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Alt Energy Smackdown

Alt Energy Smackdown

The question we put to them was this: Wind, solar or biofuels? Which do you think will have the biggest impact first?

Like any group of people, our LinkedIn group is not without its wisecrackers. As Bob White, president and chief engineer at Embedded Power Labs, put it: "Wind and biofuels are simply different ways of harvesting solar power." While he's certainly correct, we could just end the discussion saying that all life and forms of energy on the planet wouldn't exist without the sun, so it's really all just various forms of solar power. But what fun would that be? So, on with the discussion ...

Weighing in on behalf of biofuels was Daniel Johnson-O'Mara, an instrumentation technician at the University of Iowa Power Plant. "Storage is the principle problem (when it comes to) megawatts of solar and wind," he said.

Storage issues aside, biofuels definitely had its detractors. "I usually get angry when I see someone mixing biofuel with renewable energies like wind and solar," said Emilijan Iljoski, general manager at EiP Elektronika Co. He maintains that biofuels are as polluting as oil or coal, plus the fact that setting aside crops for biofuels manufacture leads to food cost and production issues for humans worldwide.

Chris Stergiou, a mechanical and manufacturing system engineer, doesn't consider biofuel a renewable energy source and therefore gives his nod to solar. "Since it is practically unlimited, relatively low efficiencies are tolerable as long as practical amounts can be converted with minimum physical footprints," he said.

Taking a different tack on the discussion, Andrew Wright, machine design and electronics sales at Wright Track Enterprises Inc., suggests that it is not a question of which will have the most impact based on its own merits as an energy source. Instead he contends the answer will be all about which one experiences the biggest comeback (since none of them are new) once people "finally grow tired of rising fuel prices."

Based on his own experiences in building an off-the-grid home, Wright said that "while my county's building restrictions aren't prohibitive, trying to get someone to insure the home has proven a challenge." He added that in North Dakota (where he's building), the "individual and business tax incentives for adding alternative energy sources to your property were low to non-existent last time I checked."

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