Powering the Future
I was standing in a disorganized room surrounded by pieces of passionate appliances: wires, copper sheets, yellow connectors, insulated pliers.
These are the tools of freedom for me.
I just installed a dozen solar panels on my roof and they work.
1 m shows that 1,285 W of power is coming directly into my system from the sun, charging my battery, cooling my fridge, buzzing in my computer, liberating my
The pleasure of energy freedom is addictive.
Don\'t get me wrong.
I like fossil fuels.
I live on an island without utilities, but my wife and I live a normal American life.
We don\'t want propane refrigerators, kerosene lamps or compost toilets.
We wanted a lot of power outlets and cappuccino machines.
But wow when I open the panel!
Perhaps because for me, like most Americans, the energy crisis or other crisis has been hanging over me for most of the past 30 years.
From the 1970 OPEC crisis to today\'s surge in oil and gasoline prices, the world\'s worries about energy have plagued my own happiness with presidential speeches, congressional campaigns, disaster Books
With the painful uneasiness of the Cold War era.
National Geographic reported on June 2004 that oil that is no longer cheap may soon be reduced.
From the Persian Gulf to Nigeria to Venezuela, the instability that most of the oil is found makes the lifeline vulnerable.
Natural gas transportation is difficult and easy to shortage.
We won\'t run out of coal very quickly, and we won\'t run out of tons of unmined tar sand and shale oil.
But it is clear that, as the Journal reported in last September, carbon dioxide emissions from coal and other fossil fuels are warming.
It is tempting to get rid of this concern.
With my new panel, there is no difference between me and unlimited energy, no foreign, no electricity company, no carbonemission guilt. I\'m free! Well, almost.
There is a cloud here.
Shade steals on my panel and on my heart.
The meter shows only 120 watts.
I will have to start the generator and burn more gas.
It\'s not easy, after all.
The problem with energy freedom is that it is addictive;
When you get a little, you want a lot.
In the micro-world, I am like people in government, industry and private life around the world who have tasted this curious and compelling freedom and are determined to find more.
Some experts believe that this pursuit is more important than the war on terrorism.
\"Terrorism will not threaten the viability of our top-level core --
\"Technological lifestyle,\" says Martin Hoft, a professor of physics at New York University.
But that\'s true for energy.
\"Saving Energy can avoid a day of liquidation, but in the end you can\'t save what you don\'t have.
So there\'s no doubt Hoffert and others: it\'s time to step up the search for the next huge fuel for the human hunger engine.
Is there such a fuel?
The short answer is No.
It\'s like a spell, experts say: \"There\'s no silver bullet.
\"While some true believers claim that there is only a huge conspiracy or lack of funds standing between us and the endless energy coming from the space vacuum or the core of the Earth, the fact is, at the core of the equation or at the end of the drill, there is no great new fuel waiting.
Passion for hydrogen
Fuel cars can make the wrong impression.
Hydrogen is not the source of energy.
It was found in the normal old water with oxygen, but it was not there.
Hydrogen must be released before it is useful, which is more expensive than the energy of hydrogen feedback.
Today, the energy comes mainly from fossil fuels.
There\'s no silver bullet.
However, the long-term answer to our next fuel is not so severe.
As a matter of fact, there are already many competitors who occupy the energy crown by fossil fuels: wind energy, solar energy, and even nuclear energy.
But the successor must be Congress, not the king.
In fact, every energy expert I met did something unexpected: He not only promoted his major, but also the profession of others.
Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bio-Energy Center, said: \"We will need everything from biomass, everything from solar energy, everything from wind power ,\", part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Gold in Colorado.
The question is still, can we get enough?
\"The biggest problem is big data.
Around 320 billion kilowatts are used around the world.
Energy for hours a day
For everyone on Earth, this is equivalent to about 22 bulbs burning constantly.
No wonder sparks can be seen from space.
Hoffert\'s team estimates that humans can use three times more things in the next century.
Fossil fuels meet growing demand because they pack millions of years of solar energy into compact forms, but we can\'t find them anymore.
Thanks to my taste for energy freedom, I started looking for technologies that could solve these problems.
