Energy in 2002: a year of controversy, but some amazing innovations

Incredible innovations in 2002 included inexpensive fuel cells powered by only a few drops of water, a zero energy house, and milk cooled by the sun. Meanwhile, the controversial US energy bill made its way through the country’s legislation system.

Controversy began right at the beginning of the year in the US, with the approval by the Energy Secretary of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the site of the country’s depository of all of its nuclear waste (see related story). Elsewhere, the UN Environment Programme surveyed 13 countries to identify the most suitable locations for potential investors to develop renewable energy (see related story).

In February, South Africa planned to turn Cape Town’s waste into energy (see related story), and scientists used a new magnetic fridge technology to raise efficiency (see related story). In the US the saga of the controversial energy bill began, with the Senate beginning the debate. Issues under discussion included drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and whether to assist renewables (see related story).

The US Senate continued its deliberations into March, when it first rejected proposals for increased use of renewable energy (see related story), but then agreed on a modest target requiring 10% of power to be supplied by renewables (see related story). Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was forced to hand over documents relating to the development of the energy bill (see related story), when campaign groups claimed that it had been developed with only the fossil fuel industry in mind, rather than the environment. Also in the US, Florida’s first biodiesel marina opened (see related story).

The big news in April occurred when a Houston University scientist announced that mankind could get all of its energy requirements from the moon (see related story). Twenty-five Pennsylvanian colleges announced that they would use renewable energy (see related story), and the US Senate rejected plans to drill for oil in Alaska (see related story). The world’s first fuel-cell/micro-gas-turbine combination power plant was unveiled (see related story), and it was revealed that one of the world’s most important coal mining areas, the Appalacian Basin, would last only for the decade (see related story).

In May, scientists announced that they had developed a light bulb with up to 60% efficiency, compared to the standard 5%, using a microscopic tungsten lattice that converted the majority of wasted infrared energy in to visible light (see related story).

There was good news and bad news in June, with the failure of the international conference in Bali to reach agreement on renewable energy targets (see related story). The conference was a pre-cursor to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, ten years on from the Rio Earth Summit. More optimistically, General Motors, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Kinko committed to using renewable energy (see related story).

July saw doubts as to the viability of wind power (see related story), but an executive from oil company Shell called for decarbonisation of energy (see related story).

In the blistering heat of August, it was reported that Tokyo is increasingly using roof gardens to improve the city’s climate, reducing the need for air conditioning, and absorbing the heat (see related story). Unfortunately, the Summit in Johannesburg failed again to achieve world targets for renewable energy (see related story).

The moon hit the headlines again in October, with another Houston scientist noting that solar cells could be manufactured remotely there, using lunar soil (see related story).

In November, the US Department of Energy produced the nation’s first zero energy home (see related story), which was fortunate, as research published Science claimed that there was no viable alternative to fossil fuels (see related story).

December saw the unveiling of a revolutionary energy system based on fuel cells that its developers claimed would remove energy bills for 20 years, and require only a small amount of water to run it (see related story). Many people were sceptical. Energy efficiency continued with Chinese homes showing that they were already masters of the art (see related story), and ice –cream was chilled using sound waves, whilst milk was cooled by the sun (see related story).

The final shape of the US energy bill had still not been decided on by the end of December, with the hottest topic still whether or not to drill in the Arctic. Maybe 2003 will reveal whether the Democrats will prevent the drilling, or whether the Republican Party can get its way.

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