I am reading for the second time in a year a book written by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD and published by Zondervan in 2005. Just like the first time, I grew motivated to do something but unlike the first time, I am writing this article. Please feel free to copy and paste as you wish. We would appreciate the link to our site but if that is too much trouble, copy away.
In Dr. Sleeth’s book, he writes about studies and his observations as chief of the medical staff at a large east coast hospital concerning the effects of current energy and climate policies on our lives. There is plenty of science to back up much of what he and many others write these days as there is plenty of bad science as well being used to promote agendas on both sides of this debate. Of course I have an agenda. Like many, I feel confident that mine is correct, but I don’t ask you to take that at face value. Instead, please educate yourself and correct me where I am wrong…I grow more convinced every day that we have no time left to be wrong that are not accompanied with worsening consequences.
Instead of beginning with the problems, I want to start with a small action item as an example of solutions that we all can do without a great deal of pain and suffering to our perceived standard of living.
If anyone has purchased energy consuming appliances in the last decade, we have heard of the “Energy Star” program. Energy Star was formed by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush Senior’s term. Their website featured this information: if every household changed out 5 of their most used bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs, the US could take 21 coal firing plants offline. This would keep 1 trillion pounds of poisonous gases and soot out of the air. Dr. Sleeth claims medical research shows some 64,000 deaths occur each year due to soot in the air.
Harvard School of Health looked at the impact of one power plant in Massachusetts and found that it caused 1,200 ER visits, 3,000 asthma attacks, and 110 deaths annually. But before we go on with this, we need some background and to do that, we go back to the beginning of energy use in America as it is known today.
Horsepower of course was the initial comparison created when everyone knew about “horse” power. Initially, it was used to help us relate to the new machines created to perform energy related, power generating activities. As a general rule then, a one horsepower motor can do roughly the same amount of work as one draft horse.
Dr. Sleeth used his automobile, a Honda Insight, as an example which was capable of producing 70 horsepower, roughly the equivalent of 70 draft horses. He went on to say that this was easily enough power to haul 1400 – 1500 adults…even 1400 – 1500 politicians (who often show up with hidden baggage.) I am not sure how this was exactly figured but as you will see, in the end, it could be off by a considerable margin and it really doesn’t matter.
The average SUV has 210 horsepower. For further perspective, that is the same as most yellow school buses rated to carry 90 adults. 210 horses are capable of carrying around well over 8000 adults. Imagine 210 horses all strung together pulling a small city of people. Okay, so you get the idea. Now let’s convert that to something we can more easily relate to….electricity.
A widely accepted conversion has one horse capable of producing about 750 watts if the horse were hitched to a generator and plodded along turning the motor. 2 horses together would create about 1500 watts per hour….1.5 kW – 1.5 kilowatts per hour.
If a family had these two horses hooked up out back working constantly, they could power one standard hair dryer. It might dry your hair, but not your clothes. To do that, you would need 5000 watts or over 7 horses.
So, what’s the problem?
Population. Main stream media doesn’t seem too interested in this story line. I do not know why this is so. I have my own ideas but will leave that for another day perhaps. No matter what your personal beliefs are, please consider for a moment the following information:
Let’s start with a few basics. Americans sometimes get lulled into thinking population problems are third world issues and turn a blind eye. Maybe it is because we have such a large country with so much open space remaining. I once hosted a team from India and I had them in Omaha for two weeks to assist me on a large project. They have a much different appreciation for open spaces.
Dr. Sleeth’s example to help us appreciate what is happening with global population was to take the last 8000 years and plot it on a 12 month calendar marking population milestones along the way. This is somewhat dated data based on the year 2000 census. It is important to keep this in mind as the last decades data gets updated and to remember that his conclusions were current 12 years ago. We have moved well past this of course by now.
As of the 2000 census, Earth’s population stood at roughly 6.5 billion people. January 1st of this “Earth Population Growth Calendar” then represents the year 8000 BC with every following “day” of the year equal to 27 years. December 31st, the end of our calendar, is the year end 2000 AD. That is our timeline.
In the interest of time, we are going to fast forward to July of the “Earth Population Growth Calendar”. At this time, life starts to change rather quickly as people start writing, using iron tools and building libraries. In September, Jesus Christ’s brief physical life begins and ends. Here is where it gets serious…December 24th of this calendar is a banner day. At this time 98% of all human history has passed and humanity reaches the 1 billion mark. Only 5 “days” later on 29th of December, population doubles to 2 billion people…7999 years, 11 months and 29 days to get to a global population of 2 billion humans. Moving on, we add another billion people by December 30th. On the 31st we add another billion in the morning, another billion in the afternoon and another billion by midnight radically accelerating to 6.5 billion people.
If we continue to grow at this pace placing a check mark on the day we add one billion or more people to our planet, the following January would have 60 million check marks…hello? Did you grasp this? This means that by the end of the very next month there would be an additional 60 million billion people…..ROUGHLY TEN PEOPLE FOR EVERY SQUARE FOOT OF EARTH! We are working at updating this time-line with current data but there is no doubt that this curve has gone almost completely vertical. It had already accomplished this by the end of the year 2000. There exists a great deal of census data that verify these numbers and the government maintains at least 2 websites devoted to population statistics.