Herman Schel, a member of the German parliament, a cordial energy expert, said: \"If you have a big question, you have to give a big answer . \".
\"Otherwise people won\'t believe it.
The answer is there.
But they all need one more tile for those of us who are crowded with fossil fuel burning: we will have to take a big step towards a different world.
On a cloudy day near the former city of Leipzig in East Germany, I walked through a fresh meadow and passed through a pond where wild swans were feeding.
This land is also planted with 33,500 photovoltaic panels, row by row, like a silver flower, all become Xiangyang, gently fluctuating on the outline of the Earth.
This is one of the largest solar cell arrays ever.
When the sun rises, the electricity generated in this area is up to 5 megawatts, on average enough to accommodate 1,800 families.
Nearby is a pit for generations to mine coal to supply power plants and factories.
The Sky used to be brown smoke and spicy sulfur.
Now, the mine is turning into a lake. the electricity that used to come from coal was made in a 93 million-mile stove (
0. 15 billion)away.
The solar power system takes energy directly from the sun, no fire, no emissions.
Some labs and companies are trying.
Up version of the children\'s magnifying glass: a huge mirror bowl or slot used to concentrate the sun\'s light and generate heat to drive the generator.
But for now, solar energy mainly refers to solar cells.
The idea is simple: sunlight falls on the semiconductor layer and generates current.
However, the cost of these once astronomical batteries is still high.
My normal system costs more than $15,000 and has a capacity of about $10 per watt, including batteries that store electricity when the sun doesn\'t turn on.
Like most electronic products, solar energy is getting cheaper and cheaper.
\"Thirty years ago, it was cost-effective for satellites,\" said Daniel Shuge, president of the fast-growing PowerLight company.
A California company that builds solar installations for customers including Toyota and Target.
\"It may cost money today.
\"At least in places where utility power is expensive or not available, it is effective to power houses and businesses.
Tomorrow, he said, makes sense to almost everyone.
Martin rossheson, CEO of a company called Nano solar, believes that the future will be a red color.
Top vials filled with semiconductor tiny particles.
\"I put some on my fingers and it disappears on my skin,\" he said . \".
He won\'t say exactly what these particles are, but the \"nano\" in the company name is a hint: they are less than bainami in diameter, about the size of the virus, they are small, slide through the skin.
According to Roscheisen, these particles promise
The cost method of manufacturing solar cells.
His company will apply the particles to the foil instead of making batteries with a silicon tablet
Like materials, they will be themselves.
Assembled into a semiconductor surface.
Results: a flexible solar energy
The battery material is 50 times thinner than today\'s solar panels.
Roscheisen is looking to sell it on sheets for about 50 cents per watt.
\"50 cents per watt is a holy grail,\" said David Pearce, president and CEO of MiaSolé, who is many others dedicated to \"thin-
At this price, solar energy can compete with utilities and possibly take off.
If prices continue to fall, solar cells may change the whole idea of energy and make it easier for individuals to collect energy for themselves.
What technicians call disruptive technology \".
\"The car has caused damage to the carriage industry,\" Dan Shugar said . \".
\"Personal computers have caused damage to the typewriter industry.
We believe that solar power generation systems will cause damage to the energy industry.
However, prices are not the only barrier to solar energy.
There are small problems with clouds and darkness, which requires better energy storage than bulky lead
Acid battery in my system
But even if these obstacles are overcome, can Solar really be the huge energy we need?
Now, the energy provided by solar energy is less than 1% of the world\'s energy, which will require \"a lot (
But not insurmountable)scale-
Hoffert of New York University and his colleagues said in a scientific article.
At the current level of efficiency, it will take about 10,000 square miles (
25,900 square kilometers)
The solar panels are larger than Vermont to meet all the power needs of the United States.
But land demand sounds more severe than it is: open countries do not have to be covered.
All of these panels can be installed on roof and sidewalk spaces in less than a quarter in cities and suburbs.
Wind, eventually driven by the Sun
Warm air, just another way to collect solar energy, but it works on cloudy days.
One afternoon I was standing in a field near the west coast of Denmark and the sky was so dark and heavy that my own solar panels would fall into a coma.
But just above me, clean energy is running out of megawatt power.
