Building a world of
resilient communities.

MAIN LIST

 

Alternative energy no longer alternative

Cleveland inventor Charles Brush spun light from wind more than a century ago.

Brush harnessed the winds off Lake Erie with the world's first electricity-producing turbine, which he built behind his three- story mansion on Euclid Avenue at East 37th Street.

The large fan made of slow- moving cedar blades on the 60-foot-tall tower charged batteries that powered motors and lights in the 17-room house, making Cleveland the birthplace of wind power in 1888.

Brush, known for creating the arc light, is also considered the father of wind power.

As the world seeks new sources of power, renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biofuel, is being tapped to a greater degree than ever. They are called renewable because they replenish themselves.

Wind power has become one of the fastest-growing forms of renewable energy, averaging a 28 percent growth worldwide the past five years.

Wind power is growing at almost as brisk a double-digit rate in the United States, but still accounts for less than 1 percent of the electricity generated. It provides a minuscule amount of power in Ohio, despite our wind- power heritage. Wind provides 20 percent of the electricity in Denmark, a leader in turbine technology.

"We need to bring wind back to where it started," said Bill Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio, a group dedicated to promoting environmentally and economically sustainable energy practices.

Green Energy Ohio and its volunteers are collecting data about Ohio's wind that could lead to a boom in wind turbine building. Their work led to Ohio's first wind farm, in Bowling Green, which now has four wind turbines. The four, all built in Denmark and shipped here, generate electricity for 2,000 homes.

A study prepared for the Cleveland Foundation this year showed that steady, strong winds could be found nine miles offshore north of western Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, which could be possible sites for wind turbines in Lake Erie.

Monday, Green Energy Ohio will put up a 125-foot-tall monitoring tower atop the Cleveland Water Department intake crib to gather wind and weather data. Wind data already is being collected from six towers around Ohio at heights of about 300 feet, which is the hub height of utility- grade wind turbines.

All this information will improve knowledge of Ohio's wind resources and show power companies and homeowners the best spots for wind power.

Another goal is for Ohio to manufacture wind turbines. A study released last year showed the wind industry could create more than 11,000 jobs in Ohio.

"We have the manufacturing base that matches what you see in Europe where it's made now," Spratley said.

Wind is just one example of how energy sources are changing, diversifying and creating new businesses.

Liquid fuels and other power sources once termed alternative are going mainstream.

Big business is leading the way. BP, Sanyo, Sharp and Shell now manufacture solar panels. In May, General Electric announced Ecomagination, a com panywide initiative that by 2010 will double to $1.5 billion the company's investment in clean power technology. Cargill and Archers Daniels Midland Co. are producers of renewable fuels, such as bio-diesel and ethanol.

"Bio-diesel is here to stay and will be growing in the future," said Tom Weyenberg, diesel fuel additives global business manager for Lubrizol Corp., which sees business opportunities in the changing clean fuel market.

Four years ago, the Wickliffe- based Fortune 500 company adopted an environmental business vision that focuses on developing "fluid technology for a better world."

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved. The Republican California governor is pushing legislation that will add solar power to 1 million roofs.

"No longer are we talking about solar panels being for the backwoods hippie or the millionaire mansion in Malibu," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California. "I envision solar panels will have their own aisle in Home Depot one day."

What's fueling the change in attitude toward renewable energy? Several reasons: Higher oil and gas costs; environmental and global warming concerns; state and federal policies that require the use of renewable energy; tax incentives; and national security interests.

Coal and nuclear will remain the energy workhorses for years to come. But we're slowly leaving oil and other fossil fuels behind and moving toward hydrogen fuel cells that create energy from chemical reactions.

Renewable energy is part of the bridge. So are hybrid cars. Energy efficiency is, too.

"There is no single solution," said Ben Paulos, a program officer with the Energy Foundation in San Francisco. "Solutions will come in sets, and they will vary by regions in the country, and by regions in the world."

Energy efficiency is often overlooked as a way to solve energy problems, he said. It's the one source of energy that saves money rather than costs money.

"When it comes right down to it, the greatest thing we can do is decrease our energy use," said Blair Swezey, a policy adviser for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

That includes substituting bio- diesel and ethanol fuels for diesel and gasoline. The new liquid fuels are made from renewable sources, such as vegetable oils, animal fats and corn, and blended with diesel fuel or gasoline, so less petroleum-based fuels are used.

Another selling point is that these are home-grown fuels with fewer polluting emissions.

"Who out there, with what's happening in the Middle East, wouldn't want to buy fuel for their cars that is grown by local farmers?" said Scott Sanders, executive director of the Earth Day Coalition of Cleveland, which has a clean-fuels program.

