From 1999 to 2009 use of coal for electricity increased significantly. Use of natural gas almost doubled. Conventional hydroelectric generation declined. Other renewables increased, but by an amount that is tiny compared to the amounts of increases in coal.
So while efforts are out there, very little is happening in the US to change the mix of sources for electricity generation significantly. As long as coal and natural gas remain as cheap as they are, that will likely continue to be the case.
Our country has been trying to use legislation and other incentives to promote clean energy and renewables.
For example, many states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards. These standards require that energy companies derive a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, etc. Actually a number of other countries have also proposed and/or implemented such standards as well.
Another example of a clean energy effort is Smart Grid technology. This is not legislation, but rather a new and improved system of electrical networks. The system will provide for a two-way communication path between energy providers and the consumers, thereby eliminating the need for in-person visits. The system, almost entirely digitized, will also adjust for energy use and any errors that may arise. In fact, Smart Grid is said to be “self-healing.”
On a local level many utilities are providing their customers with more options than just fossil fuels. LIPA (located on Long Island, NY) was recently offering rebates on solar panel installation for your home. Working with our state and federal governments, LIPA was originally able to provide approximately $20 million in rebates in 2010. The program was so popular they ended up running out of funding and having to suspend assistance. The federal government stepped up and provided an addition $8.3 million to restart the program. Check with your local utility to find out if they have any such programs in your area.
The growing availability of alternative energy is an important aspect of ‘greening’ our electricity, but there are also efforts to improve already-existing infrastructure. Sandia National Laboratories is currently developing a new turbine system that can increase the heat-to-electricity efficiency of nuclear turbine generators by up to 50 percent or traditional gas turbine generators by 40 percent. Moreover, it should be able to be installed in existing plants at a relatively low cost. This is an excellent example of using technology to conserve resources and reduce emissions during the much longer transition to other energy sources.
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