Prof. Frank DiSalvo, chemistry, is the director of the multidisciplinary Cornell Center for Sustainabile Future. On Sept. 13, he spoke about new energy opportunities and challenges as part of the Sustainable Earth, Energy, and Environmental Systems lecture series.
The U.S.’s greatest challenge is, not surprisingly, a dependency on an expensive ($325 billion dollars a year) and unreliable source of energy: oil. The Middle East currently produces oil for $1 a barrel and sells it for $75 a barrel, but as supplies of “easy oil” – according to DiSalvo, oil that is obtained by conventional drilling – dwindles, the price will certainly rise.
When the world’s energy needs can no longer be met by fossil fuels, a seeming plethora of renewable energy sources will set in. Yet, it is only solar that humans can “depend on for the foreseeable millennium,” DiSalvo said. Every hour, the sunlight beaming down on the Earth holds enough energy to power the globe for a year.
Although the sun’s energy potential is tremendous, effectively capturing, storing and transmitting it will be a test of technological ingenuity and political will. All sources of renewable energy are intermittent. Sunlight, for example, varies by location, season, and time of day, so in addition to improving the efficiency of solar panels, scientists and policymakers would need to work together to build the infrastructure for distributing energy nationally and globally.