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Commentary | Oct. 6, 2011

Effectively using renewable energy

By Mark Hanna 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron

Last week we learned how we can make certain choices in our energy use to make significant differences in our nation's energy demand. How we manage our energy demand affects our energy supply as well. This week we will look at where we get our energy from or the supply side of the equation.

First, let us divide our energy supplies between non-renewable and renewable and look at them separately. Most of the energy we use is non- renewable. Our local electric energy generation sources, be it from natural gas, coal, or nuclear or any combination of the three is called our fuel mix.

The plants that generate our electrical energy must be either continually refueled, as in the natural gas or coal burning plants. Nuclear fueled generation plants are refueled every few decades. Each one has good points and bad points in their use.

The natural gas and coal plants produce carbon dioxide and other products of combustion that pollute our atmosphere. Nuclear plants produce waste that is difficult to dispose of but do not pollute the atmosphere. Coal and nuclear fuel must be mined, and that process causes water pollution and environmental destruction if not handled properly.

Renewable energy is energy we can use that replenishes itself. The Air Force is the number one producer and user of renewable energy in the Department of Defense. We are the leader in the use of solar energy, wind energy, bio fuels, and soon, heat from the very earth itself. Our goal is to replace our present non-renewable supplies, as much as possible, with renewable ones.

We are now able to create transportation and heating fuels from garbage, or from plants that regrow themselves, like corn, soybeans, seaweed and even pond scum. We have some of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the world powering some of our bases in the west. Wind power is becoming a major source of electrical power on other bases.

Here at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, we are now using the earth beneath our feet as an energy source. In the next few years, we hope to expand the use of the heat inertia of the earth to both heat and cool hundreds of thousands more square feet of buildings on our bases. These systems are called ground source heat pumps.

Most of us have some choices in our energy supply sources. We are offered gasoline, diesel, hybrid and electric cars, gas or electric clothes dryers, gas or electric water heats, heating our homes with gas or electric or GSHP.

Our beloved electronics are a different story. They are limited to electric power. Honestly, have you ever heard of a turbo-diesel laptop? Or a plasma screen TV powered by real plasma?

However, electric power presents us with a few renewable energy sources that soon will become more common place as they are developed and become competitive in cost. Here are two examples: you may have an electric car in your future recharged by a photo voltaic array built into the roof of your home. Or you may just take a convenient electric train to the base.

Don't think so? Next week we will examine culture change. Our great-great grandparents went though one when they exchanged their horse and buggy for a car, and their gas lamps for an electric light bulb. Meanwhile, we really enjoy hearing from you. Please send us more energy thoughts, ideas and questions; you are a part of the team.

don.white2@langley.af.mil
mark.hanna.ctr@Langley.af.mil