Health is paramount for all living things, but sometimes we don’t even realize what damages our bodies. Air pollution is one of the top ten leading causes of death worldwide (http://greenlaw.org/CleanAir). The World Health Organization ranks Bakersfield, California as the most polluted city in America, followed by multiple California cities (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2095471_2095472_2095478,00.html). Roughly half the people (50.3%) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. So what can we do? One solution would be change how we produce energy.
Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Civil & Environmental Engineering professor at Stanford University, recently gave a lecture at San Jose State University about powering the world with renewable energy. Dr. Jacobson recommended a wind, water, and sun approach as energy sources to power the world. The following table shows Dr. Jacobson’s proposed plan which keeps cost, required surface area, and environmental statistics in mind:
Dr. Jacobson claims that his plan will:
- Eliminate 2.5-3 million air pollution deaths per year
- Reduce the global power demand by ~32%
Procuring 50% of the total power demand via wind turbines makes sense because the turbines are relatively cheap and the necessary resources (neodymium for the magnets and lithium for the batteries) are fairly abundant. Although offshore wind turbines are much more expensive compared to onshore turbines, they generate more power and wind speeds are often high in the afternoon and night. Dr. Jacobson also includes significant amounts of other renewable energies including concentrated solar power ((i.e., http://www.nrel.gov/csp), solar farms, rooftop solar, geothermal, and hydro plants. These are all based on current technologies and, according to his analysis, are also economically feasible.
Dr. Jacobson has definitely done his research and his plan appears to lay out a path towards reducing our environmental impact and improving our air quality. His concern is that if global temperatures are allowed to continue rising, the Arctic sea ice may melt in the next 20-30 years. This may trigger drastic changes in climate that could be hard to reverse. So, there is some urgency to make changes to how we produce energy in the coming decades. Renewable energy is not the sole answer to our air pollution problems, but it is definitely a large portion of the solution. The remaining challenge is finding the political and social motivation to make these changes.
Problem solvers like Dr. Jacobson are helping to save this world every day. Who’s next?