The blade longer than the aircraft wing rotates slowly in the strong south wind.
It\'s a wind turbine.
The lazy sweep of the turbine is misleading.
Each of three 130foot (39. 6-meter)
The blade swings past and hisses as it cuts off the air.
Tips can go far more than 100 miles per hour (
160 per hour).
The single tower is capable of generating two megawatts, almost half of all the power generated by the Leipzig solar farm.
In Denmark, the rotating blades are always on the horizon, small or large, as the spokes of the wheels roll towards a strange new world.
Denmark currently has installed more than 3,000 megawatts of wind power, accounting for about 20% of the country\'s electricity demand.
Generous incentives across Europe to reduce carbon emissions and free the economy from dependence on oil and coal have led to a boom in the wind.
The continent leads the world with nearly 35,000 MW of wind power, equivalent to 35 large coal
Thermal power plant.
Despite the great potential of North America in wind energy, it is still far ahead with only 7,000 MW.
In addition to the hydro power that has been driving machines for centuries, wind energy is currently the biggest success story in the renewable energy sector.
\"When I started at the age of 19, I spent a lot of time sitting at the farmer\'s house, not talking to my neighbors until midnight, selling only one turbine,\" said Hans Buus . \".
He is the project development director of a Danish energy company called Elsam.
\"I can\'t imagine the level of today.
\"What he meant was not only the number of turbines, but the sheer size of them.
I saw fiberglass in Germany. and-
600 feet (182. 8 meters)
High, 200 feet blade (61 meters)
Long, can produce five megawatts.
It is not only an engineering monument, but also an effort to overcome new obstacles to the development of wind power.
One is aesthetic.
The Lake District of England is a spectacular view of bracken-
The hills and hidden valleys are mainly protected by national parks.
But on a ridge outside the park, although not on the magnificent outside, it is planned to build 27 towers, each as big as two
Megawatt machines in Denmark
Many locals protested.
\"This is a high
\"Quality landscape . \"
\"They shouldn\'t put these things here.
\"Danes seem to like turbines more than the British, perhaps because many Danish turbines belong to the cooperative of local residents.
If something in your backyard helps pay for your house, it\'s more difficult to say \"not in my backyard \".
But the problem with wind energy development is not just environmental.
Many of the most fascinating attractions in Europe have been occupied. So the five-
The megawatt German machine is designed to help take the wind away from the wind and move to a new location rich at sea.
Many coastlines have vast shallow continental shelf areas where the wind blows more smoothly than the wind on land, as one wind expert said, \"seagulls do not vote. \" (
True voters, however, sometimes still object to seeing towers on the horizon. )
Building and maintaining turbines at sea costs more than on land, but building a five-megawatt underwater base is cheaper than a smaller base.
So the German giant.
There are other challenges.
Like sailing boats, wind turbines can last for several days.
In order to keep the hum of the power grid, other sources, such as coal-fired power plants, must be ready to make up for the deficiencies at any time.
However, when strong winds pour power into the grid, other generators must be closed and the factories that burn fuel cannot be adjusted quickly. A wind-
Power-rich mines may become a situation of oversupply.
For example, Denmark is sometimes forced to unload electricity to neighbouring countries such as Norway and Germany at an economic rate.
What wind and solar energy need is a way to store a large surplus of energy.
Technology already exists to convert it into fuel such as hydrogen or ethanol, or to use it to compress air or rotate the Ferris wheel, a bank energy source that can generate electricity.
But most systems will take decades economically.
On the plus side, both wind and solar can provide so-called distributed energy: they can generate electricity on a small scale near users.
You can\'t have a private coal plant, but you can have your own windmill and use the battery on calm days.
The more houses or communities, the less wind power there will be and the cheaper central power plants and transmission lines will be.
In Europe, wind turbines continue to grow in the process of pushing for wind power.
But in Flagstaff, Arizona, southwest wind power produces turbines with blades that you can pick up with one hand.
The company has sold about 60,000 small turbines, most of them for offline use.
Remote areas such as power grid housing, sailing boats and lighthouses and weather stations.
The power of each lamp is 400 watts and cannot exceed several lamps.
