Our lights, our computers, hairdryers, and waffle irons are all connected to a power grid that’s larger than any of us can imagine, but when’s the last time that you stopped, took a moment, and thought about just where exactly that electricity that powers your life actually came from? Hint: It’s actually ridiculously simple and relatively complex.
You’ve no doubt heard about or possibly chimed in on a number of recent conversations about the current state of energy use. “What are the benefits of cleaner coal?” “Why isn’t there more advocacy for nuclear energy?” At their core, though, each of these different forms of electrical generation work to the same end–transforming one form of energy (like kinetic energy) into a more usable, electric form. Nuclear generators may loom large as a specter of environmental danger, but what most people don’t know is that those plutonium rods, for all their epic power, are just being used to heat water. Massive amounts of water, mind you, but they’re mere water heaters all the same. The key to nuclear energy plants is the transfer of energy into those water molecules, which converts water into steam, which in turn turns gigantic turbines whose movement generates electricity. Coal functions in the exact same way, with different chemical byproducts as a result of its use.
In reality, traditional sources of energy, in all of their varied forms, result in the creation of the same standard form of power. The success of any innovation developed then, while certainly welcomed and supported, will be the implementation of more efficient means of getting the electricity generated to the places on our energy grid that need it. A future in which power is generated by wind-turbines, or solar panels simply won’t be achievable so long as our current means of energy consumption and the systems used to facilitate those means remain the same.
At the end of the day, energy is energy, where ever it comes from. The true shift towards a more sustainable model lies in a change in how we use energy.