Archive for July 2nd, 2012


Searching for energy sources

My July column in Mechanical Engineering magazine.

Everyone is searching for a sustainable, renewable, and powerful energy source—including Loki and the alien race Chitauri. Loki is a supervillain in Marvel Studios’ latest hit film, The Avengers. He is sent to Earth by the leader of Chitauri to retrieve a powerful energy source of boundless potential. 

In the film, this untapped source comes in the form of a tesseract. It turns out that we have been surreptitiously cultivating this power source here on Earth, even though we don’t yet fully comprehend its value. The plot revolves around the quest to secure the Holy Grail that is energy independence and control of our own destiny. Sound familiar?

To combat the threats from the outer space rogues, a U.S. espionage agency curiously resembling the CIA activates its “Avengers Initiative” to help fight the enemy and recapture this treasured tesseract. The initiative brings together a group of superheroes who present the only chance of keeping the extraterrestrial villains from destroying the world—to say nothing of Manhattan, where the final battle is waged. But before we get to that, the Avengers—which include Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor—become divided over the approach they should take. As the superheroes argue and lose focus, the goal becomes more elusive.

The superheroes finally figure out that the prize outweighs individual agendas and they come together on a plan. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t yet seen the film. But I wish I could tell you how our own, real life, often angry, debate over energy alternatives will end.

Until we come together with our own plan, one that is comprehensive and sustainable, we remain subjugated to the whims of political and market forces rather than control our own energy future. There are too many justifiable unanswered questions and too many agendas to figure out the odds on how the energy issue will be resolved.

Some believe it will take too long for new technologies to make a dent in the energy mix. They blame technology, infrastructure, and politics. Some believe fossil fuels will continue to play a major role into the future and therefore more attention should be placed on them. Others question the long-term viability of coal, oil, and natural gas, and believe we must move aggressively into alternatives, such as nuclear, wind, solar, and other renewables. Everyone is unsure of consumer behavior, and then there is the uncertainty of current and future regulations in the U.S. and throughout the world.

In this issue we offer two points of view on the U.S. energy regulation debate, as two former ASME Federal Fellows who worked on different sides of the political arena offer their perspectives. Also this month, we present several takes on topics influencing power and energy, plus an interesting discussion on the impact of risk on public acceptance of energy solutions.

It’s no coincidence that we include these articles this month, as we salute ASME’s Nuclear Engineering Division and the Power Division for their decision to collocate ICONE and POWER 2012—two individual events coming together this month under the theme: Energy Mix for a Sustainable and Bright Future. Organizers and those attending the Anaheim event will be actively pursuing sustainable solutions to our energy needs, and even though they won’t have to contend with Loki, the task is no less challenging.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

July 2012

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