There is no silver bullet for providing a country as large and topographically diverse as the U.S. with a single source of sustainable, clean energy, but it is worth our future and checkbook to examine our potential sources of energy. It must be: available, reasonably priced and not detrimental to the ecosystems that sustain our planet.
1. Fresh water consuming power plants use water to cool the towers during energy production. Nuclear plants of this sort use eight times more water to cool than do their natural gas cousins. Nuclear plants produce fewer greenhouse emissions than coal plants, but use more fresh water. Coal plants contribute heavily to greenhouse emissions and degrade local/regional air quality. Mining coal is a dangerous job and the extraction process creates large amounts of pollution in the form of degrade water near the extraction source and lung problems for those involved in the extraction.
2. New solar power plants use up to 90 percent less water than traditional wet cooling plants. Solar plants produce no greenhouse gases. However, the cost is sometimes prohibitive and solar energy is available only when the sun is shining. Due to availability of sunlight, some regions of the U.S. will inevitably be able to capture more solar energy per day and on a yearly basis than other states.
3. Petroleum and coal produce the largest amounts of greenhouse gases in the U.S. Shipping costs and emissions during shipping the petroleum must also be taken into account. These sources have limited supply and obtaining petroleum supplies has serious political and economic consequences attached to it. In turn, these fossil fuels are current readily available, but will predictably decrease as we reach or near peak supplies.
4. Wind turbines are a relatively green source of energy. They do not produce greenhouse gases and require no water for cooling. Wind turbines leave a small physical footprint on the earth compared to sources based on fossil fuels. Wind power has its greatest potential on states on the west coast along with mid western states.
One of the greatest challenges for a greener energy future is shifting supply and public/corporate awareness towards more sustainable and green sources of energy and away from older, more polluting sources. Doing so often require temporary fixes such as upgrading old equipment on plants that use fossil fuels so as to not create any unnecessary environmental or economic damage. Yet this is by no means a permanent or even midterm solution. More information on energy sources and their effects on out planet is available at: http://www.eia.gov/