Seeing Energy Everywhere – Shifting the Paradigm of Power
We’re accustomed to thinking about energy in a very limited scope. Since the time most of us have been born, fossil fuel energy or chemical energy in the form of wood, coal, natural gas, and petroleum have been the norm. Even where you find electricity moving through the walls, most of the time it’s created with fossil energy. If it’s not made with fossil fuels, usually it’s hydroelectric – from dams – but most dams are unsustainable and make few if any contingencies for fish and other aquatic life, also they sacrifice habitat for animals and even important heritage sites. Either way, most of our devices, appliances and indeed thinking is wrapped around a singular source of energy. If it moves, it’s usually gas – if it plugs, runs, or plays and it’s not your car, usually it comes out of your wall and you pay a monthly bill for it.
To begin to change the energy paradigm on this planet, we need to begin to think about energy entirely differently.
The evolution of thinking about energy is what physicists mark as the progress of a civilization. The Kardashev scale marks the advancement of a society based on its total available energy and where they get it from. Right now, ours is type zero – scurrying about prying basic chemical energies from the rocks, for the most part, to burn with internal combustion and capture with pure motion of turbines or automobiles. We base almost all our power off the simple observation that magnetism is related to electricity, but still have just a smattering of understanding about what these forces are and how they work. Even our nuclear energy program is surprisingly basic – and rather dangerous – relying on some knowledge of the subatomic nature of reality in order to do nothing more complicated than boil water for the same previously mentioned steam turbines invented at the beginning of the last century. (Nuclear promises many hopes, and always has – but requires such a high level of containment and rigorous control over long period of time that it’s a question of if it’s even possible ultimately to contain the radioactive byproducts for the thousands of years of their half-lives.) A type one civilization begins to think about energy differently; they begin to see energy as it is – everywhere and everything moving through the environment. Whether you are a physicist or a biologist, energy is everywhere, and in everything. Our most advanced physical sciences have led us ultimately to the understanding that everything is energy. That said and understood, how do we use it? How do we break out of financially driven energy models that warm the climate and contaminate the environment and actually harness the energy we know is everywhere and put it to work as power?
In recent years, due to new batteries, computerized voltage controllers, better & cheaper photovoltaic (solar) cells, and efficient generator designs, we have more options than ever before. We are closer than ever to the tech required to create a smart energy grid that adapts to the availability of a wide variety of energy sources; some would argue that we have that tech now, it’s just up to entrepreneur visionaries, individuals, governments and indeed everyone to deploy and develop it further. Scientists are even developing ways to use the energy in the surface of the ocean – waves – to make potentially half of our power. The underlying point in all of this is that technically we could capitalize on any environmental energy that could be observed, if only the mechanism is discovered. There are several ways to use solar energy to make usable power, not just solar cells – for example, this group among others have found countless ways to collect solar heat to make steam that drives turbines.
When we begin to electrify the transportation grid, it seems like our attitudes toward energy might change. The automobile is the symbol of the industrial revolution – and a barometer for the existing economy – and the ability to quickly get from point A to point B remains extremely important even in the age of the telecommute. Most of our goods at this point come from far away, and although there are many ways to change that single fact, we will still need long distance forms of transportation into the foreseeable future. If we shift transportation to pure electric, using the latest battery technology – whether that’s lead-acid, lithium or something exotic like bio-batteries – we will open that single function, transport, to all sorts of energy sources. At that point, you could use solar, wind, ethanol, water, road vibration, braking energy and the other forces of nature to store and use for movement of your vehicle.
Taking this balanced perspective, seeing all non-toxic open-source forms of natural energy as useful, we can hopefully begin to bring our civilization to the next level. There are practical, financial, and political benefits to this as humans expand their horizons to more possibilities and leave behind old systems and their masters. If we want our own energy future, though, we will have to create it, as many are, in our own backyards and rooftops and garages. So go out and look at the forms of energy that are available in your invent, see which ones you can begin to capture to lower your energy bill and maybe even ditch that grid connection altogether – then invent ways to harness it!