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  • Wayne Conrad

Rethinking Energy

Part 2 - An Historical Perspective

Much of the world is working to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to limit the rise of the global average temperature based upon the agreements at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. In this ongoing series of articles, I am providing concrete practical information and examples of what you can do to help make a difference while maintaining a good lifestyle for you and your family. By reducing per-capita energy consumption and waste production, and by carefully using renewable sources for our energy, we can help ensure the success of future generations.

For thousands of years of human history, our energy use was significantly based on renewable sources. The burning of biomass such as wood, grass, mosses, etc. was used to heat our homes and cook our food. Oil lamps were fueled by plants, seeds and animal fats. The wind propelled ships across lakes and oceans. Animals provided transportation and the energy source for many industries including farming. Moving water was harnessed for industrial and agricultural purposes. Vehicles such as the Model T were designed to run on hemp-derived biofuel.

The use of coal expanded greatly during the industrial revolution with the invention of the steam engine, which made it possible for a machine to do work previously done by a human or an animal. Remarkably, even during the Industrial Revolution, some thinkers were looking at the use of solar technology to prepare for a post-coal world. From the mid-1880s until about 1910, in places such as California, solar energy played a major role in heating our homes and the hot water we used domestically. However, in the early 20th century, cheap oil replaced renewable resources and coal as the energy source that would power our modern world.

The oil crisis of the 1970s started people looking back toward age-old methods and technologies for renewable energy use, as interest spread widely in reshaping how we power our world.

Today, various forms of renewable energy are routinely discussed by governments, environmentalists and industrialists, yet our progress toward a more sustainable society is slow. In the last few years, energy security as a matter of national security and defense has become a major consideration in many countries. Currently, in North America, about 21% of our energy needs are generated from renewable sources as follows: 9% from biomass; 2% as non-biomass heat energy; 8% from hydro-electricity; 2% from electricity generated from geothermal, biomass, wind and solar power.

In the U.S., about 13% of its electricity comes from renewable sources. The average electrical consumption in the U.S. is 11.4 kWh per person per year. People in the U.S. and Canada account for about 25% of the world's electricity use, yet represent less than 5% of the world’s population. The exponential growth of energy use in China will soon eclipse the U.S. and Canada.

In subsequent articles I will discuss what individuals can do to reduce their energy consumption while maintaining a great lifestyle.

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