Monday, December 29, 2008
The Future of Energy, Now Playing In Japan
Although the power companies may not want you to understand this, you will soon be able to go off-grid. This would mean doing without monthly bills from the electric or gas company. More importantly, it would change the entire appearance of our landscape, oceans, and atmosphere.
Currently thousands of Japanese homes obtain their electricity from fuel cells that use hydrogen. These fuel cell units are already installed right outside homes all over Japan. The excess heat from each fuel cell is used provide the home with hot water.
Panasonic, Toshiba, and Toyota are about to start mass-producing these fuel cells.
The Japanese government is even subsidizing the purchase of fuel cells, for very good reasons.
One of the concerns often expressed about the expanded use of hydrogen is the safe transportation of this highly explosive gas. Scientists and ordinary citizens were equally concerned about having large truckloads of hydrogen on their roads. The latest Japanese hydrogen-powered fuel cells eliminate this concern. They actually create the hydrogen they consume.
A unique part of the fuel cells used in some Japanese homes is called a "reformer." This device creates hydrogen from natural gas. Since gas lines are already running through most major developed cities there is no need to create additional infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel cells in the home.
Furthermore, Japanese scientists are refining the fuel cells to allow them to extract hydrogen directly from water. This even eliminates the need for natural gas lines.
This same source of hydrogen can also be used to re-fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles.
In fact the same fuel cell that powers your car could be used to power your home. While we are away at work each day, most electrical appliances do not require any more electricity than a small battery can provide, with the exception of refrigerators. More efficient refrigerators could be powered by solar panels or wind energy during that time. When we arrive home we could connect the fuel cells in our cars to our homes.
In another scenario you might even consider staying connected to the power grid, but selling any excess electricity generated by your home back to the power company.
Larger fuel cells could be combined to provide power for commercial and industrial applications.
What are some of the future benefits to a society that adopts the fuel cell model?
#1 A reduced need to build and maintain huge power-generating grids and infrastructure. These are made up of power lines, substations, power stations, fuel transport ships, trucks, trains, mines, and oil wells. Societies would no longer have to worry about major blackouts, oil spills, leaks from nuclear power stations, or the problem of where to put radioactive waste.
#2 Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Fuel cells do create some carbon dioxide. However studies in Japan are finding that widespread adoption of fuel cells will eliminate the need to build new power plants. This will result in far less air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions from those major sources.
#3 Greatly reduced amounts of wasted energy. Many of the ships, trains, or trucks now carrying loads of fuel would no longer be necessary. All the energy that escapes from electrical power lines and substations would no longer need to be generated in the first place.
#4 Reduced dependency on brutal military dictatorships supported by oil revenues.
This revolution in energy will take place faster than the leaders of most industrialized countries now realize. In the same way that cell phones are able to bring the benefits of telecommunications to poor nations, without the need to build massive infrastructure, fuel cells will soon bring electrical power to rural villages without the need to build huge power plants and giant electrical towers. Fuel cells are the way of the future, now visible live in Japan.