Monday, July 29, 2013

What America Really Runs On

Dunkin' Donuts claims that America runs on coffee; maybe, but what runs the 8 million commercial buildings and 250 million vehicles that support Americans day in and day out? The answer is 10,000 feet below you.

Together, petroleum and natural gas generate over 60% of the energy consumed in the United States; factor in coal and that percentage rises to 80%. Coal companies have created new, more efficient technologies to produce “clean coal” and natural gas companies have asserted that their fuel will power a greener, cleaner America. But don’t let these companies fool you; while their processes may have come a far way from just 15 years ago, “clean” and “green” are merely used as relative terms. 

Petroleum and coal consist of carbon, hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, and other chemicals; natural gas is predominantly methane. These compounds produce energy when they are burned, but they also produce various pollutants. Petroleum and coal emit carbon monoxide (CO), which is typically transformed into the less potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) with a catalytic converter; sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are also emitted, both of which are toxic to humans and the environment and are known to cause acid rain. Further, fine particulate matter, in the form of sulfates and nitrates, are released, which cause smog and can lead to a variety of respiratory illnesses. Pollution reduction technologies and more efficient processes can reduce the amount of these compounds that are emitted, but they cannot eliminate them.

Natural gas is sometimes called a “clean energy” because, relative to petroleum and coal, natural gas emits less than 1/2 of the carbon dioxide and less than a 1/3 of the nitrogen oxide than petroleum or coal. While this is a “cleaner” source, it is a far cry from pollution-free.

The answer is in the wind.

 Since 2000, energy generation from wind power has grown over 900% in the United States, from 6 billion kilowatt hours to 140 billion kw hours! The future growth of wind power is strong: it is projected to grow another 19% in 2013. Part of this growth has been fueled by Federal incentives, such as tax credits, low-interest loans, and grants; further, several state governments have set up markets in which citizens and organizations can buy and sell both renewable energy credits and certificates, as well as establish Renewable Energy Portfolio standards, requiring utility providers to supply a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources.

 Even with this tremendous growth, however, wind power only accounts for 3.3% of all electricity generated in the United States. Federal and state incentives can only go so far and last for so long; in order to continue this growth in wind power consumers need to demand it. Contact your utility company and ask for renewable pricing - it is becoming increasingly competitive with other sources of energy. Further, speak with a local solar consultant to see if solar panels are a viable option for your home.

Breathe Easy

Here at Hostelling International Chicago, we are a voluntary E.P.A. Green Power Partner and derive 100% of our electricity from wind power. By purchasing renewable energy, HI Chicago is not only reducing its impact on the environment, but it is supporting growth in the renewable energy industry. The supply of renewable energy is only half the solution, however; we must also look at demand. 

At HI-Chicago, have replaced all of our incandescent light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs, which can be up to 85% more energy efficient! In addition to this, we have installed light occupancy sensors in many of our common areas, so lights are only on when necessary. These energy efficiency initiatives have had a great impact on reducing our energy consumption, but we could still use your help! Be sure to switch off your light when leaving the room and try taking the stairs next time you're about to board the elevator!


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