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The United States and Iceland have glaring contrasts in the production and use of renewable energy. Renewable energy is a big topic these days for several reasons. It will help with electricity generation, our health, the environment, and will benefit our economy. Our country has been using inefficient sources of energy to provide energy to our residential, transportation, and industrial areas of our nation. With our current use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, we are on a path of no return. It is currently leading to the demise of our environment with the increase of greenhouse gasses in the earth’s atmosphere. The United States has been one of the leaders in renewable energy, but Iceland has taken it one step further, making almost 100% of the electricity consumed come from renewable energy.
Some of the reasons for selecting this topic come from my current interest in sustainability. I am going for my minor in sustainability and have always been interested in renewable energy becoming a big part of our everyday lives. There are so many different ways to incorporate renewable energy into our everyday lives and I think it is important for everyone to use renewable energy sources because we are going to come to a day where we have reached a tipping point and won’t be able to recover from the damage we have done to our environment.
Iceland is a lot smaller than the United States is, however, they should be an example of what could be for renewable energy. Iceland’s geography has a lot to do with their success in becoming almost 100% renewable. They are close to an active volcanic zone which helps to power their geo thermal systems providing for 9 out of 10 houses being powered by geothermal energy. They also gather a lot of energy from their hydro power and the seasonal glacial melts that feed into their rivers. They also get a tremendous amount of wind energy leaving Iceland with an abundance of renewable energy. This helps to meet the needs of heating homes and factories. The only thing they use fossil fuels for is for transport. Refer to figure 1 to see Iceland’s total energy production.
Now you may be saying this is a bit extreme because Iceland is so small and only has to provide energy to a fraction of the people compared to the US. A better comparison would be the EU. The EU has 507 million citizens compared to the 319 million citizens of the US. The EU has 200 million more people and are able to produce more renewable energy to their citizen than the US can. They are leading in renewable energy by 22% including hydro and leading by 40% if you include nuclear energy (which isn’t really renewable energy, but it is “clean” energy, before all the toxic waste).
There are some controversial issues with renewable energy when researching this topic. The unfortunate fact of the matter in the United States, however, is that renewable energy just isn’t prioritized and at a place in the US to replace fossil fuels. We are not as fortunate as Iceland to have all the geo thermal and hydro power as they do. We do have yellow stone, and the hoover damn, and the wind farms out in Texas for example, but it is just not enough to power every city in the country. We would really need to step up our technology and spend more time researching more efficient solutions to energy demands that are cost effective. It is just way too expensive for some cities or even people to go solar for example, because there is a $2500 upfront cost just to apply for solar panels. There is a whole separate cost to actually install them and buy the solar panels. The last issue with this topic is climate change. We are seeing it now, natural disasters, month after month. We are seeing things we have never seen before like the flooding in Texas, more hurricanes in Florida, huge earthquakes out west, massive snow storms up north, and people just don’t want to accept the fact that we are the ones causing this.
Some new things I have learned from researching this topic are that solar energy is increasingly becoming an economical energy choice. The prices are falling, and people are more willing to spend a bit more money now to save big in the long run. I never realized the vast size of these wind turbines until my recent cross-country trip from Melbourne, FL to Los Angeles, California. These turbines were huge, and they are actually just short of the statue of liberty. In 2012, wind farms across America generated enough energy to be the largest renewable generation source in the US. Every state in some way uses hydro power. On average hydro power makes up for about 10% of energy production in each state, Washington state, however, has gone above and beyond making hydropower a priority, making up for about 70% of energy production.
Some unexpected things I learned were geo thermal energy and some new things about solar and wind energy. To be honest, I didn’t even know what geo thermal energy was before researching this topic, but it’s a really cool concept and something amazing I learned was that it provides power 24/7 and emits little to no green house gasses. Another was solar power is way more abundant than ever now. I just thought that these solar panels were on houses or buildings to provide some energy to those buildings. There are these things called solar farms where they put rows and rows of solar panels together and that energy really adds up. Lastly, I always knew wind power was effective, but I didn’t realize the vast size of these turbines or wind farms until I was there in person. They stretch for miles and it’s actually a really pretty sight to see at sunset.
In conclusion, renewable energy is really important to help the country stop relying on fossil fuels and stop polluting the air we breathe. Renewable energy is abundant, and we really should be investing more into these technologies than sending rockets to the moon or other inhabitable planets that we will never actually live on. We know more about space than we do about our own oceans. Five years from now, I just see more destruction of our environment. The problem is, changes are happening now, they will just get worse in the future. For those who don’t believe in climate change, just look around you. There is an increase in sea level on the eastern coast of the US. Longer, more dangerous wildfire seasons. More hurricanes. More heat waves. Growing health impacts. Extreme weather events. More flooding. The destruction of marine ecosystems. Melting ice. Destruction of food supply due to weather. These are just the big problems now. In five years, I can’t even imagine what things will be like if we don’t act now.
- Energy Department. (n.d.). Clean Energy. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/science-innovation/clean-energy\
- Logadóttir, H. H. (2015, December). Iceland’s Sustainable Energy Story: A Model for the World? | UN Chronicle. Retrieved from https://unchronicle.un.org/article/iceland-s-sustainable-energy-story-model-world
- Mearns, E. (2016, October 17). Primary Energy in The European Union and USA Compared. Retrieved from http://euanmearns.com/primary-energy-in-the-european-union-and-usa-compared/
- Pyke, T. (2017, April 12). The energy debate: Renewable energy cannot replace fossil fuels. Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://developmenteducation.ie/feature/the-energy-debate-renewable-energy-cannot-replace-fossil-fuels/
- Union of concerned scientists. (n.d.). Global Warming Impacts. Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/science-and-impacts/global-warming-impacts
Figures for energy production:
Figure 1. Figure 1 shows Iceland’s energy production as of 2011and has remained the same since. As you can see, their energy comes from 99.99% renewables and barely any oil.
Figure 2. Figure 2 shows the USA’s energy production as of 2015. As you can see, renewables make up about 7% including hydro power. The main sources of energy are Oil, Gas, and Coal.
Figure 3. Figure 3 shows the USA’s energy production as of 2015. They aren’t as good as Iceland, but they are strides ahead of the US.
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