Clean Energy vs. Renewable Energy, What Is the Difference

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union 2011, WINNING THE FUTURE, in full, took place last week (January 25, 2011, 9:00P.M. EST):  http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011 (the best site to view STATE of the UNION 2011)

The portion of President Obama’s address directly concerning Energy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAhut_6JAzw

As always, President Obama spoke with inspiration, poise, and optimism. But instead  of using the term “Renewable Energy Technology”, he was using “Clean Energy Technology”, with a new and hopeful goal of 80% of our electricity will be coming from clean energy  sources by 2035.  So, let’s take a look to see  if there is any difference between the two terminologies or are they synonymous.

Based on  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy , renewable energy is energy which comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat, which are renewable (naturally replenished).  Whereas US Department of Energy source,  http://www.eere.energy.gov/ ,  listed Solar, Wind, Water, Biomass, Geothermal, Hydrogen & Fuel Cells under the category of Renewable Energy.  Mankind has turned toward renewable energy due to the rising oil prices, eventual depletion of fossil fuels, and concern for adverse environmental impact of conventional energy  sources. For better understanding of how each and every one of these renewable energy works, please refer to links below:

1.  How Solar Energy Works: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-solar-energy-works.html

2.  How Wind Energy Works: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-wind-energy-works.html

3.  How Water Energy/Hydrokinetic Energy Works: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-hydrokinetic-energy-works.html

4.  How Biomass Energy Works: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-biomass-energy-works.html

5.  How Geothermal Energy Works: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-geothermal-energy-works.html

6. How Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Work:  http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/technologies_and_fuels/hybrid_fuelcell_and_electric_vehicles/how-a-fuel-cell-works.html

But this seems to be more of an energy storing mechanism rather than energy  source.  We also have to address the question of source of hydrogen and the cost associated with this process.  Overall, from all sources, there seems to be a consensus that Solar, Wind, Water/Hydro, Biomass, and Geothermal are the generally accepted consideration for renewable energy sources. Whether or not any particular renewable energy source is also  considered as clean energy source depends on your definition of “clean energy”, meaning how much or how  little the CO2 emission and/or other pollutant is involved. In some cases, environmental impacts are part of the consideration/equation.  In President Obama’s State of the Union 2011 on the eve of Jan. 25, 2011, he appeared to have considered the clean energy  source as energy source that specifically includes solar (a renewable energy), wind (a renewable energy), nuclear, natural gas, and clean coal.  There was no mention of geothermal, hydro, or biomass portion of the renewable energy sources.  This may had been due to the fact that : geothermal process may involve heavy metal pollution and great  need of water use; hydro energy historically had been associated with negative environmental impact; biomass had only played a very small part in the renewable energy scene.  As for the inclusion of nuclear, natural gas, and clean coal,  there may be much discussions. So, let’s take a look at how these three types of energy source work:

1.  How Nuclear Power Works:  http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_technology/how-nuclear-power-works.html

2.  How Natural Gas Works:  http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html

3.  How Coal Works:  http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-coal-works.html

Even though I may not have personally considered nuclear, natural gas, and clean coal  as part of the clean energy portfolio,  I understand this reflects President Obama’s pragmatic nature/disposition, hoping to make a smooth transition rather than an immediate switch-over into a low-carbon economy, with the goal of increased generation from domestic fossil fuels and renewables while cutting carbon emissions and reducing dependence on foreign energy.  Once again, his attempt in bringing diversified groups to the same table and reinforcing the concept of “we are all in this together” is demonstrated. If President Obama is able to bring all of these groups together, then I am in favor of a straight carbon tax (penalty charges based directly/ proportionally on the amount of  carbon emission by a particular group or industry) that will be easily and fairly  understood and implemented.

Thanks to those of you who have been reading my blog and writing to me.  Your remarks are welcomed.  Please feel free to publicly leave your remarks  so that more of us may be able to easily share your insights. I also welcome  any questions or concerns you may have regarding the renewable and clean  energy issue.  I would really like to compile as many and as basic as the  questions/ concerns may be involved in renewable and/or clean energy.  As  you can see, just the basic definition of Clean Energy vs. Renewable Energy  may take quite a while.  But with changing time and political expediency,  definitions may fluctuate with time. As for those of you who are teaching our youth/leaders of tomorrow, please feel free to ask your students to post  comments or questions.  Much of our decisions today will impact these youths tomorrow.

Posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker

Hello World! A New Beginning for Sunisthefuture

This is the beginning of a new and exciting journey. I feel as though all of my past training and experience (in math, engineering, sciences, and education), at this juncture in human history, had been preparing for me to face the challenges in our new world of renewable energy. My earnestness in teaching and sharing knowledge and experience in math and sciences is intersecting  my fervor for solar and renewable energy technology for a quarter century.

The current energy dynamics dictates that the world will soon run out of relatively cheap and easily accessible oil (Campbell & Laherrere, 1998) and to be followed with natural gas and coal. So a growing number of environmentalists, scientists, economists, policy experts and citizens understand that alternative energies must be developed quickly; delaying of such developments in alternative energies would at best lead to sagging economic output and productivity and massive wealth transfers to the oil-rich countries of the Middle East by the middle of twenty-first century and at worst may lead to global ecological melt-down, increased wars among nations for oil reserves, and human sufferings on an unimaginable scale.

