The Cost and the Road to a Renewable Energy Future

For the first time in human history, the future of mankind is in our own hands. Onto the road leading to a sustainable and peaceful future, we ourselves have placed several “roadside bombs.” We must safely pass these. We must avoid energy wars, the collapse of the global economy, creating a drastic change in the climate or bringing a nuclear winter.

The carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere, which is already the highest level ever measured, is rising at the staggering rate of 3.5%/year. The population of the planet is increasing at a yearly rate of 2.2%, adding a billion people to our population every dozen years. In addition, people in the less developed areas of the planet justifiably expect an improvement in their living conditions. All this necessitates the generation of more and more energy.

Models predicting the future differ both in the time period assumed for the conversion and the per capita energy need at the end of the transition period. Yet, almost all models agree that fossil and nuclear energy deposits are exhaustible and must eventually be replaced by renewable energy. Only the advocates of nuclear breeder reactors disagree and suggest that mankind could meet its energy needs by using weapons-grade plutonium as reactor fuel.

The models disagree on the time we still have to convert to renewable energy. They disagree because they represent different views (some self-serving) on how high energy costs can rise before the global economy collapses, how much climate change we can live with and when competition for the remaining fossil resources will trigger a nuclear war?

It seems to me that since renewable energy power plants can be built faster and with less investment than nuclear or fossil ones, from now on we should build only renewable ones. I also believe that we should stop using our resources to drill for the remaining drops of oil or build longer and longer pipelines for exhaustible natural gas, but should research to find a safe way of storing nuclear wastes or to develop breeder reactors, and certainly we should not waste our resources to prepare for energy wars. Instead, we should invest in building the infrastructure for mankind’s renewable energy future. Once the RFCs are mass produced, once the solar–hydrogen power plant described in this book is built, the cost of the generated electricity and hydrogen will no longer be debatable, because opinions will be replaced by facts.

From the Sun, in less than an hour we receive all the energy we use in a year. We receive a similar amount of energy from the Moon in the form of tides. The rotation of the globe and thermal differences create ocean currents greater than all the rivers combined. Geothermal energy is nearly unlimited and in all of these cases the fuels are free. Therefore, conversion to a renewable energy economy is a completely realistic goal.

The fuel used to make solar hydrogen is free and unlimited, the raw material for hydrogen is water and the emission when burning the hydrogen (in fuel cells, internal combustion engines or power plants) is distilled water. The cost of building the solar–hydrogen plants will only be firmly known once the demonstration power plant described in this book is built. Later, this cost will drop as mass production and inventions (nanotechnology and reversible fuel cells) increase cost effectiveness.

I hope that after reading this book the reader will understand that we already have the technological know-how needed for conversion to a solar–hydrogen economy and that we can handle the cost of this transition. I believe that the time for debates is over, that the time for building has arrived, but what I believe is irrelevant! What is relevant is to stop dealing with opinions and to start making decisions based on facts.

We do not need more conferences, debates or articles! What we need is to prove that the technology for moving into the age of renewable energy exists, safe and economical! To prove that, we need not only solar roofs and solar–hydrogen demonstration plants, we also need statesmen. We need leaders who are not worried about industrial lobbies and reelection, but who care about the planet and the future of our grandchildren. We need leaders who are dedicated to lead the third industrial revolution. To do this requires vision and commitment, but so did the landing on the Moon. The United States has been the leader of the world before and she can and should now lead a global Marshall Plan to rebuild the planet.

It is debatable how much time we have or how much climate change we can live with. It is also debatable how much of our economic resources should be devoted to stabilizing and reversing mankind’s growing carbon footprint. What is not debatable is that eventually we have to do it and we must not give reason to our grandchildren to ask: “Why did you not act in time?”

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