But the president of the Southwest, David Galley, is testing a new product he calls energy equipment, and his father built his first wind turbine with washing machine parts.
It will stand on a tower as high as a pole, generating up to 2 KW of the electricity in a gentle wind, and come with all the electronic equipment needed to insert it into the house. Many U. S.
Utilities need to pay for the electricity that individuals put into the grid, so in a relatively nuanced place, anyone can pop up energy equipment in the yard and use electricity when needed, feed it back to the grid when it\'s not there.
In addition to a lot of heating and air-
This setting can reduce the family\'s annual electricity bill to close to zero.
As Galley had hoped, if he could end up selling this energy device for less than $3,000, it would pay for it with energy savings in a few years.
In this mix of grandeur and individuals, there may also be a lot of people in the wind.
In Germany, driving from a large wind turbine near Hamburg to Berlin, I often smell a strange smell:of-
The appetizing flavor of fast food.
It was a mystery until a tanker passed by with the word \"biodiesel\" printed on it.
\"This is the fragrance of vegetable oil.
About 0. 45 billion gallons are used in Germany (1.
7 billion liters)
It accounts for about 3% of its diesel consumption each year.
Biomass Energy has ancient roots.
The logs in your fire are biomass.
But today, biomass means ethanol, biogas, and biodiesel fuels that burn as easily as oil or natural gas, but are made from plants.
These technologies have been proven.
Ethanol produced by corn enters a gasoline mixture in the United States. S. ;
50% of Brazil\'s car fuel comes from ethanol from sugar cane. In the U. S.
As in other countries, biodiesel made of vegetable oil is burned in an unmodified engine, pure diesel or mixed with ordinary diesel.
\"Biofuels are the fuel that is most accessible to existing fuel systems,\" said Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bio-Energy Center . \".
Land limits biomass.
Photosynthesis, the process of capturing solar energy in plants, the efficiency per square foot is much lower than that of solar panels, so capturing energy in plants will devour more land.
It is estimated that the use of biofuels to drive all the means of transport in the world will mean a doubling of the amount of land used for agriculture.
Scientists are trying to make fuel at the National Bio-Energy Center.
Agriculture is more efficient.
Today\'s biomass fuel is based on plant starch, oil and sugar, but the center is testing organisms that can digest the abundant woody cellulose in plants so that it can also produce liquid fuel.
More productive fuel crops will also help.
One is willow switch, a plant native to the North American prairie that grows faster than corn and requires less fertilizer, which is the source of most ethanol fuels in the United StatesS.
It also thrives on land that is not suitable for other crops and assumes dual responsibility as a source of animal food, further reducing the pressure on farmland.
\"Preliminary results look promising,\" said Thomas Foster, technical manager at the center . \".
\"If you increase the efficiency of your car to the level of your hybrid and mix it with willow switch, you can meet both needsIn America\'s thirtiesS.
There is no transportation fuel demand for additional land.
But technically, this does not mean that politics is feasible.
From corn to sugar cane, all crops have their own lobbyists.
\"We are looking at a lot of alleys,\" Pacheco said . \".
Each alley has its own vested interests.
Frankly, one of the biggest challenges of biomass is having so many choices.
\"As countries begin to build reactors, nuclear fission seems to have led the energy substitution race decades ago.
Around the world, about 440 nuclear power plants generate 16% of the Earth\'s electricity, and some countries have a large amount of nuclear energy.
78% of France\'s electricity, for example, comes from fission.
The charm is obvious: abundant power, no CO2 emissions, no stains on the landscape except for the occasional safety cover and cooling tower.
But, in addition to the familiar woes, the accidents of the Three mile Island and the chor, compared to fossil fuel plants, the economic situation is not good, and the challenge of radioactive waste disposal of nuclear energy is far from renewable.
Uranium fuel available at any time will not last for more than 50 years.
However, enthusiasm is recovering.
In the face of power shortages, China has begun to build new reactors at a rate of one or two months a year. In the U. S.
The car booster sees the nuclear power plant as a good source of energy to make hydrogen from water, and Vice President Dick Cheney has called for a \"re-examination\" of nuclear power \".
Japan, which lacks oil, gas and coal, continues to encourage fission projects.
