Energy Planning — Main Goals
“We are addicted to foreign oil and we have to wean ourselves off it.”
Over the last twenty years or more, the American public has heard a similar refrain about energy use issues from just about every politician that has run for office and certainly from every politician that gets elected and takes a stand on energy use. That platitudinous catchphrase is so often used it’s almost redundant and the problem is for many Americans it is so familiar it has become nothing more than a political slogan. What is being alluded to here is the concept that it is past time when America needs to become energy self-sufficient. How to go about being energy independent is the question. This paper presents energy planning ideas that not only lessens the need to import oil from Arab countries — or from Venezuela — but lessens the need for oil period.
Literature on Energy Planning for the Future
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is among the most influential of all conservation / environmental groups in America. Their editorial thrust is toward a “Clean Energy Economy” and that means using more and more renewable sources — not drilling in oceans or in Alaska or elsewhere for new sources of crude oil. And so energy planning, according to the NRDC, means creating green jobs through the building of renewable energy sources like windmill farms, solar energy projects, and by setting up manufacturing projects that produce solar panels, batteries for hybrid cars, and more.
“Millions of Americans already have the skills that they require” in order to get into the manufacturing of products that are part of the switch to green technologies. A key energy plan, according to the NRDC, is one that invests in “entirely new industries” and puts thousands, even millions of people to work. By investing $150 billion in clean energy, the NRDC site reports, the United States can create 1.7 million net new jobs “in just two years” (www.nrdc.org). Of those 1.7 million jobs that would be created, about 870,000 of them would be “â€¦accessible to workers with a high school degree or less,” so the NRDC is pointing out that you don’t have to be an engineer or a highly trained technician to work in the field of clean energy development. Moreover, roughly 614,000 of those jobs available for those with just a high school degree (or less than a high school degree) “will offer decent opportunities for promotion and rising wages over time” (www.nrdc.org). Over time, those kinds of opportunities in the clean / green energy field can help lift low-income workers out of poverty, the NRDC explains.
Meanwhile the community of Masda in the United Arab Emirates is undergoing some of the most high tech energy planning to be found anywhere on earth. The article “A Green City Blooms in the Desert” describes a solar-powered city where the world’s “first zero-carbon, zero-waste city” is taking shape. The project is estimated to cost $22 billion and should be complete by 2016, according to Julia Loffe, writing in Fortune International magazine.
The issues that had to be overcome in the nation of Abu Dhabi for Masdar to take shape are very obvious even to the layperson that knows little about renewable and solar energy planning. The first city to develop solar “on a massive scale” in a virtual desert. It is obvious that a city can’t be built on sand, so Abu Dhabi is to be constructed on a “cement platform that’s 21 feet think and made of 60% recycled waste,” Loffe writes on page 1.
The architectural firm handling most of the energy planning is Foster & Partners of London, who wish to make Masdar to become “the Silicon Valley of environmental design,” according to Gerald Evenden, Foster & Partners’ senior partner. Within this walled city will be a “green-tech research institute” that will be built with resources from MIT, according to Loffe’s article. The hope is that the city of Masdar will become a “guidepost for urban planners everywhere,” Loffe explains. Another hope is that the project will create 70,000 jobs and become “a global hub for green tech,” the writer goes on.
Unlike all other cities in the world, cars will be banned within city limits. Garages on the outskirts of the city will house cars and light rail transportation will ferry commuters to their jobs in Masdar. There will be solar thermal farms to supply about “a quarter” of the needed electricity, Loffe goes on. The city of Masdar is proposed to accommodate up to 50,000 permanent residents and jobs within the city will be provided for about 40,000 commuters. How hot will it be in the city? The energy planners assert it will be “20 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert” and moreover, the city will use 60% less water (the water will come from desalination plants that are solar powered), 75% les electricity, and 98% less landfill space (Loffe, 2009, p. 2).
How much does it cost for a person / family to go solar, and do their own personal energy planning on their rooftop? An article in Money magazine (Hely, 2011, p. 50) explains that “it is definitely time to consider harvesting the sunshine hitting your roof” for people in Australia. In the northern and western states of Australia there is an average of 5.8 hours of sunlight daily, Hely writes, which is important for people doing their own energy planning because using solar photovoltaic energy (sunlight hits silicon solar cells and turns it into direct electrical current) means a big savings in Australia.
Why? Energy costs are expected to rise by 40% over the next three years, Hely explains, due to the $100 billion the government must spend to “replace ageing infrastructure so it keeps up with peak demand” (p. 50). For Aussies that live in NSW or in Queensland, energy bills could rise by as much as 66%; moreover, Australia is expected to consume 50% more electricity in the next 20 years, and those who do their own energy planning will be able to opt out of those unpleasant jumps in energy bills by using solar. Is it financially practical to make the investment — in other words, how long after the initial investment does it to recoup the costs? In Australia, depending on how much one spends on the solar, it takes up to nine years to recoup the investment, but only three to six in certain parts of Australia where the cost of buying electricity from the local utility is very high, Hely explains.
Meanwhile, in the Journal of the American Planning Association, an article points out that while a generation ago energy planner sited centralized energy supply infrastructure including “power plants, electric transmission lines, refineries, and pipelines” (Andrews, 2008, p. 231). Recently, however, the attention among energy planners has shifted to “decentralized supplies, and the effects of transportation, land use, and buildings on energy demand,” Andrews explains. Andrews, associate professor and director of the urban planning program at Rutgers University, suggests that “rather than merely satisfying the demand for energy,” planners should use both “demand management and supply procurement tools to equilibrate demand and supply” (p. 232).
In other words, Andrews is challenging engineers and planners to work towards a “reduction in cost per unit obtained by producing many units” of decentralized energy producers (solar, wind, etc.). Many mall decentralized facilities would be built, under Andrews energy plan, and the goal would be not only getting away from importing oil, but rather it would be to promote efficiency, equity, and stability in order to eschew “volatile energy prices, fluctuating demand,” and the inevitable carbon emissions that come with the burning of fossil fuel.
It is time for energy planning to move quickly towards the future, by following the advice of experts like Clinton J. Andrews and others, and building products that are decentralized and allow a home anywhere there is ample sunlight — and/or wind — to be free of the high costs of energy produced in huge, polluting centralized energy production facilities. The obstacles can be overcome by careful planning and by not necessarily thinking big solar farm in the desert but rather decentralized solar hardware for individual rooftops. That is real smart energy planning.
Andrews, Clinton J. (2008). Energy Conversion Goes Local. Journal of the American Planning
Association, 74(2), 231-253.
Hely, Susan. (2011). Let the SUN Shine in! Money. Issue 132, 50-52.
Loffe, Julia. (2009). A Green City Blooms in the Desert. Fortune International. 159(7), 40-44.
Natural Resources Defense Council. (2011). Jobs that Build a Better Future / Clean Energy
Investments will create Millions of Manufacturing Jobs and whole New Industries.
Retrieved April 4, 2011, from http://nrdc.org/energy/greenjobs/.
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