The challenge of sustainable energy.
Fossil fuel consumption has increased exponentially over the last century, due to the dramatic increase of the population and the almost universal application of energy to all aspect of human activities such as industry, housing, transportation, or food production. The use of fossil fuels not only depletes a resource that took hundreds of million of years to be formed but also contributes to climate change, degrades local air quality, and costs money. We have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel energy. One of the greatest engineering challenges for the future will be to develop less environmentally damaging sources of energy while simultaneously reducing total energy consumption, predominantly through energy efficiency and reductions in total overall energy use in buildings, transportation, food production, industry, manufacturing and resource extraction. There is widespread agreement that shifts in energy use and improvements in energy efficiency can be more economic than developing new supplies of energy. Like all resources, energy should be greatly valued and used according to the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle:
- Reduce the amount of energy required in the first place. For instance, how justifiable are electric toothbrushes when hand held versions do their job? Are we needlessly using our valuable energy resources?
- Reuse as much energy as possible. For instance, co-generation, or the combined production of heat and electricity in industry can make better use of one energy source. Only one-third of the steam energy in a conventional power plant is converted to electricity; much of the remaining steam energy can be used for heating and other industrial purposes.
- Recycling any material requires energy and should only be used as a last resort when reducing and reusing are not possible.