Los Angeles generates 44% of its electricity from coal, 26% from natural gas, 14% from renewables including biomass, small hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal, 9% from nuclear and 7% from large hydroelectric (LADWP). Los Angeles uses about 5,895 megawatts of energy and it generates 7,226 megawatts (LADWP). These statistics show that the Los Angeles gets about 79% of its energy from nonrenewable sources. Coal is the biggest source of energy production and is destructive to our earth. The combustion of fossil fuels produces many air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, etc. It also pollutes our water with metals or when particulates in the air are converted to acids which can lead to acid precipitation. This can also pollute the land itself. Another problem with fossil fuels is that they are limited. It takes so long for them to be formed that we will run out before there has been time to create any more. What will we do when we run out of fossil fuels? Renewable sources of energy will be our answer. Examples of renewable energy resources are solar, wind, waves, tides, etc. Los Angeles, specifically, is an urban city. Because of this, there is not a lot of space to build huge things like wind farms. Plus, there is the NIMBY thought. People do not want to have to live next to these huge farms. So, where do we turn?
Because it is highly unlikely that we can immediately turn to renewable resources for energy, it would be wise to switch the majority of our energy now produced from coal to natural gas, which is “the cleanest burning (generates less pollution) of the fossil fuels” (Hill 2010). One major problem in Los Angeles is the number of automobiles. This is what causes the smog that hangs over Los Angeles and contributes to the increasing amount of carbon dioxide. One thing we could do about this is to convert our cars to be able to use natural gas. It would cost about $3,000 to $10,000 to retrofit your car and even less when the retrofits are mass produced (Hefner 2009). By switching to natural gas, there would be a great reduction in foreign oil imports. If drivers would have switched to natural gas, they “would have collectively saved the country about $13 billion in foreign oil imports” (Hefner 2009). Switching to natural gas would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from each vehicle converted. This also would help to reduce the amount of smog in Los Angeles. Another good thing about using natural gas instead of oil is that natural gas spills have a far smaller impact on the environment than do oil spills. Where “oil spills soak into the ground or beaches, are absorbed into the ecosystem, and create pollution that lasts for a generation or more,” natural gas “may cause explosions and fires, but being lighter than air, natural gas is disbursed into the atmosphere and does not soil the Earth’s land and beaches and seas for generations to come” (Hefner 2009). Natural gas can also be used to produce energy. The main problem with natural gas is that it is not a renewable resource. In time, just like all of our other fossil fuels, it will run out. We cannot live off of it indefinitely. Therefore, natural gas would be a great way to transition from coal and oil to a more renewable source of energy, but it wouldn’t be so great as a long term solution to our energy problems.
Large-scale wind turbines could be built in urban areas like Los Angeles. Some advantages of this are that “transmission losses are minimized; transmission tower costs are removed and cabling costs are reduced; access road costs are also reduced or eliminated; income is improved as electricity can be sold directly to the end users; green/wildlife areas can remain ‘unspoiled’; there can be a lower impact on biodiversity” (Stankovic 2009). Also, after the production and installation of the turbines, they produce no pollution. An example of a large-scale wind turbine in an urban environment is in Northern Ireland where a turbine was installed at the Antrim Area Hospital. This turbine has “the potential to provide enough electricity for the hospital during the night, and two-thirds of the power needed during the day, which would otherwise cost 90,000 euros per year. the turbine project cost 497,000 euros. Conception to installation took three years… with only three days to install the turbine” (Stankovic 2009). These large-scale wind turbines can be erected in business districts with little residential areas. It could provide energy for the buildings around it or the energy could be sold back to the local energy supplier.
A problem with erecting a large-scale wind turbines is that one must have wind in order for the turbine to be valuable in any sense. This means that they can only be erected in certain areas where there is a lot of wind. This means that it wouldn’t be feasible for wind energy to provide the energy needed to support Los Angeles. Another problem with using wind energy is that the turbines wouldn’t be a good fit for residential areas. Issues with turbines in residential areas include public safety. The public could be at risk if there was a “major failure of turbine tower and subsequent collapse of the nacelle and blades; shedding of a blade during operation” (Stankovic 2009). Although these risks are relatively small with a well designed and maintained turbine, the perception of a risk is what creates the problem. Not only is the risk of safety a problem for homeowners, but the effect on property values is also a problem. Not only does the public safety issue cause property values to fall but there are also issues associated with things like noise and blade flicker. The noise from the turbines come from two different areas: aerodynamic and mechanical. The first is “where the noise is radiated from the blades and is mainly associated with the interaction of turbulence with the surface of the blades” (Stankovic 2009). The second is “associated with the gearbox, the generator and the control equipment” (Stankovic 2009). This can be a problem if the turbine is located in a residential area because the noise could interfere with things like sleeping and relaxing in the home. Blade flicker “is caused when the sun passes behind the spinning blades of a wind turbine” (Stankovic 2009). This could be a problem for people with epilepsy or photosensitive people. Wind energy would be a good way for parts of Los Angeles to start the path to renewable energy. However, on a large scale, wind energy would not be feasible to produce the power needed to run Los Angeles.
