Bringing Power to the People

Suppose you had your own personal power source that could generate all the electricity you need for your home or office, plus this power would be price-competitive, and instead of toxic pollutants, the only emissions put out by your power source would be water and heat-both of which you could use by circulating them through your building.

This is not some hallucinogenic dream of an ex-hippie, but the here-and-now reality of a technology called fuel cells. These devices mix hydrogen with oxygen, causing a chemical reaction that generates electrical power. Fuel cells already are powering everything from NASA's space shuttle to the mainframe computer at the First National Bank in Omaha. The bank needed a power source that didn't cause the electrical spikes and dips that were causing multimillion-dollar shutdowns of its credit card and check cashing business. Fuel cells were the answer, not only providing a reliable flow of electricity, but also saving the bank $200,000 a year in heating costs by pumping heat from the cells through the building in the winter months.

A home-size fuel cell will provide full power for a 2,500-square-foot house. Fueled by natural gas or propane, it's just a bit bigger than a washing machine, is quiet, has few moving parts to break down, doesn't generate toxic emissions, and costs about $6,000. Smaller versions are being developed by General Motors, Ford and other auto companies to fit into a car. The Chicago Tribune reports that, within the next decade, GM plans to sell a million fuel-cell cars. Combined, they would generate more electrical power than all of California's utility companies.

Also, miniature fuel-cell cartridges soon will be available to replace batteries for cell phones, power tools, etc., lasting 20 times longer than batteries. One pioneer terms the fuel cells "revolutionary," telling the Tribune: "They're going to change the way we power everything."

This is Jim Hightower saying ... This decentralized approach to energy literally could bring power back to the people.


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