> The Renewable Energy Transition:
> Forces, Benefits, Opportunities, and a Vision of the Future
>Major environmental and economic forces are now accelerating a global
>transition away from fossil fuels toward increased energy efficiency
>and the use of renewable energy resources. The choices we make now
>regarding our energy strategy will determine whether we reap economic
>and environmental benefits in an orderly transition or whether we will
>have a chaotic transition forced upon us by economic, environmental,
>and energy resource crises. Dr. Aitken will present a pictorial lecture
>that reveals the nature of these two paths, including an overview of the
>present status and future visions of the renewable energy technologies
>and how they can be adopted into our utilities, architecture, and
>Dr. Donald Aitken is currently Principal of his own consulting company,
>Donald Aitken Associates, Affiliate Faculty Member at the Frank Lloyd
>Wright School of Architecture, and Senior Consulting Scientist for the
>Energy Department of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Previously
>he has been a staff research physicist and astrophysicist at Stanford
>University, Founder and Chairman of the Department of Environmental
>Studies at San Jose State University, Executive Director of the Western
>Regional Solar Energy Center for the U.S. Department of Energy, and
>Senior Staff Scientist for Renewable Energy with the Union of Concerned
>Scientists. He has over 100 publications in these various fields. Dr. Aitken
>is a sought-after consultant, energy policy lecturer and professional
>architectural and engineering workshop leader, and has carried these
>activities throughout the United States, as well as in Japan, Germany,
>Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Cyprus, Israel, India, Africa,
>Mexico, and three of the Republics of the former Soviet Union. In 1997
>Dr. Aitken was awarded his country's highest honor for lifetime service
>to solar energy, the Abbot Award.
Dr. Aitken began his talk by explaining that a sustainable system is one where one generation provides for its own needs without impairing the ability of future generations to provide for their own needs. He then put up a picture of a land office with a sign above the window that said WE SELL THE EARTH and explained that what we are doing now is not sustainable. His presentation has lots of excellent pictures in it, and is worth seeing if only because they give it a texture that the ideas presented here can only approximate.
The next set of graphics showed the relationship between current carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and historic norms. Basically, during the past fifty years there has been a rise in the CO2 level in our atmosphere that can only be explained by human intervention. To illustrate that Climate Change caused by burning fossil fuels can be dangerous, he pointed out that for many areas like Mexico and Africa, the expected changes will result in less rainfall, meaning crop harvests will be reduced over time.
Looking at the long term, Dr. Aitken showed a chart of energy use per year vs. time from 100 AD to 4000 AD. The entire fossil fuel era is a brief blip on it, stretching from about 1800 to 2050 or 2100, a huge spike a yard high on a graph where no other point was more than an inch high. He explained that we would be best served by using the rest of that period to shape our culture so that the sustainable period after the cheap energy runs out is better than it would otherwise be. He predicted that the energy sources of the future will be wind, hydro, and solar power.
Dr. Aitken showed pictures of state of the art windmills. These are structures that can only be described as huge, with blades at least 50 feet long. He explained that installing these on farms is very compatible with agricultural uses of the land, and can even double the income of the farmer if it is done right. Dr. Aitken explained that farmers in Iowa are now clamoring to make their legislatures facilitate the expansion of windmill operations in their areas, because the economics of doing so are that good. Nevada is also looking at getting into this business as a way of putting their deserts to work.
Dr. Aitken feels that the best place to put solar panels in on the roofs of urban areas, where most of the electric load is. He pointed to Sacramento as an example of a place that has gone for solar power with gusto, where SMUD has become the largest solar utility on the planet in the last decade. He showed a picture of a home in the Bay Area somewhere that produces enough energy to meet its own needs. About three-eighths of the roof was covered with solar panels, a third of that to provide energy for the home, and the rest to provide fuel for the owners electric cars. By running the electric meter backwards during the day and forwards at night, the whole community benefits from having such systems in place.