The best method of educating young people about alternative energy production that this writer has ever witnessed is the use of the PicoTurbine Company’s kits, books, and projects. The PicoTurbine Company produces these things for the purpose of advancing the cause of renewable (alternative) energy and getting young people to look into the future and see that the environment that’s being seeded now is the one they will inherit then. As the late, great Gerry Ford said, “Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before.” If we are to change the future world for the better, then it starts right here and now with the advent of “green” energy systems.
One of the core concepts of PicoTurbine can be stated: Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I might remember some of it. Involve me, and I will master it. Based on this old tried and true adage, the kits that the company produces come with activity suggestions to get the young people into hands-on learning situations. One suggestion of the company is to demonstrate how heat can be produced by wind energy (the company’s specialty) through using a “picture wire” for the heating element. PicoTurbine has found that people typically think of wind energy as being “cold” energy, and are pleasantly surprised to see how wind can be used for generating heat in the home. Another project suggestion that the company offers is to have different groups split off in the classroom and then compare their respective wind turbines that they have built. They can see which ones produce the most or least electricity; which ones start up with need of the least amount of wind power; and for very young children, which ones have the most aesthetic appeal.
There is a core curriculum that PicoTurbine has in mind for teachers to instill in their pupils. Renewable, alternative sources of energy include solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass in addition to wind-produced energy. When we use more alternative sources of energy, we decrease our nation’s dependence on foreign oil supplies, which often come from nations who cannot really be called our “allies”. Alternative energy is already becoming cost effective when set against the fossil fuels that we are so reliant on currently.
PicoTurbine points out that wind farms and solar arrays are already letting their makers enjoy commercial success. In the last two decades, the cost of photovoltaic cells expressed in terms of per-watt has gone from nearly $1000 to just $4! It has been predicted by analysts that by the year 2015, the cost per watt should only be about $1 (in today’s dollars). Students also need to be taught about the hidden cost of fossil fuels: pollution and environmental degradation. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels has been shown through studies to increase incidences of asthma attacks, heighten the effects of allergies, and even cause cancer. Switching over to clean, green energy found in the alternative forms would prevent air pollution and help bolster the environment.
The trend toward homes that are powered by alternative energy sources, ranging from wind turbines and solar collection cells to hydrogen fuel cells and biomass gases, is one that needs to continue into the 21st century and beyond. We have great need of becoming more energy independent, and not having to rely on the supplying of fossil fuels from unstable nations who are often hostile to us and our interests. But even beyond this factor, we as individuals need to get “off the grid” and also stop having to be so reliant on government-lobbying giant oil corporations who, while they are not really involved in any covert conspiracy, nevertheless have a stranglehold on people when it comes to heating their homes (and if not through oil, then heat usually supplied by grid-driven electricity, another stranglehold).
As Remi Wilkinson, Senior Analyst with Carbon Free, puts it, inevitably, the growth of distributed generation will lead to the restructuring of the retail electricity market and the generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure. The power providers may have to diversify their business to make up for revenues lost through household energy microgeneration. She is referring to the conclusions by a group of UK analysts, herself included among them, who call themselves Carbon Free. Carbon Free has been studying the ever-growing trend toward alternative energy-using homes in England and the West. This trend is being driven by ever-more government recommendation and sometimes backing of alternative energy research and development, the rising cost of oil and other fossil fuels, concern about environmental degradation, and desires to be energy independent. Carbon Free concludes that, assuming traditional energy prices remain at their current level or rise, microgeneration (meeting all of one’s home’s energy needs by installing alternative energy technology such as solar panels or wind turbines) will become to home energy supply what the Internet became to home communications and data gathering, and eventually this will have deep effects on the businesses of the existing energy supply companies.
Carbon Free’s analyses also show that energy companies themselves have jumped in on the game and seek to leverage microgeneration to their own advantage for opening up new markets for themselves. Carbon Free cites the example of electricity companies (in the UK) reporting that they are seriously researching and developing ideas for new geothermal energy facilities, as these companies see geothermal energy production as a highly profitable wave of the future. Another conclusion of Carbon Free is that solar energy hot water heating technology is an efficient technology for reducing home water heating costs in the long run, although it is initially quite expensive to install. However, solar power is not yet cost-effective for corporations, as they require too much in the way of specialized plumbing to implement solar energy hot water heating. Lastly, Carbon Free tells us that installing wind turbines is an efficient way of reducing home electricity costs, while also being more independent. However, again this is initially a very expensive thing to have installed, and companies would do well to begin slashing their prices on these devices or they could find themselves losing market share.