April 7, 2014

New Hampshire’s Renewable Energy Future

The state is at a crossroads when it comes to how we power our businesses and heat our homes.

As we have related in previous articles, New Hampshire businesses and institutions are at a disadvantage compared to those in neighboring states when it comes to energy.

Our location is a challenge because we are far away from traditional energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas. At the same time, the state has been slow to implement energy policies promoting renewable solutions.

Fortunately, the outlook isn’t bleak. New Hampshire has many potential advantages, particularly when it comes to the promise of renewable energy.

In the short term — say over the next 15 to 20 years — we will continue to rely on fossil fuels to meet our power and thermal needs. There are obvious disadvantages presented by traditional fuel sources, but in the coming years, New Hampshire will rely increasingly on natural gas as a bridge fuel.

Shale gas sources in New York and Pennsylvania promise to provide an abundance of natural gas for the foreseeable future. Natural gas, of course, is far from the perfect fuel, however it is much cleaner-burning than oil and coal, and since the U.S. isn’t likely to suffer shortages in the foreseeable future, it is a good short-term solution.

The biggest barrier to fully enjoying the benefits of natural gas is New Hampshire’s lack of infrastructure. We don’t have sufficient pipelines to provide as much gas as businesses and institutions need, particularly during cold winter months when rising heating needs lead to spikes in usage and prices.

That’s why we need sufficient infrastructure to carry the natural gas required to operate our businesses and institutions and heat and power New Hampshire’s homes. Such infrastructure also will keep energy prices relatively stable.

A comprehensive program to develop energy infrastructure would take years to complete. That’s why the versatility of natural gas is so attractive. “Portable pipelines” in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) provide access to gas now.

These forms of natural gas can be transported in tankers or trailers and can be excellent solutions for companies that don’t have direct access to utility lines, or those that are located too far from a natural gas distribution system.

A renewable future

Advances in renewable energy technologies are among the most exciting developments of recent years, and they are already making sustainable energy a reality. Unfortunately, the state still doesn’t have a comprehensive renewable energy policy, and that’s delaying our transition to greener energy sources.

The good news is that the governor and Legislature seem committed to developing a policy that will foster the development of sustainable energy.

This leads to the question, what renewable sources will be most important to New Hampshire in the future?

The two renewable sources that most people think about are wind and solar.

If you do any traveling throughout the state, there’s a good chance that you’ve already seen “wind farms” comprised of multiple turbines. Wind power can be a very attractive power source because the technology is good, and getting better all the time. Turbines can also be placed on abandoned or underutilized land, such as landfills, thus reclaiming land for a more useful purpose.

Solar is also growing more popular as an energy source. Advances in solar technology are leading to photovoltaic cells that are smaller and more efficient than ever before. And the technology seems to be improving every day, to the point where solar will likely be part of each of our lives, in some fashion, before too long.

Another exciting power source that many people don’t really know about is waste-to-energy technology, through which solid waste and sewage is turned to energy. Solid waste programs use landfill gas technologies to collect the gas that’s produced as garbage decomposes and then delivers that gas to a station where it is burned to produce heat or power. The University of New Hampshire is a recognized leader in this area, through its Ecoline cogeneration plant.

Sewage, on the other hand, can be used to produce power with anaerobic digesters. These digesters collect the gases that are produced by the natural enzymes that break down the organic material in sludge and sewage. Those gases are then collected and burned to produce electricity and heat. A number of cities throughout the region rely on anaerobic digesters in a combined heat and power system to supplement their primary power sources.

These are only a few of the renewable energy sources that New Hampshire businesses and utilities will rely on in the future. Technologies are always changing, and new ideas are always being introduced. Chances are, in 50 years we’ll be deriving energy from sources we can’t even imagine today.

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