Happy Earth Day!

In celebration of Earth Day, I cut my morning shower to five minutes today. (The fact that it has been extraordinarily warm in California for the past three days has nothing to do with my stoic resolution to turn the knob to ‘lukewarm’ instead of ‘scalding.’) I brought my lunch in a recyclable shopping bag instead of a brown paper bag.

OK. I probably managed to undo some of this morning’s greenery by having to toast  crumpets FIVE times in my poor American toaster that is nonplussed by crumpets and produces either soggy crumpets or crunchy ones. A proper crumpet should, of course, be delicately crispy on the outsides and spongily succulent (butter helps) on the insides. But I digress.

In honor of Earth Day, I’ve researched some alternative forms of energy that are interesting, up-and-coming, and even moderately feasible.

Solar Energy. It’s said that the sun produces more energy in an hour than all humans use in a year. That’s pretty awesome. Solar energy comes in two forms: solar thermal energy, in which heat is converted to energy, and photovoltaic energy, in which sunlight is converted directly into DC electricity by semi-conducting materials such as silicon (source: Premier Power). Those shimmery blue squares you see on top of freeway signs and roofs (in affluent neighborhoods) are actually drawing in light from the sun and turning it into usable electricity.  Solar panels require a substantial initial investment, but they pay for themselves by decimating your monthly electric bills in about 10 years and are expected to last for at least 30. Lots of federal and state rebates can help with the cost, too, making solar power for the home a safer long term investment than your battered 401K. 

Wind Power. Humans have been relying on the wind for almost as long as they’ve been relying on the sun. Picturesque Dutch windmills. Billowing sails on Columbus’s ships. That kind of thing. What has come as more of a surprise is that wind power is proving to be a cheap, reliable, and clean energy source for the modern world — in fact, wind power is the fastest growing alternative energy industry. According to Alternative Energy, wind power could supply about 20% of our energy needs, replacing nuclear power and its undesirable waste products. Small wind turbines can bring wind power into your home, and as with solar power, federal and state rebates and tax credits exist to offset the cost.

Geothermal Power. Just like it sounds, geothermal power draws on heated water stored deep inside the Earth to generate electricity. Roman bathhouses were based on hot springs of thermal water. Now geothermal power is used to heat houses and power turbines through steam. Used geothermal water is returned to its source to be reheated and reused. Using the earth as our oven has its benefits: unlike wind and solar power, geothermal power output remains stable from day to day, whether calm or stormy, sunny or cloudy. However, geothermal stations have traditionally been built near tectonic plate edges, where resources are located near the surface, so you can’t — yet — have your very own geothermal well/turbine combination in the backyard. Maybe in another 20 years.

There are more, but I’m thinking that I’ll go ahead and save some electricity and quit here. Happy Earth Day!

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