Another renewable source of energy that can be utilized by Los Angeles is solar power. The sun powers almost everything in our world. If we were able to harness the power of the sun, the resulting amount of energy would be enormous. One type of solar power technology is photovoltaic power, which “involves the conversion of the radiant energy from the sun into electricity by using photovoltaics (PV) or concentrating devices. When sunlight strikes the surface of the PV cell, some of the photons are absorbed and release electrons from the solar cell that are used to produce an electric current flow” (National Academies 2010). The good thing about PV cells is that they can be placed on top of roofs. This is a space that has no purpose which means that we would be integrating a useful energy source into a space that had no use before. Also, the PV cells are out of the way and out of sight, which is a good thing compared to the wind turbine, which is a huge eyesore. One study in the United States found that “22 percent of the available residential rooftop space, and about 65 percent of commercial building rooftop space, was technically suitable for PV system installation” (National Academies 2010). If all these PV cells were installed, the result would be “the production of 13 million to 17.5 million GWh/yr of electric energy, still much larger than the 4.2 million of electricity generated in the United States in 2007” (National Academies 2010). Another good thing about solar energy is that after the manufacturing, transporation and installation of the PV cells, they give off no pollution. We don’t have to worry about any kind of air or water pollution unlike the fossil fuels we currently use. Solar energy is a good investment for residents because although the initial investment may be high, once they are installed, they provide a free source of energy for however many years to come. In Los Angeles has actually already begun “providing assistance to households installing PV grids severy years ago for systems to generate 60-80% of an average home’s electricity needs” (Hill 2010). Solar energy would be a fantastic way to start using more renewable energy in Los Angeles.
One problem with solar energy is that power is only generated during the day and there is less generated on days with weak or no sunlight. This means that the solar energy must be stored if it is to be used at anytime. For this, batteries are often used. Another problem with PV cells is the cost of making them. Production of the PV cells in developed countries is not so bad, but when it is moved to undeveloped countries due to cost, it becomes a problem. One issue is that “for each ton of polysilicon (which is needed for the panels) produced, about four tons of a hazardous waste containing silicon tetrachloride is also produced” (Hill 2010). In order to keep costs down, undeveloped countries like China often dump this untreated hazardous waste. The factories themselves also release pollutants, which are known as “poison air” (Hill 2010). Another problem is that the workers in the factories are subjected to hazardous chemicals used in production. Another issue with the PV cells is what to do with them when they need to be replaced. Although there are these cons of solar energy, they are few and far between. Solar energy would be the perfect way to break the hold that fossil fuels has on Los Angeles because it can be used individually by families or businesses. If the city would give rebates or discounts on solar panels and educate it’s citizens about the pros of solar panels, it would go a long way in getting Los Angeles to make the switch to renewable energy.
If Los Angeles were to switch completely to renewable, clean sources of energy, it would make a huge impact on the rest of the world. Los Angeles is a huge city that many others take cues from. Natural gas would be a smart direction to go since our reliance on fossil fuels is so great that it would be impossible for us to switch directly to renewable sources. Natural gas gives off a lot less pollution and would go a long way in helping our environment while we make the transition to renewable resources. Wind energy could produce some of the energy in Los Angeles with stand alone large wind turbines. It could be used in business areas that get enough wind. However, in residential areas and areas with no wind, solar energy could be utilized. Solar energy is good because it can be placed on roofs which means solves the problem of finding space for it. It also produces no pollution once it is installed and provides basically free energy for years to come.
Hefner, Robert. The Grand Energy Transition: the rise of energy gases, sustainable life and growth, and the next great economic expansion. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009.
Hill, Marquita. Understanding Environmental Pollution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
National Academies. Electricity from Renewable Resources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments . Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2010.
Stankovic, Sinisa, Neil Campbell, Alan Harries. Urban Wind Energy. USA: Earthscan, 2009.