Most Gettysburg College students do not know where their energy is produced or what source of fuel is used for its production. When senior Naz Gooya was asked where her energy comes from she responded: “Is it from a room? Like the generators? Is it here or far off?” (2019). Similarly, senior Catharina Arranz responded that the energy came from the Central Energy Plant but that was the extent of her knowledge.
The energy used to power Gettysburg College’s campus comes from the PGN grid which feeds most of Pennsylvania. Our power is specifically distributed by Met-Ed, and we buy our power from an electrical energy company called Constellation. All of our power is produced by fossil fuels, primarily natural gas.
But how exactly does energy get from the power plant to our dorms and classrooms? The key is turbine. Dr. Bret Crawford, a physics professor at Gettysburg, explained that, “coal, plant, nuclear, or even hydropower, you’re spinning a turbine—either water pressure or steam pressure” (2019). In the audio clip below Crawford explains the intricate journey of energy from plant to switch.
Energy can be produced in many different ways including the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and oil, hydropower, solar, wind, and nuclear. In the recent past, coal has fallen out of favor as a means to produce energy in the area. “60% of the energy you’re producing from burning the coal is just heat going up the heat stack,” said Crawford (2019).
The burning of fossil fuels has proven to be much more efficient in terms heat loss and substantially cheaper than other fossil fuels as reserves remain high. The future of coal plants, fortunately, seems bleak according to Dr. Crawford: “Coal plants have been and will continue to be retired as natural gas is part of where the growth is” (2019).
When relating the production of energy to its inevitable consumption, Crawford described a hidden cost of energy. “I think a lot of it [energy infrastructure] is just hidden. Natural gas, nuclear, coal—it’s just sort of unclear to people… you know it’s just a factory somewhere” (Crawford 2019). The hidden infrastructure of energy production allows for a less-conscious energy consuming public. If you can not see it, you are most likely not actively thinking about it.
Crawford hopes that in the future of energy with the increase in investment in renewable energy, people will see where their energy comes from. “That’s the one thing I like about renewables—you’re going to see it. It’s not going to be so much of a mystery as to where it comes from” (Crawford 2019).
Hopefully in the future of energy production for Gettysburg College, this switch to renewables in the general energy sector will increase students’ awareness as to where their energy comes from.