Those of us who remember fuel rationing in the 1970s and the 1980s, or the long lines waiting at gas stations after Hurricane Sandy, dread the thought of another energy crisis. Energy, however, is not limited to petroleum products, natural gas, and home heating oil. Electricity output can also trail its demand. At present, influential advisors in prominent universities are foretelling that the next major crisis on the horizon will be our electrical resources. In this article you’ll learn why and what steps can be taken to prevent future energy issues that will impact not only every American, but also influence the global economy as well.
First, let’s accept this common hypothesis about crises in general: In hindsight, everyone can see that the issue was looming. In real-time, however, most folks do not have the scope nor the access to information to take action to avoid potential disaster. Countless video conferences about global warming and its impact on energy resources have been debated at universities, corporations, and the government both here and abroad. Currently (pun intended), industry observers note that America’s electrical grid structure is a break-point. We are not only vulnerable to terrorist attack, but also to ‘catastrophic failure’ from a ‘major weather event’.
Examining this statement, one believes that terror attacks have historically impacted a targeted area, and that single-event weather anomalies like a hurricane, tornado, record rainfall, or a blizzard, will not affect the majority of the U.S. However, it is very important to listen to the advice from energy experts who warn that our country depends on wind, solar, and natural gas to generate our energy, instead of nuclear or coal sources. Again, this article is not a forum for debating the benefits and liabilities of each. Instead to realize that energy output needs to be increased, and that there are pros and cons to be weighed in every decision.
Americans Take Energy for Granted
As a nation we have to stop taking our energy resources for granted. We press a remote, our TV turns on, we turn a dial, our stove heats our food, or even our home. But what if one day it didn’t? Observers note that the existing power grid in the U.S. relies too much on what is termed, “baseload power”- energy that is produced by coat, nuclear, and hydro-electric. Following well-publicized meltdowns and the release of toxins at some nuclear facilities, many states have curtailed building additional nuclear resources yet have not offered viable substitutes. For example, on Long Island, public outcry forced the closing of a nuclear reactor in Shoreham. However, subsequent attempts to create wind power facilities off Long Island Sound, have met with resistance from industries that serve the area’s fabled tourist attraction, the Hamptons.
Often, widespread awareness of important facts can spur public action. The most important takeaway regarding America’s energy sources is that there is no way to store substantial amounts of energy. Energy must be produced as needed, not before. This can rule out sources such as solar and wind power which only produce power during two instances: when there is sunlight, and when there is sufficient wind. Natural gas lines rely on a steady supply of fuel which must be sent via pipeline. Surges in need cannot increase the rate of supply, the system is just not set up that way, nor apparently can be modified to respond to an immediate demand for more energy from this source.
On the subject of energy derived from natural gas, we’ve learned that this energy supply can be disrupted by a number of events. Human error is the most common, followed by pipeline repair, and a catastrophic weather event. Terrorism is often cited as a potential issue, but fortunately, to date, this threat has not materialized. The fact is, any of the above reasons can disrupt power plant operations. Each 500-megawatt plant will generate electricity to light up about 350,000 buildings. Energy advisors caution that there could be widespread outages lasting an indefinite length of time, possibly weeks, if regardless of the trigger, even one power plant went offline.
Time to Diversify Our Energy Supply
The proposed solution is to further diversify our energy supply, as well as to retain nuclear and coal-fired power plants that deliver consistent energy. Even if coal and nuclear plants were held in escrow to provide reliable power such as when an event triggers an huge spike in need would prove beneficial. Being able to quickly bring these power plants online to generate reliable energy almost immediately would avoid impacting hundreds of thousands of Americans and prevent a hit to the U.S. economy. Advisors urge politicians and local energy facilities to take the steps now to avoid calamity later.
To summarize, no one can tell exactly when or why a future energy crisis of national or global proportions will develop, only that the potential is present. Part of the reason for concern is that should a sudden demand for electricity occur, energy output from the most common sources can be taxed to a breakpoint. For decades due to public safety concerns, coal-fired and nuclear power plants have been abandoned or taken off-line. It is suggested that these and new energy sources be examined, reconsidered and implemented. What is agreed is that should the present power plants be taxed to the point of failure, that some form of reliable energy-producing backup system be in place, ready to circumvent widespread inconvenience and potential disaster. The time to act is now.