Local and national newspapers have been filled with articles about alternative energy — and with good reason. Before fossil fuels, America’s main source of energy was burning wood. As this led to deforestation, fossil fuels, and later petroleum, were discovered and seemed to solve all of our energy problems. But these new solutions came with negative effects as well.
Switch, a documentary about our reliance on non-renewable energy and how to “switch” to renewable energy, attempts to answer the question “What will it take to go from the energy that built our world to the energy that will shape our future?”
Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy. Once we use up the limited supplies of resources like coal and oil, they are gone forever. It has also become common knowledge that obtaining these sources of energy is permanently damaging to the earth, through both their extraction process and use in everyday life. Fracking and greenhouse gases are buzz words that are a part of our daily lives. All of this hype surrounding depleting resources and global warming inspired a new hot topic: alternative and renewable energy.
Solar energy, such as the panels located on the Lawrenceville campus, is an outstanding source of renewable energy. Once installed, the costs of maintaining solar energy are minimal. The energy saved by Rider’s use of solar panels will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 34 million pounds over a 25-year period. Countries around the globe are now littered with solar panels, as large corporations, small business and residential communities are installing and benefitting from solar energy.
Wind energy is another alternative source of energy that is being developed. Currently, the most effective and inexpensive form of alternative energy is hydroelectric power.
Despite the benefits, there are some economic concerns that have politicians standing in the way of alternative energy. Oil and gas companies provide funding to countless organizations throughout the globe and also create thousands of jobs. Most alternative energy solutions are location-specific, and require fewer personnel once set in place. This depletion of jobs is far from what our economy needs. Embracing alternative energy may also require a significant initial investment of funds for research and development.
Many Europeans countries such as Germany and Denmark are working towards alternative energy solutions on a national level — and politicians are making it happen. But public concerns are still present. Possible black-outs because of energy shortages, underprepared alternative energy cars, electronics causing injury or inconvenience, and fluctuating energy market values are just some of what is concerning.
The greatest challenge seems to be the world’s reliance on fuel-running cars. Transportation through fuel-running vehicles is not something that can change overnight. Companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Honda all have electric vehicles on the roads, but these cars still rely on electricity that is often obtained through fossil fuels. A promising new hydrogen-car design and hydrogen fill-up stations are being tested in California, but it seems that a total conversion is still an idea beyond our reach.
The question on most people’s minds is not if we should embrace alternative energy — anyone can see that our current fuel usage is not sustainable. The real question is, “How?” How do you transition an entire world that relies on non-renewable resources to another form of energy? How do you allocate funds to alternative energy when our current energy system is so expensive? How do we wean ourselves off of an energy source that is so present in our everyday lives?
Switch will hit the screen on December 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. in Swiegart Auditorium.
Printed in the 12/03/14 issue.