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We’ve considered several alternative-energy novelties, a few imposters, and a rogue zombie , so it might seem there is little left to discuss. But there’s more to be sure—perhaps too much to cover fully in one book. So I will take a few pages here to briefly review a selection of remaining topics before moving on. These remainders are either not being publicly held up as solutions , offer only restricted geographic potential, or fall outside the core scope of this book. Still, I have chosen to briefly touch on a few that can each lend something distinctive to the greater picture. Let’s begin with an energy-production technology that has been largely forgotten. Hydropower As recently as 1950, hydropower fulfilled about a third of electrical demand in the United States, but growing energy consumption has eroded most of hydro’s value. Even though hydropower output has expanded since the fifties, it 7. Hydropower, Hybrids, and Other Hydras The door to novelty is always slightly ajar: many pass it by with barely a glance, some peek inside but choose not to enter, others dash in and dash out again; while a few, drawn by curiosity, boredom , rebellion, or circumstance, venture in so deep or wander around in there so long that they can never find their way back out. –Tom Robbins , Villa Incognito  now serves just 5 percent of total U.S. electricity demand. Hydropower is still a monumental source of energy in other parts of the world—in Norway, for instance, dams high in the mountains quench virtually the entire electrical grid. Like wind and solar systems, dams generate electricity using a freely available and renewable resource. But unlike wind and solar systems, dams provide scalable supply whenever it is needed. And once built, dams provide inexpensive electrical power for a very long time. Worldwide, hydropower provides 15 percent of electrical power. Some enthusiastic proponents claim that hydro could grow three-fold if the planet’s capacity were fully exploited.1 However, tapping into that capacity would displace many thousands of people, disrupt fishing industries, place neighborhoods at greater risk of flooding, and lead to a long list of other problems . Canadian filmmaker James Cameron joined hands with indigenous residents in Brazil to protest the construction of one such problematic dam. He compared the struggle of twenty-five thousand indigenous people who were to be displaced by the Belo Monte Dam to the struggle of the imaginary indigenous population in his blockbuster film Avatar: “There is no plan for where they go—they just get shoved out of the way. They were promised hearings by law—the hearings didn’t take place . . . and the process is not transparent to the public.” Cameron maintains that, “in fact, the public are being lied to.” Brazil is rapidly developing and its economy is growing very fast and they are running out of power . . . so the government tells urban Brazilians, “You’re going to get power; we’re building a dam,” and so they shrug and say “Well, that’s a good idea.” Except , the power from the dam is not going to them—the dam is 1,500 miles away—the power is going to go to aluminum smelters . Aluminum smelters are incredibly energy intensive and they make very, very few jobs per megawatt so it’s really a bum deal. Plus, the profits go offshore.2 Seductive Futures  Controversy over hydropower expansion is the norm throughout the world, not the exception. Uzbekistan is alarmed by Tajikistan ’s plan to build the highest dam in the world, which would take eighteen years to fill and leave little water for Uzbekistan’s cotton-growing region. Proposed dam projects are fueling disputes between Pakistan and India, a border already strung tight with nuclear tensions. In this region the1960 Indus Waters Treaty is in danger of collapsing as India develops new forms of hydropower that were unforeseen at the treaty’s signing. In all, internationally shared rivers flow across the borders of 145 countries (the Congo, Nile, Rhine, and Niger are each split between nine to eleven countries). Global conflict risks alone are enough to bring into question the real potential for hydropower expansion . Still, there are other concerns. For instance, the Aswan High Dam, built across the Nile, generates enough electricity to power all of Egypt, but detractors blame it for polluting irrigation networks, invasions of water hyacinth, coastal erosion, and outbreaks of schistosomiasis, a remarkably gruesome parasitic disease. Silt can...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803243361
Related ISBN
9780803237759
MARC Record
OCLC
808337203
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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