Empowered by New Alternative Energy Ideas

Out at sea, a small yellow buoy bobs in the water as waves continually push it up and down. It looks like any other buoy; however the technology inside of it is unique. As it floats, it is capturing the unrelenting power of the ocean, transforming it into usable energy, and sending it back to shore where it can be used as electricity.

Last Thursday, Asmus delivered a lecture regarding the sustainable solutions available to California. He has spent the past 20 years as an activist and author, specifically championing natural energy as vital to the future of the country. The Power Buoy, mentioned above, was just one in the vast array of developing products and processes he introduced that California can utilize to capture natural energy.

Asmus overviewed the many solutions to the problem of power that, if used together, could solve the energy crisis while moving toward sustainability. Some were familiar, like solar and wind power. He also suggested more accessible options that simply require lifestyle changes, such as telecommuting to work.

Asmus stressed that the key to providing an adequate supply of energy is embracing diversity and using the variety of new and old methods together.  "There are no silver bullets," he said. "There is not one thing we can do. We've got to do a lot of things."

New sustainable technologies are being developed to lower costs and heighten accessibility. The Power Buoy, mentioned above, is being developed to capture energy from the ocean. The Gulf Stream, a current that runs below the surface of the ocean, is 800 times as powerful as wind.

Rethinking power grids is another way to raise power efficiency. "We have a dumb electricity grid," said Asmus. Instead of the outdated, wasteful grids of today, smaller power sources managed at a local level, called "microgrids," would be able to combine small sources of solar and wind energy to produce larger outputs that can work for the larger demands of bustling cities.

From the beginning, the abundance of California's renewable resources made it a natural choice for initiating sustainable methods. When settlers moved to the state from the east coast in the 1800s, little coal was to be found, which allowed for hydroelectricity to be developed. Unfortunately, as years progressed and transportation became cheaper, clean energy was deemed unaffordable.

California eventually returned to progressive methods, albeit briefly. In the 1980s, the state had 90 percent of the world's wind, solar, geothermal and biomass power in operation. However, once deregulation started permeating the nation's energy system in the 1990s, green energy initiatives were given less priority and, again, fell by the wayside.

Asmus recognizes the expensive nature of sustainability, as the technology is new and the methods are still in development. Some cite the high costs of solar photovoltaics (or solar panels) as unreasonable, deeming it an unattainable goal.  But Asmus maintains that investing in diverse methods would not just increase the amount of power available, but promote economic viability. It would especially impact job availability. "Renewable energy generates four to six times as many jobs as fossil fuels," said Asmus.

One SMC student in attendance was skeptical. Juan Munoz, 26, had worked at a nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo.  He worries that the cost of transferring to renewable energy sources is still a bit too high to be practical. "I do agree with him a lot," he says. "But [nuclear power] is a necessary evil. Although I don't believe in it, we don't have a better alternative that's feasible to power large areas."

At the event, Asmus also introduced his latest book, "Introduction to Energy in California," which is available for purchase on the University of California Press' website. His book contains all of the information he presented as well as a detailed approach to more controversial issues of nuclear power and natural gas. Judy Neveau, SMC's Director of Community Relations, highly recommended the book as a good introduction to California's energy. "It is a fast-evolving field and changes all the time," she said."But this book will give anyone interested in it a foundation level of knowledge."

At the end of the presentation, SMC Earth Sciences Professor, Bill Selby, announced local incentives toward sustainable energy, including the organization Solar Santa Monica which is committed to transferring the city's energy needs to purely sustainable methods by 2020. "Whether or not that happens is the big question," said Selby. "But there is hope for the future if we keep looking for that future."