There’s a variety of topics that play a big role on answering this question, including the different solutions to the problem, their efficiency and the society’s cultural background. Since the Industrial Revolution our needs and demands have been changing and some have gained more importance than others. For example, the demand for energy and electricity has increased over the years and apparently it will not slow down. Everything in our daily life revolves around these two major elements, and they have become so indispensable that it is impossible to shift back to a society where they are not one of our central needs. Electricity and energy have been helpful and beneficial in most of their applications, we have cars, phones and computers, but they have also brought with them some problems. At the pace human population growth, innovation and energy usage have been increasing our supply is facing serious challenges. On one hand we need to produce more and more energy, but on the other the common and most effective methods are coal burning and gasoline combustion, both terribly harmful for the environment.
First, as the solution to these rising issues we have come up with innovative ideas and alternate systems to produce renewable and clean energy. Hydroelectric plants are one of the best and cleanest ways to produce electricity, solar panels and wind turbines have attracted society as some of the solutions, nuclear energy could be one of the best solutions but it is not very well viewed by society, and there is also geothermal, bio-diesel, and other small scale methods. It sounds like we already have the answer to the question of how can we solve the energy problem. Unfortunately, these methods have their own issues that we need to address, for example their efficiency in converting energy to electricity and then the inability to store it. Hydroelectric plants cannot be implemented everywhere in the world as you need large bodies of water and it takes a large amount of land. The problem of the inability to store electricity is dealt pretty well with hydroelectric plants, when they experience low electrical demand the excess generation of electricity is used to pump the water back up to the storage to be available to use at high peak demands.
Second, as mentioned before the inefficiency of these solutions somewhat backfire to their purpose. Solar panels are a clean and harmless way to transform the endless energy from the sun into electrical power. The biggest issue with solar panels is their low efficiency in the conversion of energy, the highest record for efficiency is held at 44.7% but most standard photovoltaic cells industrially used vary from 15% to 20%, according to Brian Westenhaus (2013). Due to its inefficiency a larger number of photovoltaic cells are needed, covering acres of land and entire ecosystems, which could eventually raise another set of challenges. A similar problem arises with wind turbines, which are also not fully efficient and due to the wind patterns they do not work all of the time. These alternate energy solutions, even with their low efficiency, are not to blame for the energy problem; rather they are optimistic attempts to shift our oil dependence.
Third but not less important, the cultural background of our society plays a major role in the process of finding solutions to this problem. Scientific challenges and obstacles are normally overcome with time but one big issue that appears with the energy subject is culture. Cultural identities make it hard for new cleaner energy to fulfill their potential, change is scary so people rather stay with what they know and have now. This is one of the most important reasons why electric cars are not the mainstream, combustion engines are what we have been using for so long, they are more “comfortable” in the sense of gas stations infrastructure, and because we do not suffer the immediate consequences of combustion pollution we do not switch.
If we want the energy problem to be solved we need to start acting in every aspect we can, if it is on the scientific field improving renewable energies or at home turning off unnecessary lights. In order to maintain our lifestyles and the current progress and innovation speed we must figure out the energy matter, this problem will not disappear and electricity’s demand will continue to increase, we are the only ones that can fix this energy problem.
- Plumer, B. (2013, May 27). What Better Place’s bankruptcy tells us about the future of electric cars. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/27/what-better-places-bankruptcy-tells-us-about-the-future-of-electric-cars/
- Diamond, J. (2011). Why do some societies make disastrous decisions? In Culture: Leading scientists explore societies, art, power, and technology. New York: Harper Perennial.