Now, I do not think it matters how much you believe those numbers…cut them by 30%, 50% if you are a complete skeptic…the point is very clear…we do not have enough of anything to support this…food, water and of course energy. Why is gas $4 per gallon in 2012? Demand – there are many more global customers than there are producers and the issue is set to explode in the very near future. We have to change…we have waited until we have little choice.
An entire book could be written on how we got here but that is not the reason for this post. It is our belief that the world needs unselfish, honest and compassionate leadership perhaps more than any other time in its history. We need to wake up America! While we debate half measures the world’s strongest economies are taking bold moves to change course and protect themselves.
Is Money THE Issue?
China, arguably the strongest economy on Earth right now, enacted a Feed-in Tariff (FIT), last year to fund country wide solar expansion and it is working. They are not wasting time debating climate change or how much oil there is left on Earth. This at a time when their growth and economic “good news” could allow them many options including ignoring the problem and buy up all the fuel they need, (which in fact they are doing in addition to the FIT). This might suggest that money is not the issue, but more its ugly sister greed! How else do we explain the pressure to drill more, build more pipelines etc… so we can accelerate our use of a diminishing asset?
Well over a year ago, Solarbuzz reported that there were well in excess of 1000 commercial solar projects currently underway in China with over 700 greater than 1 MW in size. These numbers were associated with the newly enacted Feed-in Tariff, where electrical users pay a small increase in their rates which is applied towards the cost of implementations of renewable energy projects across the country…it is a strategic decision. Not unlike the 1930’s U.S. decision to employ thousands to build the nations highway systems during the last Great Depression, only the FIT decision has the potential to eventually free China from fossil fuel’s stranglehold as they produce electricity for decades in addition to gainfully employing its citizens to build out these clean energy producing systems. For many of the same reasons we see in the US (poor delivery systems via “the grid”), the bulk of those dollars are currently being allocated to solar which can deliver energy right where it is needed as opposed to large wind farms which then require a vehicle to deliver the energy to population centers. Accurate data is always a challenge from China but those numbers are certainly conservative now that more time has passed with this additional funding mechanism still in place.
The Chinese government has gone as far as setting up a national think tank, the “China National Renewable Energy Center“, to minimize their “addiction” to fossil fuels. The goal is to focus efforts to assemble well vetted policy as quickly as they can.
We have seen evidence of this focus represented currently in the extremely low prices of their solar components – especially solar panels, as their own demand helped spawn massive manufacturing and engineering efforts in the industry now being exported around the world. The New York Times reported in an article in February of this year titled “China Using Feed-in Tariff to Build Domestic Market”, that the government has made a national commitment of 15% of total energy by non-fossil fuels by the year 2020. China produced about 10 Gigawatts of solar panels in 2010 alone….more than the total installed base of the US. Like America, they toyed around with Nuclear as one of these options but for the most part abandoned this after watching the horror in Japan earlier this year. Nuclear is not coal, nor is it oil as in the Gulf of Mexico, but when it pollutes, it is a serious game changer. China has an aggressive, well formulated plan which they are implementing with blinding speed.
Europe, led by Germany, is also far ahead of the US. Of course they have had to deal with $4 – $5 gallon gasoline while having to import more and more oil to satisfy their needs for much longer than we have. To give you a comparison, Germany installed 3 Gigawatts of solar in December of 2011 while the US installed 1.7 Gigawatts for the entire 2011 year. This while maintaining the strongest European economy far and away…they are the reason Europe and the Euro has not already collapsed. Germany has been where we are now and like China, are positioning themselves for future “freedom” and I would argue continued prosperity. The US should leverage their efforts and modify them to fit any differences between a small country like Germany and the US. Instead we mostly ignore the problem engaged in the same inane arguments…it is irresponsible at best.
As a commercial solar developer, there is no question we are not completely objective on this topic. If you hire our company to do what we do well, our lives are better. However, my interest and research on these issues began long before deciding to leave decades in the technology arena to help start a new commercial solar company. The solar industry is not perfect, but I am certain that the more it succeeds, the better off all of us will be.
In closing, I think it is important to note that much of my perception around these matters started to change after I became a parent. As my children leave the nest to start their own lives, I grow more and more irritated with the way many businesses, politicians and governments are mishandling and often misleading the public. Children have a way of getting us out of ourselves. Often much to our surprise, not thinking about ourselves and our needs and wants actually feels much better than we ever imagined. And when I am not focused on me, I have more time and concern for you. Boy do we need this today. It just might characterize the solution to our global dilemma. I would like to think so.
You don’t have to agree with any of what is written here. The enemy is indifference. Please consider doing your own research and keep an open mind. When you arrive at some truth, take a stand…do something, we all need your help. If you would like to learn more about the potential for renewable energy solutions…please do contact us.
Credits: Book by J Matthew Sleeth MD, Serve God Save the Planet, published by Zondervan in 2005