorite music is playing and your laundry is done. You can even change settings from work. To top it off, all this happy comfort actually saves you money, and saves energy for the rest of us.

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