Embracing the sustainable energy future

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

Our economy is built on consumer spending, but with jobs hard to find and stagnant, declining wages, the average citizen has little extra cash to be an aggressive spender. Since austerity remains a political mantra, it is not surprising that citizens are using less gasoline and electricity.

Using less energy saves money, reduces pollution and is an act of patriotism. The turmoil in the Mideast is costly; competition for the control of the energy resources of the area is a significant factor.

While oil and gas prices have recently declined, there are reasons to believe the decline is temporary. Low-cost, easy-to-find sources of oil, coal and natural gas have already been consumed, and additional supplies are more difficult to find, more costly to process and more environmentally damaging.

Douglas B. Reynolds, an energy economist, sees oil as the foundation of today’s society and our economic decline a result of finding less oil around the globe. Rather than relying on the uncertainty of technological solutions coming to our rescue, he sees adapting to peak oil as the only 100 percent reliable means to solve the global energy crisis. He teaches at the University of Alaska and chooses to bike to and from work, even when temperatures are negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit to illustrate a significant lifestyle change as a means to adapt to the new energy future. While biking as a means of transportation has gained acceptance, it is not yet a mass movement.

Reducing energy consumption as a personal choice remains essential, as do government policies to encourage an energy transition. Many states with utility and federal support had implemented energy efficiency practices during the 1970s. When energy prices plunged in the 1980s, federal support vanished and the solar revolution slowed dramatically.

We are now within the third major national effort to stimulate an energy revolution. While individual efforts are important, community efforts have a far greater impact. Two of the speakers at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (Aug. 23-24 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Illinois) encouraged such approaches. Bob Dixson, mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, described successful efforts to rebuild their tornado-destroyed town based on the efficient use of energy, including renewable sources. Dave Farrell with the Institute for Self-Reliant Communites described the benefits of community-focused energy programs. A recent report indicated that Bloomfield, Iowa, could get to zero net energy within 15 years by major investments in energy efficiency and smaller investments in renewable energy. Algoma, Iowa, could cut its energy consumption in half with similar strategies.

Efficiency programs and investments in renewable energy have reduced the earnings of utilities and fossil fuel firms. Some of these interests are attempting to modify or eliminate government mandates and supports for such programs. If the efforts succeed, the push toward sustainable energy systems could be delayed once again.

The trend is clear: technologies to support sustainable energy systems are cost-effective and reliable. Solar costs are falling and will continue to fall as technological improvements are made. Fossil fuel supplies are finite, and over the long run, are likely to be harder to find, more costly to develop and more environmentally damaging. It is time to embrace the solar revolution, rather than resisting it, as some business interests do.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Oct. 8-14, 2014, issue

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