Alternative Energy Research – The Future Is In Good Hands

Increased use of energy from renewable resources has elevated alternative energy research to a position of great importance.

The importance is well deserved because of both the strategic and economic implications.

Although the focus of our site is home alternative energy it is necessary to temporarily deviate from this focus to see alternative energy research in the wider perspective.

The Strategic Implications Of Alternative Energy Research

We all know that the world's current addiction to oil cannot go on forever. The search for alternative forms of energy is gathering pace world-wide, and rightly so.

In the meantime, the oil usage continues to climb and the majority of the heavy user countries like the USA and the emerging industrial powerhouses of China and India, all import their oil.

What this means, in effect, is that they are largely reliant on small oil rich Arab states for a large proportion of their energy needs. We have all read in our newspapers and watched on TV, as power politics are played out with oil restrictions and embargoes.

So what we have, in essence, is an ongoing security issue for those countries who are large importers of oil.

Why a security issue?

Because a a large amount of any national budget goes on defense – to fuel planes, ships and vehicles. If there is a problem with reliability of supply then it is a threat to reliable defense. On top of that, and this is spilling over into the economic area, the price of oil is continually escalating and it is very unlikely now to ever go down.

The implications of all this are certainly underlying the resolve of many governments to pursue alternative energy research.

Some of that alternative energy research in the USA now has its focus within army, naval and air force operations, in conjunction with the Department of Energy.

Let's illustrate with a few examples sourced from The Scientific American March 2011:

  • A F-16 fighter jet with after-burners engaged uses 105 liters of fuel per minute
  • A C-17 cargo plane burns nearly 12,000 liters of fuel per hour
  • Every time the price of a barrel of oil rises by $1 it costs the US military another $31 million for fuel.

The implications are obvious and that sort of information has sparked some pretty interesting alternative energy research.

For example...

  • The US Navy and Air Force is experimenting with the use of bio-fuels made from plants or algae.
  • Solar cells are being used in the field for communications equipment, instead of batteries
  • The Navy is moving towards hybrid-powered vessels, with electric motors being used at lower speeds.
The real point here is that energy use has implications well outside the family home and some of the research centered around military activity may also spin off to average Joe Citizen at home.

Of course, many of these research activities and experiments have a long way to go to become commercially viable but human endeavor often triumphs. If you think back to the early days of solar panels it was a totally unrealistic proposition for the average citizen, but now they are becoming cost competitive at a rapid rate.

Alternative Energy Research For The Family Home

The research programs for alternative energy are widespread around the world because of the growing recognition about the urgency of converting from fossil fuel technologies to renewable energy.

Here are just a few examples of the type of research that is occurring in the various alternative energy areas...

Solar energy research

  • The study of photochromic materials where the application of a thin film to windows can reduce the need for cooling in high temperature areas
  • The use of nanotechnology to improve the efficiency and electrical output of solar cells. This technology is also being examined in elation to using solar cells to produce hydrogen that could then be used as an alternate fuel in other applications.
  • The study of integrated solar panel systems into buildings that will enable zero energy use

Wind power research

  • Off-shore wind power is highly efficient, but still costly, so intensive research is taking place to lower the costs.
  • The wind industry has encouraged the development of independent testing for small wind turbines this complements the work of the Small Wind Certification Council which accredits turbines according to a set of agreed standards.
  • Hydro-power research

    • The use of old-style water wheels as a more efficient tool in low-head (less than a 30 foot drop) hydro schemes shows considerable promise and they could take the place of more modern water turbines which are not efficient in low-head operations.
    • Using existing hydro-power facilities to integrate with solar and wind by pumping up water into dams and then releasing it in periods of low sun or non-wind.

    Geothermal energy research

    • The development of a new type of condenser in geothermal plants is having impressive results and resulting in lower emissions and increased efficiency
    • The development of advanced ground source heat pumps is expected to result in significant improvements in efficiency and output.
    There is no doubt that the future of alternative energy is assured because of the amount and quality of the research that is happening in many areas.

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