Peaking oil and rising renewables – Part 2

Peaking oil and rising renewables – Part 2

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Peak oil provides a powerful rationale for society to embrace renewable energy sources now as a means to extend our energy supplies.

In Illinois, 99 percent of our electrical energy needs are met by fossil fuels and nuclear energy. While only 1 percent is met by renewable energy sources, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group claims 88 percent of our electricity could be produced by renewables.

Boone, DeKalb, Lee, Ogle and Stephenson counties are probable sites for a large portion of utility scale 1700 mW wind farm production. Other counties include Adams, Pike, and Bureau.

Chicago has pledged to obtain 20 percent of its electrical needs for city-owned buildings, street lights and subways by 2008. Solar electric installations on schools and museums help make Illinois fourth in the nation in terms of installed solar electric capacity.

Our transportation system remains dependent on oil. The peak oil challenge can be addressed by increasing miles traveled per gallon of gasoline, substituting biomass fuels for petroleum fuels, and increasing the use of hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicles.

Illinois is the leading state in terms of potential energy supplies from biomass. Perennial grasses and forbs can provide up to 15 percent of the fuel for coal-fired power plants, reducing their CO2 releases. Methane from animal wastes and landfills should be used as fuel, since methane’s climate changing powers exceed carbon dioxide’s.

When soybeans are ground, 80 percent of the bean becomes soy meal and 20 percent is soy oil. Soy oil prices are close to matching petroleum-based diesel fuel. Soy oil can blended into diesel fuel at 2 to 20 percent levels. Cooking oil wastes from fast food restaurants can be reprocessed into fuel. Rockford should investigate the feasibility of such a plant.

Illinois’ biggest biomass success story is corn ethanol. Whether blended into gasoline at a 10 or 85 percent level, ethanol reduces our oil dependency. The ethanol market could double as MTBE derived from petroleum products is replaced by ethanol in gasoline to reduce pollution. Ethanol now yields 25 percent more energy than is used to produce it. A new ethanol plant recently opened in Lena while another is being considered in Rochelle.

New federal legislation enables qualified farmers to receive grants for up to 25 percent of the cost renewable and efficiency installations.*

Renewable Portfolio Standards and Renewable Fuel Standards are state and federal policy tools to encourage the use of renewable energy. Encourage your legislators to support these efforts.

Hydrogen fuels are clean if they are derived from biomass sources or from the electrolysis of water. But more energy is required to capture hydrogen for use than is derived from the fuel. The widespread availability of hydro power in Iceland, northern Quebec, and Tasmania indicates that these countries could produce hydrogen for export markets.

Peak oil suggests we should pursue renewable energy sources vigorously now as building a renewable energy infrastructure relies on fossil fuels. As energy supplies are less plentiful and more costly, the transition to renewable energy sources becomes more difficult.

*Contact Cathy McNeal, Rural Energy Coordinator for Illinois, at 217-403-6210. This is a three year program with a June 6 submission deadline for this year.

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