Solar energy can get us beyond ‘peak oil’ |

Solar energy can get us beyond ‘peak oil’

Bill Sepmeier and Matthew Charles
Vail, CO, Colorado

“Peak oil.” You’ll probably hear that phrase more often from now on.

Peak oil means that the world’s reserve of petroleum, the basis of the modern era we live in, is no longer greater than our demand for it. The implications of this are significant.

In economics, when demand eclipses supply, the price of the goods in demand can and will dramatically increas. As the world’s fossil fuel reserves diminish, those who continue to want fossil fuel will have to pay more for it.

We’ll all see far higher prices, not only for the fuels we consume (some 21 million barrels of oil a day in this country alone), but for all of the chemicals, plastics, synthetic rubber tires, car parts, appliances, and everything else that uses the long-chain polymers oil provides. Transportation costs, and the costs of everything transported, will continue to rise. Theses high costs are our collective reality ” so what can we do about it?

While today’s solar and wind power technology could easily generate enough power to sustain the current lifestyle of everyone on the planet if implemented on a broad enough scale, the nation’s transportation system wasn’t designed to take advantage of the free electricity our sun can provide. Unlike Europe’s grid of mostly electric trains that use power supplied by overhead cables, America’s trains require huge amounts of diesel fuel to haul our goods, including the coal burned to produce half of our electricity. Our cars and trucks use the same liquid fuels.

Society has moved from compact towns and cities surrounded by agricultural land to sprawling suburbs without any usable farmland, creating the necessity to import our food from thousands of miles away through the use of even more petroleum. Now that peak oil is looming ” and some say is already here ” it would appear that almost everything we’ve done over the past century is simply wrong.

A period of rapid and great change is in store for the world’s developed nations if they want to remain that way. It will require the active participation of everyone, not just the few in government and big business, to ease the inevitable pains associated with such change. In the coming post-peak oil years, we will all have to become more self-sufficient and aware of and the energy we use, the products we consume, even the food we eat, since life without the cheap energy we’ve grown up with will be a lot different than it has been.

Fortunately, homeowners or business operators can quickly adopt efficient solar power and water heating systems that will ease the load on the electric grid and their pocketbooks. Active and passive solar heating systems are available for new and existing structures at reasonable cost right now due largely to federal tax incentives and rebates from local utilities.

Wood pellets made from pine beetle-killed trees will soon become a large source of fuel for firing boilers, stoves and even large commercial heating systems. There are local companies forming to begin producing pellets from beetle-kill trees harvested right here in the Vail Valley.

Liquid biofuels are presently receiving tremendous government development subsidies and, while highly controversial due to the varying scientific opinion regarding their net energy production over the amount of energy needed to produce them, will have to be used to some degree until a transition away from liquid fuels towards an electricity-based infrastructure is complete. And, like it or not, nuclear power will make a comeback, since it produces no greenhouse gasses and has a well-funded lobby in Washington.

The one thing we cannot do as a society is continue to deny the peak oil reality or sit around waiting for the next few percent of efficiency in solar technology. Those who don’t begin to take action now to assure their own energy independence will wake up eventually, but they’ll wake up to energy shortages, gas lines, rolling electricity blackouts and all of the other symptoms of the worldwide hangover that will be post-peak oil. Sound like fun?

Bill Sepmeier is the chief technical officer and Matthew Charles is the sales and marketing director for Grid Feeders Inc. in Eagle-Vail. To learn more call 688-4347 or 800-331-2295.

Support Local Journalism