Renewable energy jolts through Indiana (Extended version)

By Savannah Schroering

Editor’s Note: A shortened version of this story ran on Page 17 in The Bagpiper on Feb. 10, this is the extended version. 

Driving down the road leading into Corydon, the Harrison County REMC proudly displays its solar farm. The dark, absorbent photovoltaic cells from these solar panels capture energy from the sun to convert it into clean, renewable energy.

“In the area of the transition between Harrison and Floyd Country along I-64, they put up a 10 acre solar electric field. That array is providing enough energy for an estimated 150 households,” said science teacher C.J Jackson.

Electricity powers just about everything that we enjoy in life. From heating to powering the many devices we use, energy is everywhere. There is, however, more than one type of energy. Renewable energy, an emerging alternative to conventional fossil fuels, has started to spread around Indiana, while it is cleaner than the traditional non renewable energy, it can be costly.

“The problem is we’re just starting, so it’s an economic problem. It’s more expensive. We’ve been more situated in fossil fuel energy for so long,” said Jackson. “We have had a lot of hazards that in the past, we have not necessarily ignored but accepted because there hasn’t been better choices. Now we have better choices. The problem is that the better choices are more expensive.”

While renewable energy costs more, the ecological risks of using nonrenewable energy are still present.

“Would you pay twice as much for clean energy, or have energy that costs half or even 25 percent of that?” said Jackson. “Most people would rather have the cheaper energy. The problem is, the cheaper choice at the end of their life could cost them much more because they might develop diseases and health problems.”

Sophomore Gregory Jekel agreed with Jackson. Renewable energy is still developing, and while there are benefits, there are still some problems with it.

 “We should move towards renewable energy because it’s a cleaner option for our environment and by developing, that we can lessen our dependence on fossil fuels but one of the main problems is the economic problems like the employment that fossil fuels offers,” said Jekel. “We saw it in the presidential campaign. Promising coal miners to bring back coal helped him get certain regions. That’s one of the main problems.”

Jekel also tied the use of nonrenewable energy like fossil fuels to climate change due to the potentially harmful emissions.

“For example, The East River in New York used to freeze over solid three feet thick in the winter. Now, the ice flows. There are visible effects when you look at it longer term.”

Availability can be an issue with nonrenewable energy, due to environmental setbacks such as the sun setting or the wind not blowing enough.

“The issue with most renewables, particularly solar and wind, is they are not available 24/7 or in the quantity needed for us to utilize them solely for producing the electric power homeowners need. They work well to supplement our electric power production but would fall short if they were the only energy source used to produce electric power,” said Harrison REMC energy advisor Bob Geswein. “As a result, Harrison REMC and Hoosier Energy prefer an ‘all the above strategy’ to produce the electric power homeowners need. This means we feel that coal, natural gas, hydro, landfill methane, coal bed methane, wind and solar should all be available to choose from.”

One underlying problem with some sources of our energy is that once nonrenewable energies are used up beyond their sustainable yield, they cannot be replaced.

“When one looks at the limited supply of fossil fuels and our rate of consuming them, the answer is, ‘We never do enough.’ That is one reason why renewables have become a supplemental energy source for electric power production,” said Geswein. “The world’s fossil fuels are limited in supply. So unless mankind is able to figure out another reliable and affordable source of energy to use in producing electric power, electricity will get more expensive as the fuel supply gets smaller. Future generations will find it very hard to afford electricity if their only choice to produce it is using fossil fuel.”

Renewable energy can be expensive, but may be able to power homes more efficiently than fossil fuels.

“I know one of the main problems is the way our grid is set. It’s made to distribute energy from a single source. With renewable energy you can have it set up to individual homes. If renewable energy becomes cheaper, it would be a better option,” said Jekel.

Jackson agreed with Jekel, saying that energy is often an economic issue.

“Economically, it strains us as a civilization at one end or the other. We just need to get our renewable energies tried and tested,” said Jackson.

Currently, in our most populated areas of the nation, we are not meeting consumer demand. So imagine going home and there’s no electricity. There’s not been a storm, you just don’t have enough electricity.

Jackson then explained what may happen in the future in order for us to conserve energy.

“If we don’t change and we don’t see that change coming, we’re going to be part of a society that has not blackouts, but brownouts. It’s when we have to schedule down times. Not like less electricity, you just don’t have any. Ideally a community would schedule that where they would shift the electricity at home to work or school.”

Jackson says that this schedule will not work for everyone, since people have different work hours, and be be at home when the power shuts off. At schools, some forms of saving energy are used.

“Most high schools have invested in energy management controls for their heating and cooling equipment that can be programmed to reduce heating in the winter when school is not in session. They also reduce air conditioning in warm months when school is not in session. This saves energy from being wasted when the buildings are not occupied. Also high schools are presently evaluating the economic benefits of replacing lighting with more efficient technology, like LED,” said Geswein

Geswein offers some advice on how to conserve energy so this may not have to happen.

“Become aware of the energy you are using and when you use it. If you are deriving no benefit from consuming energy, any kind of energy, stop consuming it. This means many times to reduce the use of or turn off electric consuming appliances, reduce the use of or turn off engines, reduce the use of or turn off heating equipment. Any appliance that utilizes a remote control is never off. It must be on in a standby state to act when the remote sends a command.”

This includes devices like TVs, computers, and video game consoles. Other wasteful ways of using energy according to Geswein include running vehicle engines when not moving and heating buildings when nobody is in them. Recycling helps with energy efficiency in that the material recycled is processed into new products with less energy required to make them.

Jekel added some more ways that the students can have a more energy efficient life.  

“Besides the obvious steps like switching to energy efficient light bulbs, we can learn what we can now so when our generation comes to the ability to work, we can realize the problems that need to be dealt with and use what we have learned to build those things up to our high schools and colleges in the future,” said Jekel.

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