As part of a follow up to a post the other day titled “The Reality of Physics” comes this piece. While none of us here at 2nd Green Revolution were alive during the “Energy Crisis” of the early 1970s that stemmed from the oil embargo, I can confidently tell you that there is no energy crisis – now or then. What we often fail to realize, or perhaps understand, is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. This fundamental law of physics (the law of conservation of energy) belies the fact that there is a crisis in how we use energy.
The reason people believe there is an energy crisis is because we rely heavily on nonrenewable sources (namely coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear), which comprise more than 90% of our energy consumption. After using these resources, they are broken down into smaller units (i.e. smoke/soot, carbon dioxide) some of which we can see and others which we cannot. The energy, however, is released in the form of heat, which usually spins a turbine to generate electricity or drive a motor. The energy is transformed to heat or movement, but it is still there. As I mentioned in the previous post, several companies have been able to capture this heat. In addition, innovative systems like the collaborative in Denmark (recounted in Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce) and the Green Zone in Sweden (as mentioned in Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution) have taken this approach to a larger scale.
Rethinking our relationship with how we use energy, much in the way smart meters and smart grid technology attempt to do, must be accompanied with an understanding of what energy is. Just because energy cannot be destroyed does not allow us to abuse the energy that we have available. However, being informed about where our energy comes from and what happens to it is essential to a secure energy future. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore there is no energy crisis. The crisis is in how we use the stores of energy that are “available” to us (both nonrenewable sources like coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear, as well as solar, wind, and other renewables).