Issues and answers: Alternative energy

Issues and answers: part 6

Written by: Lee Sonogan


Alternative energy is energy fuelled in ways that do not use up the earth’s natural resources or otherwise harm the environment, especially by avoiding the use of fossil fuels or nuclear power. There are so many different forms out there and cost money to have. With little research you can find a lot of alternatives that are being neglected or underfunded. They are widely available and environment friendly. They cause little or almost no pollution. There have been several alternative energy projects running in various countries to reduce our dependence on traditional fossil fuels. There are many impressive options that you can take into consideration.

Power generation through alternative sources of energy is clean and ‘green’. If we shift to use power generated from these sources, then carbon dioxide emission from the conventional energy sources will be greatly reduced, and the problem of global warming will be solved in a few years. Solar is the first energy source in the world. It was in use much earlier before humans even learn how to light a fire. Many living things are dependent on solar energy from plants, aquatic life and the animals. The solar is mostly used in generating light and heat. The solar energy coming down to the planet is affected by the orbital path of the sun and its variations within the galaxy. In addition, it is affected by activity taking place in space and on the sun. It was this energy that is believed to have been responsible for the breaking of ice during the ice age, which creates the separation of lands and sea.

Solar energy is one the alternative energy source that is used most widely across the globe. About 70% of the sunlight gets reflected back into the space and we have only 30% of sunlight to meet up our energy demands. While solar energy is used for producing solar energy, it is also used for drying clothes, used by plants during the process of photosynthesis and also used by human beings during winter seasons to make their body temperature warm. Solar energy can be extracted either by Solar Thermal or using Photovoltaic cells. There are two kinds of solar energy the active solar energy and the passive solar energy. Passive solar energy basically uses duration, position and sun’s rays intensity to its advantage in heating a particular area. Active solar energy uses electrical technology and mechanical technology like collection panels in capturing, converting and storing of energy for future use.

Solar energy does not create any pollution and is widely used by many countries. It is renewable source of power since sun will continue to produce sunlight all the years. Solar panels, which are required to harness this energy can be used for long time and require little or no maintenance. Solar energy proves to be ineffective in colder regions which don’t receive good sunlight. It cannot be used during night and not all the light from sun can be trapped by solar panels. Solar energy advantages make it as a viable source of producing alternative energy.

Wind energy is one of the energy sources that have been in use for a very long time.  It was used in powering sailing ships, which made it possible for explorers to sail around their trade routes in distant lands. A single windmill can power the crop irrigation, and the family energy needs, water pumping and electric lights. However, in the present time there are several windmills that are used to generate required energy mostly for industrial uses. Many of the wind turbines can capture much power all at once before feeding it to the power grid. This is commonly known as wind farms and has been in use for many years all round the world.

Wind power is renewable source of energy and reduces our alliance on foreign countries for supply of oil and gas. It does not cause any air pollution and have created several jobs in last few decades. Advancement in technologies has brought down the cost of setting up wind power plant. Wind energy can only be used in areas which experience high winds which mean that it cannot be used as a source to extract energy anywhere on earth. They sometimes create noise disturbances and cannot be used near residential areas.

Geothermal energy means energy drawn or harnessed from beneath the earth. It is completely clean and renewable. Geothermal energy has been in used since last several years. The earth contains a molten rock called magma. Heat is continuously produced from there. The temperature increases about 3 degrees Celsius, for every 100 meters you go below ground. Below, 10,000 meters the temperature is so high, that it can be used to boil water. Water makes its way deep inside the earth and hot rock boils that water. The boiling water then produces steam which is captured by geothermal heat pumps. The steam turns the turbines which in turn activates generators.

Geothermal energy can be found anywhere on the earth. Most countries tap this energy to generate electricity, using thermal mass extraction methods, and power millions of homes. The areas which have high underground temperatures are the ones which are the ones which are prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. The United States produces more Geothermal electricity than any other country in the world. Most hot water geothermal reservoirs are located in the western states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Geothermal energy is totally renewable as earth will continue to produce heat as long as we are all are here.

Geothermal energy produces no pollution, reduces our alliance on fossil fuels. It also results in significant cost savings as no fuel is required to harness energy from beneath the earth. These advantages make geothermal energy as one the best alternative energy source. But, geothermal has its downsides too. It is suitable to particular region and cannot be harnessed everywhere. Also, the areas where this energy is harnessed are prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. Apart from that, setting up of geothermal power stations requires huge installation cost.

There are different types of hydropower plants. The selection of hydropower plant depends on many volume and flow of water. Hydropower is renewable, constant, predictable and controllable source of energy. They emit no greenhouse gases and are environment friendly. On the negative side, they may cause adverse effect on aquatic life, reduce flow of water which may affect agriculture, require huge costs to build and may cause havoc if they get breakdown.

