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What, specifically, can the United States do to become more green in its operations?

Discussion Leader: 
HDIAC Staff
Posted Date: 10/05/2015

October is National Energy Action Month and America focuses on reducing energy consumption to support a clean, sustainable and energy secure future. Many initiatives try to meet energy management goals, including; the Capital Solar Challenge, the SunShot Initiative and the Presidential Performance Contracting Challenge. 

Nellis Air Force Base Solar Power Plant Nevada

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Comments

The current American energy policy of reliance on fossil fuels must change over the long term (40-50 years) for many reasons. Scarcity of resources, economic dependency on resources controlled by hostile foreign governments, and climate change are just some of the reasons for this need. In order to reach the goal of energy independence and reduced carbon emissions America needs to begin including green energy methods such as solar electricity, wind generated electricity, and hydrogen fueled vehicles into its energy mix. This process should start as a method to supplement current energy resources in times of extreme demand such as the summer months in California and the Southwest which result in yearly power shortages. These systems could be brought online to prevent events like the rolling blackouts and brownouts in California and would provide real life experience for engineers working to make these methods of power production more efficient and practical. As the technology behind these systems evolves, they could take on more and more of the power demand until, within the 40-50 long term window, these green systems will take the majority of demand away from traditional sources of energy such as coal, oil and natural gas fired power plants. This allows for the buildup of infrastructure to support these new systems and gradually achieves the goal of cleaner skies without dealing the crippling blow to the American economy that would result from the all at once ban on traditional fossil fuel power sources advocated by some politicians and environmental groups. The United States has advocated its traditional leadership role around the world in many ways recently and this is an important area in which we have the opportunity to reclaim a reputation for leadership and innovation.

Chandler White

Ultimately, the US will need a mix of renewable energy sources, and significant research is being done to increase the efficiency/efficacy of solar energy, biofuels, wind energy and others. One renewable energy source that isn't mentioned as often is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy currently accounts for 20% of electricty production in the United States, making it the largest, low carbon energy source currently. When considering production and installation, the only renewable energy source with a lower carbon footprint than nuclear power is wind power. Nuclear power is unpopular because of several high profile accidents. It is important to note that the accidents all took place in Gen I and II reactors, which are no longer being built. The Gen III reactors that are currently being built have safety protocols in place to prevent the same accidents. A nuclear reactor, when operating, emits significantly less radiation than a coal plant. If reprocessing of nuclear fuel was also allowed, the waste generated by nuclear reactors would become minimal and the fuel supply would significantly increase. The technology exists for us to use nuclear fission as a major renewable energy source, but politics and public perceptions stand in the way.

The Department of Defense (DoD) relies on one essential resource in order to achieve operational success: energy. DoD is making the shift more towards "going green" and is implementing several renewable energy projects in order to meet the mandate of deploying three gigawatts of renewable energy to military power facilities by 2025. If the largest government consumer is making the transition towards being green, then it will be easier for the public to make that transition too. By pouring funding into renewable energy research, these technologies will soon become cheaper and more available. After that point, it's up to the public to research and educate themselves on how to make the change within their living environments and business operations.

Becoming more energy efficient needs to be a global priority, not just a United State priority. But, this is one area America and American's can lead the way. As the Department of Defense works to ensure use of alternative and renewable energy resources, research into making these resources more efficient is needed. Solar power, wind power, hydro electricity, and biofuel production all show potentials for lowering traditional energy consumption methods. Let's work to make these the best they can be and continue to search out more innovative solutions. 

HDIAC just posted a Spotlight on "Harvesting the Power of Footsteps" (https://www.hdiac.org/node/2301). This would be an interesting concept for powering smaller hand-held type devices. It could, perhaps, even be utilized in larger cities with high foot traffic. 

It is important for the United States to become actively involved in environmental concerns and to find solutions to energy issues.  I think a powerful step forward would be generating awareness and encouraging organizations and the public to become energy efficient. Energy Action Month is just one of many U.S. Government initiatives that showcase how critical energy is to our national security and economy and to the overall well-being of citizens. All events and activities are listed on the National Energy Awareness Month page.

Also, it is important that these concerns are incorporated into public policy as well as federal procedures and decision-making. An example of this can be seen in the new memorandum that directs federal organizations to factor the ecosystem and other environmental elements into the planning process for projects.

New technologies and techniques to combat energy concerns should be another priority. The U.S. Government is heavily investing in projects that can revolutionize the future of energy. An example from a recent HDIAC Spotlight features artificial photosynthesis as a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly fuel producing method.  

To solve the large scale problems of climate change requires multiple resources, including funding, expertise, and manpower from different business sectors and global regions. One way the U.S. Government is addressing this is the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (jebi), where multiple national laboratories and research institutions from academia and industry work  together on projects that hold great environmental potential. Some projects include developing sugars from non-edible plants to create clean fuels and developing petroleum substitutes for products.