Japanese senior nuclear chemical politician Yumi Akimoto saw the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima when he was a child, but described nuclear fission as \"the pillar of the next century \".
\"In the town of Rokkasho, the northernmost end of Honshu Island, Japan is working to bypass the restrictions on uranium supply.
In a new 20-billion-
The dollar was complicated, the workers were in light blue overalls and rushed patiently.
I looked at the cylindrical centrifuge for enriched uranium and a pool partially filled with spent fuel rods to cool down.
Spent fuel contains abundant plutonium and remaining uranium, the valuable nuclear material used by the plant for salvage.
It will \"re-process\" spent fuel into a mixture of enriched uranium and plutonium for mixed oxide fuels.
MOX can burn in some modern reactors and can extend the fuel supply for decades or more.
Reprocessing plants in other countries also convert spent fuel into MOX.
But these plants were originally used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, so the Japanese like to say that their plant, which will be launched in 2007, is the first plant to be fully used for peaceful purposes.
In order to assure the world that it will remain in this state, the rokasho complex includes a building for use by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear supervision agency, who will ensure that none of the plutonium is diverted to weapons.
This does not satisfy those who oppose nuclear energy.
After a deadly accident at Japan\'s nuclear power plant, opposition in Japan has escalated, including accidents that killed two workers and others.
Shortly after my visit to rokasho, in a snowstorm, some hundred protesters marched outside the factory.
Some nuclear supporters believe that the next step is crucial: turning to a proliferation reactor will be a bigger controversy.
Breeders can produce more fuel than they consume, which can be extracted by reprocessing spent fuel.
However, the experimental proliferation reactor has proved to have a temperature,
The scale breeding program could be a weapon.
Control the nightmare because it will flow all the plutonium.
For example, Akimoto believes that if society wants to rely on nuclear energy, it must be comfortable with fuel reprocessing.
He spoke to me through a translator, but to highlight this, he suddenly said in English: \"If we are going to accept nuclear energy, we have to accept the whole system.
Sometimes we want to harvest the fruits of the first season and forget how to plant them.
\"Fusion is the most amazing hope, the spark in the human fireplace.
The fusion energy generated when two atoms are fused into one atom can meet the huge demand in the future.
Fuel will last thousands of years.
Fusion will not produce for a long time
There is no radioactive waste or something that terrorists or governments can turn into weapons.
It also needs some of the most complex machines on Earth.
Some scientists claim Cold Fusion, which promises to get energy from a simple jar instead of a high energy one
May be successful.
The conclusion so far is that there is no such luck.
Fusion is more likely to succeed, but it will be decades.
Spending billions of dollars on long-term exploration.
Hot fusion is hard because a fuel hydrogen must be heated to about a million degrees Celsius before the atom starts to fuse.
At these temperatures, hydrogen forms a chaotic, irregular vapor composed of charged particles, called plasma.
A physicist said: \"Plasma is the most common state of matter in the universe, but it is also the most chaotic and difficult to control.
\"It is so challenging to make and contain plasma that no fusion experiment has yet returned more than 65% of the energy needed to start the reaction.
Now scientists in Europe, Japan and the United StatesS.
The process is being improved to learn a better way to control the plasma and to try to improve the energy output.
They want six. billion-
The dollar test reactor, known as ITER, will get what physicists call a fusion bonfire that ignites plasma.
\"The next step will be a demonstration plant for actual power generation, followed by a commercial plant of about 50 years.
\"I\'m 100% sure we can ignite the plasma,\" said Jerome Pamela, project manager of a fusion machine called European Union rim or JET at the Durham Science Center in the UK.
\"The biggest challenge is the transition between plasma and the outside world.
\"What he meant was to find the right material for the lining of the ITER plasma chamber, in which they had to withstand the bombardment of neutrons and pass the heat on to the generator.
At Kurum, I saw an experiment on the tokmark device that cages the plasma in a magnetic field like a donut, which is the most fusion effort including ITER
Physicists inject huge charges into the gas.
Filled Container, scaled
Down version of JET.
It raises the temperature to about 10 million degrees Celsius, not enough to start fusion, but enough to produce Plasma.
The experiment lasted 25 seconds.
