Hiram College

During the winter of 2011, a powerful winter storm known as the Groundhog Day Blizzard left over 100 million people all over the United States without power for many weeks. People were left in the darkness questioning the centralized energy system. It was not until weeks after the storm that the power was restored to normal.

Much like “Groundhog Day,” the movie, where the protagonist wakes up on the same day over and over again, we seem to be experiencing the repeated failures of a centralized energy system.

Our centralized energy system is not ready for a future in which the strain on the grid will become even greater. During the past two decades, blackouts have increased 124 % —up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota. [1]

One way to address this problem is to move to more decentralized energy sources which doesn’t depend on micro grids. Decentralized energy systems are much more stable.

Some options for de-centralizing—or localizing—energy are solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, and microhydro. Each one of these renewable energy sources has its related pros and cons.

Solar power is created by converting sunlight into electricity using the energy of speeding photons to create an electrical current within a solar panel. Hiram College has rows of solar panels that generate electricity which reduces our dependency on fossil fuels. As the price of solar panels drop, solar usage increases. In Colorado, the first solar garden was built on a co-op partnership where each subscribers owns an interest in the power they produce and receives credit on his or her utility bill for selling unused energy back into the grid.[2]

Hiram College uses solar power to reduce its carbon footprint. The more renewable energy that the college uses, the less they have to depend on fossil fuels. “[The]1,200 solar panels, installed on a two-acre site at the north end of campus, provides electricity necessary to run the school’s central services, art buildings, and the Les and Cathy Coleman Sports Center.” [3]  All these buildings that are run with alternate energy save the college money in the long term.

Hiram College uses solar power to reduce its carbon footprint. The more renewable energy that the college uses, the less they have to depend on fossil fuels. “[The]1,200 solar panels, installed on a two-acre site at the north end of campus, provides electricity necessary to run the school’s central services, art buildings, and the Les and Cathy Coleman Sports Center.”1 All these buildings that are run with alternate energy save the college money in the long term.

Wind power is generated by fluctuating wind speeds that propel the wind turbines. The wind that turns the blades spins the shaft. The wind turbine is connected to a generator to convert the produced kinetic energy to mechanical energy also known as electricity. Wind power is a green energy source that does not cause pollution.

Geothermal energy comes from the radiating warmth of the earth’s core and the stable temperature below the surface. Enough geothermal heat is available that “The amount of thermal energy contained in the Earth’s crust is enormous. Experts estimate it at an equivalent of 79 million billion barrels of oil, or roughly 15,000 times more than estimated worldwide oil reserves.” [4]  And unlike oil, much of that heat is continually replenished.5 Use the 55°F temperature closest to the surface of the earth to supplement heating.

Geothermal power, like solar thermal power, can also be harnessed for low intensity heat at shallower depths, which can be used for space and water heating and cooling. The pros are zero carbon, almost entirely emission free, no fuel required, virtually limitless supply, inherently simple and reliable, and new technologies show promise to utilize lower temperatures. The cons are water usage which is used for cooling and re-injection, high construction costs, prime sites are very location specific, drilling into heated rock is very difficult, and the minimum temperature of 350F+ of the earth core is generally required.

Microhydroelectric power compared to all the other renewable and decentralized energy options already discussed is very efficient because it only requires a small flow or a drop as low as two feet to generate electricity. Furthermore, it is a reliable source that can be produce a continuous supply of electrical power. Microhydro requires a running stream, and not a reservoir like hydroelectric. According to alternate energy, the cost to bulid a small-scale microhydro-powered system can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on the site electricity requirements and location. [5]

Biogas is produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The produced gases can be combusted with oxygen which results in a release of energy. Biogas has a very long history. Back in the 13th century, explorer Marco Polo noted that the Chinese used covered sewage tanks to generate power. Biogas has been used widely in the UK for centuries and back in 1895, the city of Exeter used gas from sewage to power its city street lamps.2 You can also use biogas for cooking at home. Biogas is produced by the breaking down of organic matter such as manure, agricultural waste, food waste, and any other organic matter. They are typically methane or carbon dioxide and can be used for gas at kitchen.

Of course local energy is not only about electricity, but about all the kinds of energy we use every day. What about gas for your car? You can actually substitute gasoline for your car with locally created liquid biofuels. They are fuel created from biomass materials such as used cooking oil, unnecessary part of the crops. Fortunately, they are also easily created on local or individual scale. Biomass is a new more efficient/low particulate technologies for burning wood and woodchips. As central heating consumes a lot of energy in winter especially, simply using heat by burning biomass is an ingenious idea. Biomass refers to material from organism and typically material from plants such as wood or wood chip. As excellent example at local and actually college scale, Middlebury College in Vermont has successfully reduced 12,500 tons per year using biomass, about 40 percent of greenhouse gas.

 

References:

(1) Patterson, Thom. “U.S. Electricity Blackouts Skyrocketing.” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

(2)”Hiram Joins the ‘Billion Dollar Green Challenge'” Environmental-studies: Hiram College News. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015

(2) Patterson, Thom. “U.S. Electricity Blackouts Skyrocketing.” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2015

(4) “Micro Hydro Power – Pros and Cons.” AENews. N.p., 26 Oct. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

(5) Siegel, RP. “Geothermal Energy: Pros and Cons.” Triple Pundit RSS. N.p., 14 June 2012.