Biomass energy is the process by which an alternative energy is generated through conversion of biological materials and wastes into forms that can be used as energy sources for heating, power generation and transportation. Those carbon based substances or materials converted over a long period of time to fossil fuels are not regarded as biomass. However, in their original state they are regarded as biomass. This is because of the separation of the carbon they previously contained from the carbon cycle. This makes them figure differently affecting carbon dioxide levels in air.

Biomass energy has been around since ancient times when people use to burn wood or coal to heat their homes or prepare food. Wood still remains the most common source to produce biomass energy. Apart from wood, the other products that are used to create biomass energy include crops, plants, landfills, municipal and industrial waste, trees and agricultural waste. Biomass is renewable source of energy as we would be able to produce it as long as crops, plants and waste exist. It does not create any greenhouse gases and is can be easily extracted through the process of combustion. Another advantage of biomass is that it helps to reduce landfills. Biomass is comparatively ineffective as compared to fossil fuels. They release methane gases which can be harmful to the environment.

Next is ocean energy. Due to massive size of oceans, this energy can be used on much wider scale than other alternative sources of energy. The waves produced by the ocean and tides that hit the sea-shore has enormous potential in them. If they are harnessed with full capacity they can go a long way in reducing world’s energy problems. There are 3 ways Tidal energy, Wave energy and Ocean thermal energy conversion via which ocean energy can be harnessed. Tidal power basically involves using kinetic energy from the incoming and outgoing tides. The difference in high tides and low tides are also important in this respect.

The surface of earth is 71.11% covered by water bodies especially oceans. The tides in water rise and fall due to the gravity of sun and moon. Since we know about how the position of moon changes we can predict the rise and fall of tides. This rise and fall of tides can be utilized by setting up small dams and passing water through the turbines to generate power. The source of power generation is free and renewable. Plus the power generated is clean and does not cause any pollution.

 There is a lot of energy that can be harnessed from waves for use. It is another form of hydropower. The rise and fall of ocean tides are captured by tidal energy generators which turn turbines. The movement of turbines is responsible for producing electricity. In short, tidal energy generator captures the kinetic motion of the tides and converts them into electrical energy. The main advantage of tidal energy is that it is completely renewable and are much more predictable than wave energy.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element available on earth but it is rarely alone. Even water contains two third of hydrogen. It is usually available with other elements and have to separated before we can make use of it. Hydrogen has tremendous potential and can be used to power up homes, vehicles and even space rockets. It takes a lot of energy to separate hydrogen from other elements and therefore it proves to quite expensive to extract it. The main benefit of hydrogen energy is that it is clean source of fuel and does not leave any waste elements behind except water. There are no harmful emissions and is environment friendly. It is completely renewable and can be produced over and over again on demand. Hydrogen can also be used to make bombs like the ones used by America on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which makes it highly inflammable.

Alternative energy sources can be implemented for houses, for cars, factories and any other facility you can imagine. Scientists around the world are researching on developing and discovering new Alternative Energy Sources so that the growing energy needs of human population can be met more easily, safely and efficiently. Everyday, the world produces carbon dioxide that is released to the earth’s atmosphere and which will still be there in one hundred years time. This increased content of Carbon Dioxide increases the warmth of our planet and is the main cause of the so-called “Global Warming Effect”. One answer to global warming is to replace and retrofit current technologies with alternatives that have comparable or better performance, but do not emit carbon dioxide.

“Coal, oil and gas are called fossil fuels, because they are mostly made of the fossil remains of beings from long ago. The chemical energy within them is a kind of stored sunlight originally accumulated by ancient plants. Our civilization runs by burning the remains of humble creatures who inhabited the Earth hundreds of millions of years before the first humans came on the scene. Like some ghastly cannibal cult, we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives.”
― Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

Fossil fuels are remains of dead plants and animals buried deep under the earth’s crust. Fossil fuels power our life, and have for over a century. They are non-renewable sources of energy that take millions of years to develop and provide us with power to light and heat our homes, drive our vehicles and develop our modern lifestyles. Fossil fuels come in the form of coal, oil or natural gas. They are the cheapest and easiest of all fuels to acquire and use. There is a lot of debate about the continued exploration and mining rates for. Considering that almost all of our systems of power are designed to work with them,  changing to another energy source is expensive and complicated.

Natural gas is a form of methane. It gets trapped in pockets where plant decomposition has occurred. It can be underground, but it can also be above ground if the organic compounds in the water source of are the right type. New experiments are working to discover how to harvest methane from the waste products of animals such as cows. Natural gas is transported to houses using underground pipelines that connect directly to natural gas source. Natural gas is tasteless and cannot be detected. Therefore, a chemical called mercaptan is added so that leaks are easily detected.

Overall, by 2050, one-third of the world’s energy will need to come from solar, wind, and other renewable resources. Climate change, population growth, and fossil fuel depletion mean that renewables will need to play a bigger role in the future than they do today. Human civilization has started realizing how much harm they have already caused to the environment; and when it comes to take a stand against these environmental problems, the focus shifts to the use of alternative energy sources. And eliminate extracting all the harmful natural resources. In the next part I will talk out the environment and how we to sustain it for our collective survival.