Global warming, fuel shortages, pollution, problems with nuclear power, and the deregulation of electric power may dramatically change energy using technologies in North America as well as other parts of the world. Looming on the horizon for stationary power is the dream of hot and perhaps even cold fusion powerplants.

    Our modern world consumes vast amounts of energy. Electricity is the favored form of energy because it can be used in so many different ways. One of the main reasons why electricity is so valuable is that it is a form of external energy. This means that it can theoretically be converted into any other form of energy and can be done so at a high efficiency. It is a very clean power and can be easily controlled. Industrialized countries rely on their electric grid in which most of the country is interconnected to different power generating facilities. Common methods of generating the electricity are by using hydro dams, steam power plants burning coal, gas turbines burning natural gas, and nuclear fission power plants. Presently these generating facilities are generally very large. There is however a big shift away from centralized powerplants to smaller distributed powerplants.

    It is not likely that we will have a hydrogen supply system any time soon. Hydrogen is too hard to store and transport. Liquid fuel is more convenient for mobile applications and so alcohol will be popular. Direct alcohol fuel cells may be widely used for powering portable equipment such as power tools, laptop computers, portable phones, and emergency generators, but may also be used for automobiles.

    It is likely that natural gas will continue to be popular for stationary applications as it will be made synthetically in the future from biomass, coal, and solar energy.

    The most common method for producing mechanical power for transportation applications presently is with internal combustion engines that burn fossil fuels. While renewable sources of energy such as wind power can be easily converted to electricity and connected to the electric grid, developing new ways of powering transportation devices will prove to be difficult in the future.

    Much of the energy we use in society is for heating buildings and for industrial processes. Because much of this thermal energy is only required at low temperatures, burning fuels represents a waste of high grade energy. Theoretically much of this thermal energy could come from solar energy but this is considered too intermittent a source. Waste thermal energy from distributed fuel cells would be a more ideal source of this heat.

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