My interest in solar and renewable energy went as far back to my freshman year in college, while working on a solar energy project, I came to realize that there were only about twenty or so solar companies in US at the time. About twenty-five years ago, after my graduate work was completed at University of Illinois at Urbana-Chmpaign in applied math and engineering, I was one of the three finalists being considered for a position at Argonne National Lab (our nation’s  first national laboratory). One of the panelists of interviewers asked me, “Where do you see the future direction of our energy?” Even realizing that Argonne National Lab was responsible for developing many of the advanced nuclear reactor designs at that time, I could not contain my enthusiasm and honest belief in solar energy and responded, “The cleanest, safest form of renewable energy, without much movable parts… in time, this is where the future will lie, in solar energy.” It may had been a difficult assertion to accept at that time, but a quarter century later, with a recent wiki analysis sponsosred by Etrade, solar industry is now reaching revenues of more than $50-60 billion in a year (in 2009, PV or photovotaics of solar industry alone was reaching revenues of $38.5 billion according to www.wikinvest.com, and www.solarbuzz.com is forecasting the demand growth at more than 100% in 2010). Programs and incentives that have directly stimulated recent growth of renewable energy markets and photovotaics, in particular, included feed-in-tariffs, net-metering, rebate programs, consumer tax deductions, and production tax credits. (Bradford, 2006).

But in a discussion I had with some friends and neighbors, I have come to realize that a good percentage of the American public are not aware of our energy issues or the related incentive policy or programs. In 2010, I became fascinated by a new vehicle of communication, the Facebook, after having read one of the National Bestsellers’ books, Accidental Billionaire.  Yes, Facebook, what better way to reach the American general public, I thought, a vehicle that has already touched more than 500 million people on a global scale! So, I spent a weekend to play around with Facebook, tested out its various features and reported some bugs while setting up the community pages for “Feed-In-Tariff” and “Feed-In-Tariff for Florida” on Facebook.  My intention was to try to educate the American public and brining awareness to energy issues and its incentive policy and programs, but what I received were responses from overseas (from solar industries in Britain, Canada, and Germany), an invitation to work for Facebook , a letter of support from Ed Begley, Jr. of the hit TV show host of “Living with Ed” (a show about green living) and a call from the Governor’s Office of Florida (Charlie Crist, at the time). Most of the American general public simply could not make sense of the energy issues or take advantage of any of the incentive programs associated with it. I started to see the light or gap in our educational system. The root cause for our lagging behind in having a long-term  comprehensive energy policy (Bamberger, 2004) may be due to a gap in our educational system.  While our system of democracy is wonderful in maintaining the equality and freedom for all and its governing power is supposedly derived from the people, it is necessary to have a group of informed governing body/ people in order to effectively introduce, establish, and test legislatures. While much of the rest of the world (composed of both developed and less developed nations) are moving forward in making the transitions into the renewable energy world as a result of having less democratic but more efficient sytems (e.g. Canadian’s energy law/decision on solar feed-in-tariff policy was basically decided by one individual, the Canadian Prime Minister), we are at the mercy of our republic, the truly democratic governing system.  Since I am a strong believer in the system of democracy and less centralized power distribution, then it is necessary to get down to the basic, to reach out and educate our general public about the energy issues and its related policies. It is necessary to bridge the gap of understanding between the basic math and sciences necessary to be applied to the understanding of our renewable energy world. In the coming century, not only will our general public consumers be needing to help shape energy policies, they will also need to be preparing themselves for new industries and job markets associated with the newly developed renewable energy world.

I’ve resigned from a previous teaching post (after having taught mathematics full-time and part time at various universities and colleges for over fifteen years) during part of 2010 to help caring for my dying father. Even before he completely lost his ability to speak, he expressed that last ounce of mortal enthusiasm for some of my interests and plans for a solar energy project. During those few days when he was lucid, he seemed to have that intuitive  understanding of what the future has in store for the human race. So, it is as much for the memory of my father, who carried the family name of “Sun”, as for my interest in taking part and facilitating for the transition of our human race into a new age of renewable energy in the coming century, that I have accepted this challenge.

I grew up in a family/world surrounded by engineers, mathematicians, physicists, and scientists. It is natural that I also ended up with degrees, scholarships, trainings, and work/job experiences in these fields. I did not fully appreciate how much what I/we, as mathematicians, engineers and trained scientists, discussed, sounded foreign to the general American consumers until after I posted those community pages on Feed-In-Tariff and Feed-In-Tariff for Florida.  Some of my old high school buddies had no idea what these incentive policies meant. Upon  conversing with some of the young people currently attending local colleges, they appeared interested but could not make the connection either due to the lack of understanding of basic math and sciences or the lack of ability to apply their understanding of math and science to the energy issues, at first. After spending some time explaining to them the ramifications of our current energy issues and some of the possible incentive programs and industries for alternative energy, these young students became quite excited and interested in searching for future job opportunities in these new renewable energy industires. Althought there are a handful of certificate training programs on alternative energy or solar energy workshops online, I believe, at this particular point in human history, there is a gap in the education of our general public that needs to be filled. We need to bring better and more focused understanding of applied math and sciences specifically in association with the energy and alternative energy issues. In light of the current and future growth in renewable energy industries, both in US and abroad, we will need to prepare for current and future generations to be ready for our transition into the renewable energy world.

After my father’s funeral and my mother’s gradual recovery, I’ve returned to the job market and searched mainly for online teaching positions. For after fifteen years of teaching math in traditional classroom format, hybrid format, and online format, I’ve come to have a real sense of appreciation for the online format after I’ve noticed that some of my adult students having difficulty in coming up with gas money to attend class from time to time. I knew that in order to reach all students, the world of online educational technology will be needed tremendously in the coming century.  For the past five years, I have been teaching online math courses at various universities and colleges, I would like to take the challenge of producing a course that would help to bridge the gap of understanding of applied math in our renewable energy world. Since my early association with learning, I’ve often been reminded by various mentors, of math, science, or music, to go back to the basics. Once again, I see the solution to a better future in our renewable energy era is by going back to the basics.

Posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker