Technology

Energy: The Crisis Hits Home


By June-Ho Kim The issue of energy is literally on my doorstep. Recently, energy company Valero placed one of its gas stations next door. On the way to school, I see the station's signpost with its ever-fluctuating gas prices. Only a few weeks ago, gasoline prices started at $1.98 per gallon. By the next week, the price was $2.05. The next morning, it was $2.08, and $2.12 the next.

Will it ever stop? Maybe not. Prices may bounce around a little, but the trend line seems to be heading inevitably up. The Energy Dept. is predicting record average prices of $2.18 per gallon in the second quarter of 2005. By around 2030, no doubt this problem will have amplified itself exponentially. Gasoline might be $21.80 a gallon then -- or perhaps $218.

Not much can be done to prevent constant price increases. Demand for oil is unrelenting and increasing as China and India modernize. Eventually, demand will surpass supply -- probably sooner than we would like. That will affect not only how much money flows from our wallets to energy companies, which already are posting record profits, but also our mindsets on conservation and energy alternatives. To avert the economic implosion that otherwise will surely happen, we need a resolute commitment by government and industry to pursue potential solutions.

LIMITLESS POTENTIAL. A recent issue of Scientific American detailed the technology of fuel-cell cars, vehicles that run on hydrogen power rather than petrochemical fuels. Now in their prototype stages, fuel-cell cars provide hope for the oil plight as well as the world's pollution and environmental problems. But not yet.

Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on developing this technology, including prototypes such as Honda's FCX and Ford's Focus FCV. However, these cars still lack an adequate hydrogen storage capacity to match the driving range of today's cars. Furthermore, a chain of hydrogen gas stations would have to be constructed around America.

In the end, aggressive research must find alternative energy sources for transportation. The oil supply is limited, but energy alternatives -- solar, wind, tidal, nuclear, and others -- are limitless. Currently, our methods of harnessing the natural energy around us are not very efficient, so there is much room for improvement. In the midst of globalization and international competition, the U.S. cannot afford to take a back seat in alternative energy. We must enlist the best of the best minds and vigorously pursue new energy initiatives.

Only then can we alleviate the problem knocking on my doorstep -- and yours. Kim was a finalist in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search


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