Back in 2001 when the Montfort wind farm began operations it was a strange and almost unique sight. Have you driven through northern Illinois toward the LaSalle / Peru area lately? Wind turbines line the horizon. According to Geoffrey Carr in The Economist global wind power capacity is doubling every three years. At this rate it will overtake nuclear’s energy contribution in about a decade.
And advances in solar photovoltaic energy (converting sunlight directly into electricity) are growing even faster. In the late 1970s it cost nearly $40 /watt for photovoltaic electrical generation. By the mid-90s it was down to $5. Last year it dropped well below $1/watt. Solar power plant construction now costs less than $5/watt. Compare this to $3/watt for new coal plant construction. But here’s the great part…solar fuel is free whereas the environmental and health costs associated with coal are numerous. (Just ask the 300,000 West Virginians whose water supply was contaminated this past January.)
On top of that, similar to Moore’s law that suggests the cost and size of transistors drops every 18 months, something called Swanson’s law suggests that photovoltaic costs will drop 20% each time global manufacturing doubles. With this trend and projection is there any reason to invest in new coal-fired plants?
Another source of free fuel is geo-thermal. Ten years ago who would have thought that we’d have our own Wisconsin Geothermal Association? A testimonial on their website tells of a family whose heating, cooling, and hot water annual bill was just over $1,000. I’ll take it!
When is an alternative no longer “alternative?” When it’s just the way we do things. We’re learning to economically harvest free sources of energy. There are admittedly many logistical challenges to resolve, but imagine a world where the pollution, transportation, and security problems associated with fossil fuels slowly recedes until the use of internal combustion engines and smokestacks are novelties instead of the norm.
We can make that world become a reality, and we must. Because this is our home and the only home our grandchildren will ever know. They will forever be…Earthbound.
Riddle answer – “When it’s ajar….A jar!”