Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 1 - Fundamentals of Electricity

Niagara powerlinesElectricity is more than just flipping the switch.  Every time we use an electrical appliance, or turn on the lights, we use a primary source of energy, usually one of the fossil fuels, to provide our electrical energy needs. Since none of these translations from one energy form to another is completely efficient, our final use costs us more than is immediately apparent.  

Since most of our electricity is generated through the combustion of fossil fuels, we are lighting our way out of the darkness by burning the condensed wealth of the past. Our understanding of the real costs of electricity and the energy science and engineering that delivers it, advances our understanding of energy sustainability.

Although we get most of our electricity from fossil fuels, the fastest growing alternatives are wind and solar. Our present average energy conversion efficiency is about 35% and new approaches to electricity generation such as combined cycle plants and cogeneration can yield significant gains. Leveraging advances in science and engineering, investment in infrastructure and increased consumer understanding will contain costs and conserve resources. 

We can shape of our energy future to one that is efficient, affordable, renewable, and carbon  neutral, if we have the wisdom, knowledge and will to do it. Our study of what goes on beyond the light switch is key to our sustainable energy future.

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Suggested Reading

  1. Electricity. US Energy Information Administration, 2012
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
  3. Statistical Review of World Energy (2011). BP