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An overview of the conventional energy system and the problems associated with it.

The following is the introduction of my Capstone project, titled "The Sustainable Energy Utility: What Delaware developed and if it is possible or necessary for Colorado," which was completed for my Master's degree in November 2010. It also has the Thesis statement to form a better understanding of what the project was as a whole. The entire study can be viewed by clicking on the icon at the end of this post.

For decades, the conventional way to deliver energy from the point of production to consumers was via centralized power plants. These plants emit immense amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Current estimates for 2008 energy related CO2 emissions are 5,735 MMT, or 81 percent of the total emissions, are related to energy production. Greenhouse gasemissions were estimated at 7,052 MMT for all gases in 2008 (EIA 2008). These include energy related CO2, and other high global warming potential (GWP) gases including nitrous oxide (NOx), and methane (CH4) and CFCs. Energy related CO2 has been emitted more than any other gas, and accounted for 81 percent of all emissions in 2008 (EIA 2008). Based on three major fuels, petroleum, coal, and natural gas, petroleum is shown to have the greatest emissions, followed by coal, and natural gas. When emissions were broken down by sector,  electric power shows the greatest impact. Residential, commercial and industrial has the smallest impact, but it can be argued that this sector should be included in the electric power sector since buildings are consumers of electricity as well. In addition to greenhouse gases, there is also waste heat, contaminated water, and solid materials such as ash, scrubber residue, and particulate matter polluting the land and waterways.

The conventional energy system creates many other problems, such as groundwater and soil pollution from the chemicals involved in cleaning and cooling parts. These systems are extremely inefficient, allowing for price volatility and reliance on an over 100 year old transmission grid in dire need of updating (Asmus 2001). To produce electricity, fossil fuel power plants must withdraw water from sources such as rivers and lakes in order to create steam to run turbines that create electricity. The boilers and other parts must also be periodically cleaned and purged. During these processes, used water is discharged and is contaminated with many toxic chemicals and heavy metals (Baum, Chaisson, Miller, et al. 2003). Each year, coal fired power plants produce over 130 million tons of CCW which consists of waste from processes such as scrubber cleaning and other processes necessary to keep the plants operating properly. Like purged water, CCW released into the environment is filled with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and often a singe power plant requires several acres to dispose of the waste (NRDC 2007). The conventional energy system also costs Americans billions of dollars annually in health costs. A 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences revealed that each year fossil fuels cost Americans $120 billion in human health damage. $62 million of this is caused solely by coal power plants (AWEA 2010).

The thesis of the project was the SEU can grow and develop renewable energy through self-sustaining practices that do not raise prices or taxes. These practices can reduce emissions, make renewable energy affordable and available to all classes, create long lasting jobs, and reduce problems associated with conventional energy systems. Current energy management practices are unsustainable for stimulating maximum growth in the renewable energy sector because they rely on a non-renewable, finite source and there are barriers to shifting to sustainable practices.

Gephart Capstone Project




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