The American professor Jeremy Rifkin sees only one solution for alternative energy: every house or building has to become its own power plant. This goes a lot further than our contemporary energy-saving new building developments. Simply provide every building with equipment to generate wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
Yes, this can already be done in existing homes. There is a gel that gives windows a higher insulation rating. There is a kind of paint coating that absorbs solar energy. There is a wind turbine made up of nanotubes; they call it Nano-vent skin in Mexico. This “skin” is fixed to the façade of the house, and turns your home into a wind turbine (this skin can also be applied to the walls of subway tunnels. The wind energy created by passing trains is converted into usable energy). Our own Delft University of Technology has developed a solar foil – the successor of the expensive solar panels – that needs only 35 m2 to provide a home with enough energy for an entire year. And it only requires a €3,000 investment.
Municipalities have to write off their land investments anyway. And, here in Europe, we have ample land. An abundance. The occupants pay only for their house, and on top of that for all these energetic solutions out of their own pocket. However, individual citizens no longer have to pay for the land. The land belongs to the community, and we are the community. The price advantage for the land compensates for the additional costs to become an individual energy plant, and this is how, on balance, we can build our houses a lot cheaper. In this way, we can directly save the building and construction industry – and save energy. And seeing that we excel in writing up rules, our civil servants can probably come up with some nice regulations to prevent misuse. Not a bad idea, don’t you think?
Any overproduction of that self-generated energy can be stored as hydrogen, and can be transported to our power companies. They can redistribute all this energy, perhaps to the rest of Europe. If we are short of power, we will obviously get our transported energy back first, and free of charge, from our power companies. Rifkin envisions the distribution of all this energy via an Intergrid, a transport network for hydrogen, comparable to the Internet for the distribution of data. Critics object to such a form of hydrogen distribution, because it will not be simple. Come on! When we supplied every house with gas and electricity in the previous centuries, the circumstances were much worse, and we were successful then, too.
If we do not necessarily have to be self-supporting, then there are always projects like Desertec. In this plan, solar energy is generated in the Sahara desert, and will be subsequently transported to the rest of the world. Greenpeace is evidently on board with this plan: “Concentrated Solar Power plants are the next big thing in renewable energy,” said Sven Teske, Renewable Energy Director from Greenpeace International. “After the wind industry took off in the mid 1990s and the solar photovoltaic technology started its boom about five years ago, CSP is now the third multi-billion dollar industry for clean power generation.”
The expectations for biomass, in the shape of genetically modified algae, are high. It will take decades before nuclear fusion will be feasible. It is not about making choices. We have to employ every option to put a stop to the depletion of our fossil fuels. And, in view of the rise of the growing demand for energy by nations like China and India, we will have to develop at a fast rate.