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RENEWABLE ENERGY: TODAY'S BASICS Fossil fuel energy - coal, oil and natural gas - quires significant land. For example, making underpins all modern economies. Abundant enough ethanol to fuel cars in California alone and affordable, fossil fuels have contributed to would consume America's entire corn crop. unprecedented prosperity for much of the WIND AND SOLAR POWER are very limited in human race. In decades to come, the benefits current application, together providing less than of modern fossil fuel energy will extend even one-tenth of one percent of U.S. energy needs. further. WIND POWER, which generally enjoys tax But fossil fuels coexist alongside "renew- subsidies, is approaching conventional fossil able" energy alternatives. Renewable energy is sources in cost. Some states mandate that util- inexhaustible for all practical purposes (solar ities purchase wind-generated power. Unfortu- power, wind) or is routinely ===================================================== nately, large windmill "renewed" through natural arrays are land-intensive processes (hydropower, THOUGH PROMISING, and even with carefully se- plant-based fuels). Nuclear lected sites power output power, which is essentially RENEWABLE ENERGY'S varies with the wind on any inexhaustible, shares sev- given day, requiring back- eral similarities with renew- POTENTIAL SHOULD up generation. Neverthe- ables. less, wind power is Interest in renewables BE TEMPERED growing rapidly. has grown with the in- Though the cost of creased attention to cli- WITH REALISM. photovoltaic SOLAR POWER mate change, as most ----------------------------------------------------- is declining, it is currently 8 renewables do not directly add to greenhouse to 10 times more expensive than conventional gases. electrical power generation. It has found niche, HYDROPOWER AND NUCLEAR POWER to- off-grid applications, and is, like wind, growing gether supply about 12 percent of U.S. energy. rapidly from a small base. These sources are not growing, however. Solar power is dependent on sunlight Hydroelectric dams are site-limited as well as availability and is space-intensive. Here again, controversial due to their environmental im- its potential must be tempered with realism. For pacts. Nuclear-plant siting and nuclear-waste example, we use solar panels for supplemen- disposal issues are highly contentious, and new tary water heating at our office building in construction has been slow and costly. Fairfax, Virginia, but providing for all of the site's BIOFUELS based on wood have been eco- comparatively modest power needs would re- nomic and successful in the U.S. in limited ap- quire over 300 ACRES of solar panels. plications such as fuel in pulp and paper mills. Though renewables are promising, it is CORN-BASED ETHANOL is used as a gasoline important to keep the size of their contribution additive in some areas, but is only competitive and their current limitations in perspective. Next due to federal and state tax subsidies that can week, we'll talk more about renewables in the exceed 60 cents a gallon. Ethanol can also re- future, including the roles of technology and quire considerable energy to produce and re- government policies. EXXON MOBIL-TM- -C- 2001 Exxon Mobil Corporation