March 24th, 2011

Renewable Energy

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Finding an abundant energy source is not restricted to the realm of humanity, in fact the quest for energy exists throughout the natural world. Looking for sunlight is a common beginning to that quest. I mean it makes sense, the sun is right there only 8 “light” minutes away and thankfully shining on our planet. This abundant energy source allows living species (plants) to take advantage of that energy derived from sunlight with the process of photosynthesis. I think we should give plants credit because they seemed to have solved the energy crisis without having to ask the question about renewable energy in the first place.

The problem when you think about it comes when we get greedy. You see at some point, life forms on Earth realized they could steal energy from other life forms that collect it in the first place. Another way to say that is “Predator – Prey” relationships. When you think about that,  it is a species (predator) taking the energy stored in the (prey). Even herbivorous prey species like Deer for example get their energy from plants that in turn get their energy from the sun.

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So the renewable energy seems to work its way throughout the natural world both directly and indirectly. Remember food “is” energy, it’s easier to wrap your mind around that statement when you call food “fuel” then it makes more sense.

Ok so back to renewable energy. When you hear about horrible nuclear disasters like what has happened in Japan after the tragic Earthquake and Tsunami, people quickly look for alternate sources of renewable energy. Since Coal causes Acid Rain (which is extremely bad) for the natural world, finding “clean” energy is also critically important. Nuclear is so popular simply because it creates an awful lot of heat, which makes steam, which runs turbines and makes electricity. The added and very impressive benefit is that it doesn’t create Acid Rain in the process. It does however have many problems of its own, especially when dealing with the so called spent rods (they are radioactive after all).

Now let’s look at things from a different point of view. Nature does a really good job at showing us the way when we give her a patient glance with an open mind. Some forms of life on Earth do not even use Photosynthesis for energy, they instead take advantage of the hot thermals on the oceans floor. So there are chemical forms of energy as well. Taking advantage of hot thermals is a very interesting idea. Any trip to Yellowstone national park will quickly show you just how hot the world below can be as you witness amazing blasts of steam erupting from the Earth. There are even incredible forms of bacteria tinting the watersheds with impressive pastels that are using the nutrient energy themselves.

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Taking advantage of the warmer subsurface temperatures is not new to science and creates several opportunities for renewable energy since the Earth is heating itself and we can take advantage of that. Geo-thermal power is not new and does exactly that by creating electricity from the naturally occurring heat generated at thermal vents. This process is already being used in several countries. Taking that down a notch to a residential version is important when trying to bring a renewable resource to fruition.  The first and what I would argue to be the most important step is to make “all” homes Geo-Thermal capable. There are two basic types; the closed loop and also an open loop system for residential application. The principle for both is the same. Take advantage of the stable water temperature below the ground then use that to cool your home in summer and heat it in the winter. Below the frost line in the ground the water temperature is very constant between 50 and 60 degrees all year “regardless of the season or temperature” above ground.  So you can use

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that constant resource to control the temperature in your own home. You would only heat from approx 55 deg

rees to 68 or whatever your normal temperature is and for those who need coolant more than heat, the same applies in the other direction. The net benefit is enormous savings per month especially at the extreme climate times. It also means far less demand on other sources of heat and coolant nationally and or globally if we all adopt this method.You might wonder why everyone doesn’t do this. That’s because the cost can range from 10 to 20 thousand dollars to create depending on the contractor, etc. However, if “all” new construction was required to be geo-thermal compliant, wouldn’t that create jobs? A boom in the Geo-thermal market means people working in manufacturing, maintenance and construction and all that for a far reduced heating and cooling demand. At the same time making this process common would dramatically reduce the cost as we see in any other growing business. Therefore, when we talk about renewable energy methods such as wind and solar solutions are great augmentations to the electric grid but let’s also put focus on each of our homes own consumption with a Geo-Thermal “renewable energy” type solution.

Mark Fraser




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