Environmental documentary educates viewers about renewable energy

The Daily News

Each American consumes nearly 20,000,000 watt-hours of power a year, and a film screened Tuesday looks to explain how that need will be met in the future. 

Students gathered in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center to watch “Switch,” a documentary about switching from foundational power sources — coal and oil that are dirty and may be running out — to new, cleaner sources such as natural gas, solar, wind and nuclear power.

Co-writer Scott Tinker said energy is more than just the raw materials used to create it. In making the switch, economics and scale are some of the hurdles, but they aren’t the biggest problem. 

“The challenge is not just to adopt alternatives,” Tinker said, “but to retain the benefits of coal and oil, without the disadvantages and at a price we can afford.”

Ball State alumnus Carl Frost, who attended the screening, said he thinks there are several people who talk about energy, but those who are interested in it really need to take the time to be informed before jumping to conclusions.

“Everyone has an opinion but they are based on buzz words,” Frost said. “I think most of the people who talk about it really don’t know enough about the science to have anything intelligent to say.”

Lee Florea, a geological science professor who hosted the screening, said while people may be interested in replacing energy with renewable resources, there are some glaring drawbacks.

Florea said the first that people often do not live near solar or wind farms, so transportation is a large hurdle.

“The biggest issue, though, is that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun goes down every night,” he said.

Junior chemistry major Taylor Dore said he has seen wind turbines in Indiana, and believes even if they cannot completely solve the problem, they are a good idea.

“I cannot think of one good reason why they aren’t everywhere,” Dore said.

“Switch” pushes the point that wind and solar power cannot completely replace oil and coal. Therefore, alternative sources must be used, such as nuclear power and natural gas, each of which have inherent drawbacks.

One method receiving scrutiny is hydraulic fracturing or fracking — the process of cracking rocks open with water and chemicals to release natural gas. Fracking has often been believed to contaminate ground water, a problem Florea said most people don’t fully understand. 

Florea said people believe fracking is a modern process, but it has been around for almost 100 years and is responsible for most groundwater pollution problems. 

When companies try to extract fuel, they often break open historic wells that had been previously mined and were not capped properly, which can lead to contamination.

“Switch” also focuses on nuclear power as a viable, clean alternative for continual power generation and points to France as the model, a country that is close to producing all of its power through nuclear energy. 

According to the film, French company AREVA has found a way to recycle nearly 98 percent of nuclear waste, which solves one of the largest problems associated with nuclear power — irradiated waste. 

Frost said while there needs to be work in the field of energy consumption and cleaner emissions, it is just something he, or most people, can’t spend much time caring about.

“I care about energy, sure, everyone should,” Frost said. “But it is like No. 490 on my list. I am more worried about getting my kids to school and making sure they aren’t being bullied before I have time to think about energy, which is how a lot of people are.” 


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