A camera that takes 2,250 frames per second captures it.
As it plays back, a faint light blooms in the room, wobbling, turning into smoke visible only on the edge of the cooling, disappearing.
Well, it\'s disappointing.
I thought the plasma looked like a movie of an explosive car.
It\'s more like a ghost in the British Library.
But this Phantom is the embodiment of energy: all of our different technologies-solar, wind, biomass, fission, fusion, and many other-sized technologies-universal but elusive magic, our service is mainstream or crazy.
It\'s not just a scientific challenge to tame that ghost.
A seemingly simple problem is holding the ITER project back.
Since 2003, participating countries, including most developed countries, have been deadlocked in manufacturing machines.
There are two selected sites, one in France and one in Japan.
As all energy experts will tell you, this proves
There is only one force that is harder to manage than a plasma: politics.
Although some politicians believe that the task of developing new energy technologies should be done by market forces, many experts do not agree.
This is not only because of the high cost of launching new technologies, but also because governments often take risks that private enterprises will not take.
\"Most of the modern technology that drives the American economyS.
Martin Hoffert of New York University said: \"The economy is not produced spontaneously by market forces . \" He took off from jets, satellite communications, integrated circuits, computers.
\"Before Wall Street discovered the Internet, the Internet had been supported by the military for 20 years, and the National Science Foundation for 10 years.
He said: \"Without the strong push of the government, we may be condemned for relying on more and more dirty fossil fuels, because cleaner fuels such as oil and gas run out and have terrible consequences for the climate
He said: \"If we don\'t have a proactive energy policy, we will eventually use coal, shale, tar sand, which will be a diminishing return and eventually our civilization will collapse
But it does not need to end in this way.
We have a choice.
\"This is a question of self.
Herman Schel, a member of the German parliament, said they were interested.
\"I don\'t call on people to change their conscience,\" he said in his Berlin office, where there was a small wind turbine model that was lazily spinning through the windows.
\"You can\'t walk around like a priest.
\"Instead, his message is that fostering new forms of energy is necessary for a healthy future for the environment and the economy.
\"There is no choice.
\"From the grass-roots level, changes are already rising. In the U. S.
State and local governments drive alternative energy by providing subsidies and requiring utilities to include renewable energy in their plans.
In Europe, even with higher electricity bills, financial incentives for wind and solar power are widely supported.
In some parts of the developing world alternative energy sources are also becoming popular, where alternative energy sources are necessary rather than options.
For example, solar energy is making progress in African communities that lack wires and generators.
\"What do people need to focus on if you want to overcome poverty?
Asked German Environment Minister Jurgen Tritin.
They need fresh water and energy.
In order to meet the needs of remote villages, renewable energy is highly competitive.
\"In developed countries, there is a feeling that alternative energy was once seen as a quirky hippie enthusiasm, and no longer an alternative culture.
It is becoming mainstream.
The excitement of energy freedom seems contagious.
One afternoon last year, near a village in northern Munich, a small group of citizens and workers unveiled the solar facility.
It will soon surpass Leipzig with 6 megawatts of power, becoming the world\'s largest electricity market.
About 15 people gathered on a man-made hill next to the solar farm and planted four cherry trees on the top of the mountain.
The mayor of the neat town nearby took out a bottle of schnapps souvenirs.
Almost everyone, including the mayor, had a drink.
He then said that he would sing to the construction supervisor and landscape artist of the project, both American women.
The two women stood together, grinning, and the field of solar panels absorbed energy behind them.
The German mayor straightened his dark suit, while others leaned against the spade.
Fifty years ago, I think, there was still a blast.
Ruins of European cities.
The Soviet Union is planning satellites.
The price of oil in Texas is $2. 82 a barrel.
The most important thing is that we have 50 years to start the world over again.
But people change, adapt, and make crazy new things work.
I thought of Dan Shugar talking about disruptive technology.
\"There is a feeling of excitement,\" he said . \"
\"There is a sense of urgency.
We have a feeling that we cannot fail.
On the top of the mountain, the mayor took a deep breath.
He sang the whole song \"The only Mio\" with a thriving tenor without missing any note or word.
Additional features: See photos, field notes and more in this National Geographic article.