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Earth Day Begs the Question about the Future of Energy

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Yes, today is the 43rd annual Earth Day recognition worldwide. A number of live and online events are taking place; see a list below for some unusual items. But in 2013, to me, the day raises a central question about how to power the human race without killing the planet in the process.

Two recent publications from Scientific American tackle this question head-on. First is a new eBook called Earth, Wind and Fire: The Future of Energy. It takes a fascinating and no-nonsense tour through the potential and problems of all sorts of renewable energy options, from the familiar solar and wind to some radical research projects, among them machines that turn sunlight into gasoline and shape-memory alloys that turn waste heat inside car engines into electricity. Information about all our eBooks is at the same site, including editions on climate change and water management.

Second is an interview with Mark Jacobson, a researcher at Stanford University who has produced incredibly detailed plans for how the world could get all of its energy solely from wind, water and the sun. He has also scaled the formula down for New York State as a first real-life test case for how to implement such a plan.

For other Earth Day fun, you can add your face to a wonderful and interactive online photo-mosaic that is growing by the hour, run by the Earth Day Network. The New York Times has posted a beautiful slide show of stunning black-and-white images of nature’s beauty that remains untouched by human hands. If you prefer movies or music, check out a music video put together by actor Ed Begley, Jr., and singer Jason Mraz about clean energy. And if architecture is your thing, you can look inside what is being called the greenest office building in the world, the Bullitt Center in Seattle, which opened … today, of course.

Image: Public domain, by Matriot on Wikimedia Commons

Mark Fischetti About the Author: Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues. Follow on Twitter @markfischetti.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jerryd 5:36 pm 04/23/2013

    Not sure for others but for me solar PV is so low price now it’s hard to beat on homes, buildings that pay retail.

    No matter what kind of electricity from your utility they jack up the price 2-3x’s and it’d always going to increase.

    For a nice 1,000sq’ eff home only needs say 3kw of PV for about 15kwhrs/day at under $7500 installed when shopped, contracted well grid tied.

    That gives near free power for 25 yrs, increases the home’s value at least $10k and would sell faster for much more if needed to sell as recent sales of them have shown.

    Since the home value increase does it really cost anything, not to mention the electric bill savings or even getting a check back?

    Not good for everywhere but at least 50% of US homes should for economic reasons get PV.

    Savings can be had by using the PV array for a carport, shed, roof, window, porch awnings, etc giving added value and avoiding some costs like permits, etc.

    A great product might be a power shed you just set in the side or back yard ready to plug into a stove or dryer outlet saving installation costs or getting a free shed from the labor, etc savings.

    And the naysayers will come up with all kinds of strawman arguments and problems that are not. Shop well and do the math.

    Link to this

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