But biofuels must be grown, harvested and processed, which takes energy. A Cornell University professor who studied ethanol production has found that turning corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates.

Ethanol and bio-diesel remain niche fuels. For example, America produced 100 million gallons of bio-diesel last year, less than two-tenths of a percent of diesel sold, Lubrizol's Weyenberg said.

The country produced about 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol last year, which was about 2.3 percent of the gasoline sold.

"Our market is so enormous that ethanol will never replace gasoline," said Greg Kruger, president of Greater Ohio Ethanol LLC. "But it can be an integral part of subsidizing the supply and taking the pressure off needing so much gasoline."

Most diesel vehicles can use bio-diesel with little or no engine modifications. Bio-diesel is made by chemically combining natural oils and fats with an alcohol. It can be used undiluted, or mixed with traditional diesel.

Ohio has nine public bio-diesel stations. The first bio-diesel station in the Cleveland area is expected to open Aug. 12 at the corner of East 55th Street and Payne Avenue.

But that's not yet the case with ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol. It's created similar to brewing beer by fermenting starch into alcohol, then distilled. It can be used undiluted, or by mixing with traditional gasoline.

Most gasoline sold in Ohio contains some ethanol. But it's limited to 10 percent, which is as much as most vehicle engines today can tolerate.

An increasingly common ethanol fuel is E-85, which contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Cars built for unleaded fuel cannot use E-85 - the ethanol content is too high.

Starting in the mid-1990s, nearly all the major auto manufacturers began making some vehicles capable of running on gasoline, ethanol or a combination. Most owners probably don't know they are driving one.

But the number of these "flexible-fuel vehicles" on the road in the United States is small, estimated at 4.5 million, which is less than 5 percent of the number of cars in America. Ohio is estimated to have about 150,000 flex-fuel vehicles.

Right now, the price of a gallon of E-85 and a gallon of regular unleaded gas is the same in Ohio. But Kruger expects tax credits now banked by fuel blenders will be passed on to consumers, as they are in Minnesota and Iowa, dropping the price of E-85 by up to 40 cents over regular unleaded gasoline.

"In a normal world, E-85 should be 30, up to 40 cents less costly than regular gasoline because of the blender's credit," Kruger said. "There is no requirement that the blender passes that on. It was intended to go to the consumer, but for the most part, it does not."

Ohio has one gas station with an E-85 pump - a Speedway in Hilliard, near Columbus. In three to five years, Bill Manz of the Ohio Department of Development predicts Ohio will have more stations offering E-85. State legislators put $150,000 in the recent budget to spur development of service stations offering biofuels.

While Ohio lags behind other states in biofuels and renewable energy, it's pushing development of hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The state has put more than $100 million toward research, low-interest loans and training.

Until then, the renewable market will keep growing.

Sascha Deri sells solar air heaters, wind systems and many energy-saving devices through his Alternative Energy Store, a Massachusetts-based Internet company he started in 1999. Business has been doubling yearly.

Its main market is do-it-yourselfers. But a good number of customers are folks who are mad at their utility company and want to cut them out.

"As oil prices go up, I think we will see a lot more mainstream customers," Deri said. "It's becoming less a niche market and more of a mainstream market."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
jkuehner@plaind.com, 216-999-5325

© 2005 The Plain Dealer
© 2005 cleveland.com All Rights Reserved.

Editorial Notes: The Cleveland Plain Dealer is doing an exemplary job of explaining energy issues to the public, and doing it with a local slant. (If there's one thing we know about a low-energy future, it's that it will be local.) Previous stories in their series "Crude Awakening" are available through the series archive. Many of these articles have been archived on Energy Bulletin. -BA

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Sign up for regular Resilience bulletins direct to your email.

Take action!  

Make connections via our GROUPS page.
Start your own projects. See our RESOURCES page.
Help build resilience. DONATE NOW.


Solar Warriors vs. the Black Snake of Tar Sands

This past week, Henry Red Cloud, a descendent of Chief Red Cloud and …

Peak Oil Notes - Apr 24

It has been an active week for the oil and gas markets as the Ukrainian …

Fracking - headlines

•Marcellus shale legacy wells showing increasing depletion rates …

UN Panel Looks to Renewables As the Key to Stabilizing Climate

In its latest report, the IPCC makes a strong case for a sharp increase in …

The EIA is seriously exaggerating shale gas production in its drilling productivity report

The EIA is the elephant in the room when it comes to energy statistics. Its …

Peak Oil Review - Apr 21

A weekly review including: Oil and the Global Economy, The Middle East & …

Those Fracking Lies

A review of Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty …