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On the modernization of the US Electric Grid

Solar panel installation at the Solar Living Institute Hopland, California.

In today's national dialogue, there is a lot of arguing about whether or not coal is a relevant source of electricity, what sector of the energy economy is creating the most jobs, how and whether to electrify the vehicle fleet and so on. While these are relevant discussions that we must have, the bottom line in all of the discussions is this: The planet is warming and it is due primarily to the high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The CO2 in question is coming from many industrial and commercial sectors and must be slowed and eventually stopped in order to lessen its effects on the climate system.

The electric grid in the United States gets the majority of its electricity from burning coal and other fuels to generate heat which then boils water which produces steam which produces pressure which finally turns a generator that outputs electric energy. While this seems like a lot of processes to actually produce the electricity, it does not include the resources and energy required to first locate the raw materials, dig or drill for them, transport them to a facility for processing, then to the facility to burn them, after which there are usually piles of waste material left (in the case of coal, there is coal ash) which must be handled in some way.

On pure logic alone, this method cannot last indefinitely as the resources the Earth provides in the form of these raw materials are finite. Each hour the sun provides the Earth with enough energy to power human civilization for a year. While modern solar panels might not be 100% efficient and might also require some rare earth minerals for production, not taking advantage of a resource which falls from the sky in droves and requires no digging to uncover seems like a real missed opportunity. Our electrical generation system must be modernized and re worked to take full advantage of the resources that are not only abundant, but free in the sense that they do not require mining or drilling.

Solar, wind and other kinetic forms of electricity generation should and must be pursued in order to move the US away from a carbon intensive and pollution heavy electric grid and towards a more passive, environmentally friendly and sustainable one.

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