Earlier this month I flew into the Midland International Airport for a family visit. I was struck by the changes on the horizon; where five years ago there was nothing but shrubs and cattle in the distance, now every direction you look the landscape is filled with windmills. In windswept West Texas, wind energy has become a big business. Of course, wind supplies just a tiny fraction of our energy needs, but it’s growing. Where will we get our energy in the future?
Interestingly, US Energy Information Administration data shows that over half of crude oil ends up as transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel). Oil generates only 1% of our electric power. So, clearly moving to energy efficient cars is key to reducing our dependence on oil. Hybrid battery/gasoline powered cars are here and full electric cars are becoming available. Natural gas and fuel cell-powered cars are also possible, and all these alternatives provide a welcome possibility for reducing our carbon emissions.
Speaking of fuels cells, I was intrigued by a segment on 60 minutes earlier this year describing the Bloom Energy Server. This fuel cell is not intended for your car, but can provide electric power to homes, offices, and industry. The especially interesting aspects are that the Bloom Energy Server works ‘off-the-grid’ and you choose the fuel. In effect, you set up your own generating station. Still in development, the Bloom device would be the modern version of the old diesel generator, but quieter and greener. If fuel cells become more practical in terms of cost and operation, not only could we use smaller versions in our cars, but the larger versions, like the Bloom product, could change the way we power our homes and offices.
When we experienced the heavy snows in the East this past winter and many of us lost power for days, it would have been very nice to have a fuel cell in the backyard. Sure would beat wondering when the power would be restored. Fuel cells, windmills, and other green energy options on the horizon are telling us that our energy future will change. Tell me where you think we are headed.