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U.S. Must Lead on Sustainable Energy Sources 

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

In the 1970's, at least two billion souls in the world had neither adequate food, clean water, or energy.   Each year, millions died every year because of that.   America was clearly the richest nation on earth. Our economy (inflation adjusted) grew from $5 trillion in 1970 to $16 trillion now. [1] We still are the richest.

Worldwide, in the 1970's there were 4 billion people.  Now there are 7 billion.[2] In another 40 years, there will be 9.3 billion.[3] Earth, and its capacity to absorb various forms of garbage and pollution, did not grow any bigger.

In 1970, each citizen of the United States used 35 times more energy than a citizen of China or India did.  They are catching up in energy use.  Today we use only six times more. [4]Their combined population is now around 10 times larger than ours, and growing twice as fast. [5]You can see that global energy use is soaring.  

As citizens of these countries improve their standard of living and energy use, using the same energy sources we did, they generate way more pollution, which they export to us in the form of gas in the atmosphere, as we did to them for many decades.  

As the other nations strive to imitate the American lifestyle, the harm done to our food, water, and cities will harm us all.  

Payback is hell.

Because of the pollution these fossil fuels energy sources make, the scientist tell us that our weather, food and water supply will all face huge challenges already visible in our economy.  

We need to provide leadership, both for our own people, and for the world, as we have already demonstrated we can.  

In America, in the early 1970's, solar electric cells cost $60.00 per watt.  Today they are $1.50, and falling rapidly.[6] Additionally, almost half of the installation costs are permitting and legal costs, now being eliminated rapidly as cities and towns become more familiar with the technology, so prices will continue to drop. [7] New large utility scale windmills now run lights cheaper than new coal, natural gas plants or nuclear. [8] In the 1970's cars averaged 13 mpg - today we sit at 33 MPG. [9] Lights, which consume about one-fifth of all electrical energy worldwide, use now one-sixth the electricity in they did the 1970's. [10]

New building technology, if installed during construction, has reduced energy consumption in new buildings like shopping centers and schools by around one-third!

So we can create a bad future, or a good one.   If we adopt and role model and export new technology, our economy can continue to grow.  If we cling to the ways we used to fuel our society in the past century, the road ahead will be expensive and very unhealthy for the living here and abroad.

You can demonstrate leadership in your own home by changing lights, insulating more, and planting shade trees.   Duke Power has a number of programs to help you on their website.  

On the local level, although progress has been made, as evidenced by the many new solar projects being announced, we still have a ways to go. Thankfully, we have an opportunity.  Between Rowan and Cabarrus County, there are over $100 million dollars in new construction of taxpayer-supported buildings in the financial approval process now.   Many examples show that a few dollars invested in sound energy conservation during construction will result in rates of return above 30%, lower taxpayer costs for decades, and lifelong reduction in pollution of all sorts. 

One thing that you could do is contact the people in charge of these projects and ask if what standard they are shooting for.    If they say, "to meet the current building code" they are setting the stage for a huge missed opportunity, because yesterday’s building codes will not create a better future.   There is an entire new design approach, which has demonstrated that a new building can be "net zero" in its energy use by skillful use of conservation and on site renewable energy.  These designs don't cost that much more to build than the obsolete plans of yesteryear. Google "net zero buildings case studies" to learn more.

[1] http://www.multpl.com/us-gdp-inflation-adjusted/table

2 http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/worldpop/graph_population.php

3 http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/worldpop/tool_population.php

4 Figure 7, http://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumption-since-1820-in-charts/

calculations made by dividing population into consumption

5 http://cis.org/ImmigrationStatistics1995

6 http://cleantechnica.com/2011/06/10/solar-power-graphs-to-make-you-smile/

7 http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2013/08/12/installed-price-of-solar-photovoltaic-systems-in-the-u-s-continues-to-decline-at-a-rapid-pace/

8 Data Source: EIA, Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2013 also Wind prices are extremely competitive right now, offering lower costs than other possible resources, like natural gas plants. These projects offer a great hedge against rising and often volatile fuel prices." - David Sparby, president & CEO of Xcel Energy’s Northern States Power announcing 600 MW of new wind power contracts on July 16, 2013.

9 http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/History%20of%20Fuel%20Economy%20Clean%20Energy%20Factsheet.pdf

10 http://www.thegef.org/gef/sites/thegef.org/files/publication/Complete%20EnlightenToolkit_1.pdf

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