Take a look at Congress’s latest Energy bill, H.R. 6: Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, passed on December 19, it increased the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. So in the coming years our cars will have to get a lot more efficient, just as they did the last time such an increase in these standards was approved.
Cars will be getting much lighter and smaller in order to meet the new requirements. So chances are by 2020 SUV’s will become extinct on dealer showrooms. Cars will be much different than they are today, in just 12 short years.
In addition, the bill also will drastically effect how we light our homes by banning the incandescent light bulb by 2014. First anyone looking to buy a 100-watt incandescent bulb after 2012 will be out of luck and by 2014 even 40-watt bulbs will become history. Congress hasn’t passed anything so invasive to our everyday lives since they decided in 2005 to relegate our current TVs to history by next year, 2009.
How will we light our homes? Proponents believe that we will have a couple of choices, first the fluorescent alternatives that we are all familiar with will become more and more common place, and another choice, LED bulbs, currently common in new flashlights will be made into replacements for incandescent bulbs. They are doing this, because both fluorescent and LED replacements are much more energy efficient than current incandescent versions. While they will cost more to buy, proponents say the alternatives will make up the cost difference in the energy they save, and how long the bulbs last.
Enough of the bad news, there were also a couple of very important scientific advances that will likely affect our lives in a positive direction last month.
A company backed by Google, called NanoSolar announced at the beginning of the month that for the first time Solar Energy can be produced cheaper per watt than by using the current favorite, Coal. At just $1 per watt, it is now possible to spread solar collectors across our roofs and generate enough electricity to power our homes and autos. Imagine a day when you don’t have to write checks to the gas, electric and oil companies and all of our energy needs are fulfilled by solar collectors measuring roughly 25 by 40 feet spread across our roofs.
According to figures from the Solar Industry, at the 8% efficiency (far less than the industry average of 15%) claimed by NanoSolar you will need about 1000 square feet of collectors to collect the 10Kilowatts per hour needed to power an average household both day and night. The NanoSolar collectors should cost less than half of other solar systems, and last 25 years.
Sounds too good to be true, what’s the catch? The catch is that you need to have a way of storing some of those 10 Kilowatts for use when the sun doesn’t shine. On cloudy days and at night our solar collectors sit idle and energy has to come from somewhere else. There has to be a way to store enough power to handle all our needs, both day and night, and here is where current solar technology gets really expensive. With today’s batteries, storing the power a typical household would need, would cost $130,000. No wonder there aren’t solar collectors on everyone’s roofs.
Finally, the missing piece to the solar puzzle might have been announced on December 19, by Stanford Researchers, they claim that through the use of “Silicon NanoWires”, current Lithium Ion batteries can be made to hold up to 10 times as much power as today’s batteries. If these claims hold up and they can be produced at similar costs to today’s batteries, then suddenly solar power becomes cost effective for nearly every home in America, electric cars will become common place and Congress’s latest Energy bill will be irrelevant.