Electricity for residential and business use can be produced using a combination of wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel cells. There also needs to be cooperation between corporations, utility companies, and individuals to successfully transition to a renewable energy economy. Corporations will have to manufacture energy-efficient electronics and appliances, which minimize energy consumption, and automatically turn themselves off when not in use. Utilities and governments need to give incentives for people to use less energy, and individuals need to be more aware of the amount of energy that they use. There is significant proof that the growth in the electricity demand can be decreased through the use of energy-efficient appliances and devices implementing building codes, financial incentives and helping individuals to voluntarily decrease energy use.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently conducted a study that investigated wind power, and found that implementing 600 GW by 2030 was feasible. If this occurred, this would be an estimated 50% of the United States predicted power use in 2030. One advantage of wind power is that it does not take a lot of space because the towers can be placed just about anywhere without getting in the way.
Solar photovoltaics (PV) are being increasingly used, and sales have been growing strongly during the last decade. However, it still has a small market share due to the high cost of the solar panels. Concentrating solar power may be accepted more quickly than conventional solar technology because costs are beginning to be competitive with traditional energy technologies. Concentrating solar power systems allow power plants to produce electricity from the sun on a larger scale, which in turn allows consumers to take advantage of solar power without investing in personal solar technology systems.
Fuel cells have already been used for decades for business and residential use. Stationary fuel cells can produce enough electricity and heat to power an entire house or business, which can result in significant savings. They also can make enough power to sell some back to the grid. Fuel cells can also help provide electricity by working with large power plants to become more decentralized and increase efficiency. Most electricity produced by large fossil-fuel burning power plants are distributed through high voltage transmission wires over long distances. These power plants seem to be highly efficient; however, a 7 to 8 percent electric energy loss in Europe, and a 10 percent energy loss in the United States occurs during long-distance transmission. One of the main issues with these transmission lines is that they do not function properly all the time. It would be safer for the population if electricity generation did not occur in several large plants, but energy is generated where needed. Fuel cells can be used wherever energy is required without the use of large transmission lines.
Fuel cells can power residences and businesses when no electricity is available. Sometimes it can be extremely expensive for a house that is not on the grid to have the grid connected to it. Fuel cells are also more reliable than other commercial generators used to power houses and businesses. This can benefit many companies, given how much money they can lose if the power goes down for even a short time.
Ideally in the future, individual households will produce their energy. This will help to redistribute power from global oil companies and governments to the people. Individual households can share their energy with the grid to help distribute energy to areas that may have less power due to weather conditions.
The Energy Information Administration states that vehicles use 70% of the liquid fuels consumed by the U.S. The average fuel efficiency of current vehicles is about 22 miles per gallon. However, it is not unrealistic for the average fuel efficiency to increase to 45 miles per gallon by 2030. Hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles would provide either low or no oil consumption, and each can be useful in transforming to a hydrogen and renewable energy- based economy. All of the major automakers have already invested heavily in hybrid, electric, and hydrogen fuel cell technology vehicles.
In the future, automobiles may be plugged into an outlet in homes and offices to help generate electricity for both the vehicles and the houses. Houses only require an average of 10 kW to power everything. And since automobiles can generate 40 kW of power, a car can become a power plant for the house or office. Cars can also be plugged into a pole when individuals go to work to power the building. This transition an alternative energy economy provides an important challenge, and great opportunity of the 21st century.
Portable electronics such as laptops, cameras and cellular phones can last 10 - 20 times longer by using hydrogen. Portable devices such as PDAs, laptops, cell phones need greater amounts of power for longer periods of time. Fuel cells are very scalable and have easy recharging capabilities compared to batteries. Cell phone technology is advancing rapidly, but the limiting factor for the new technology is the power. More power is required to provide consumers with all of the functions in devices they desire. The military also needs long-term portable power for new soldier's equipment. Also, fuel cells operate silently and have low heat signatures, which are clear advantages for the military.
The building of the alternative energy industry would easily create millions of jobs during the next ten years. These jobs would include construction and operation of new power plants, manufacturing of renewable energy technology (such as solar and wind power), R&D for new renewable energy technologies, and jobs created due to the money spent on these technologies.
To transform our oil economy, we need to invest in changing it. We need to make sure that we are planning for how our world will be powered during the next 20 years and beyond.