The Age of Renewable Energy
Alternative sources of energy are everywhere. In fact, the world has an unlimited supply of alternative energy, otherwise known as renewable energy. Because of increased awareness of environmental threats brought about by fossil fuel use, there is an increase in the demand for renewable energy sources. It is believed that fossil fuels, which significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, are to blame for the phenomenon that is global warming. Some of the most known and more promising renewable energy sources are solar energy, wind energy, biofuel, hydroelectric and nuclear energy. All of these energy sources are environment-friendly and each type has a good side and a bad side.
Solar energy is the most abundant source of energy in the planet and the best part is that solar energy is virtually free. Unlike fossil fuels, supply and demand will not be an issue with solar energy since it is present in any part of the world. Once the sun’s energy is harnesses, the only expense associated with it is maintenance. Basically, there are two ways to harness solar energy. One is through photovoltaic systems and the other is through thermal solar systems. Solar energy can be used to run simple home appliances such as water heaters and gadgets such as calculators, wristwatches, mobile phone chargers, toys, etc. There are households rely mostly on solar energy for tall their electricity needs. Solar energy is a clean energy source. This means that harnessing solar energy does not produce pollution nor does not emit harmful greenhouse gases. It also eliminates the need to transport fossil fuels.
However, solar energy is not being harnessed by a good percentage of the population. High installation costs associated with solar energy use and misconceptions on its efficiency are some factors that prevent it from being adopted. Another factor that hinders the mass adoption of solar energy is the geographical location; some areas may receive less sunlight compared to other areas. Adopting solar energy as a source of electricity would help many countries meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Kyoto Protocol. Solar energy always had great potential as a source of energy but it was always put on the sidelines when fossil fuel prices decrease. It was only of late that solar energy has become widely sought as an energy source. This is largely because fossil fuel prices have soared to record-breaking levels and because the threats that fossil fuels pose to the environment have been blatantly recognized. When compared to other renewable energy sources, solar energy proves better in the aspect that it has no moving parts such as turbines that may require maintenance. It can last for 20 to 30 years with little supervision and no additional costs.
Much like solar energy, wind as a source of electricity also holds much promise. In fact, many communities already get a huge portion of the electricity they use from wind energy. The United States, Germany, Spain and Denmark and just some of the countries that rely heavily on wind energy. Navarro, Spain gets 23% of the electricity it produces from wind power. On the other hand, 8% of the electricity production of Denmark is supplied by wind power. Worldwatch Institute Online indicates that 2,100 additional megawatts of electricity were generated from wind power in 1998. Wind energy is also one of the fastest growing energy sources and a booming industry in its own with sales reaching 2 billion before the turn of the second millennium.
Wind energy has been harnessed for a long time. Never was it realized that it could compete with fossil fuels but at the rate that wind energy is progressing, it is now able to compete with fossil fuel in terms of energy prices. With currently existing technology, wind power can easily provide 20% of the energy needs of the United States. At this rate, wind turbines would cover 1% of the land area of the US. Of this area, only a measly portion will be stationed with equipment; the rest can still be used for farming and ranching. Turbines are situated very high that the land below can still be used for their main purpose. By 2010, it is also expected that around 10 million households will rely on wind power saving the planet from an annual 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Wind energy is a good energy source because it produces no greenhouse gases. However, using wind energy may be difficult primarily because setting up wind turbines may prove to be more costly than the traditional fossil fuel generator. Also, certain localities may not be apt for harnessing wind energy. Another disadvantage of wind turbines is that birds sometimes are caught in it killing them in the process. However, the number of bird deaths is small. More birds are killed by pesticides and collision with card or buildings.
Biofuel is another alternative energy source that has great potential. However, it has been under fire because it has been associated with a food crisis since corn and other grains that are used for ethanol production are being diverted from food markets to Biofuel plants. Ethanol is being mixed with gasoline to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Studies have also shown that ethanol is a clean energy source and is a reliable energy source despite claims that is has a negative net energy. One study compared several studies on ethanol efficiency and results indicated that those studies that came up with results that ethanol has a negative net energy value used obsolete data in their research. When recent ethanol refining processes were used as basis, results all turned out positive.
To solve the problem of food being diverted into fuel, cellulosic ethanol should be pursued. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from cellulose which is mostly waste material since human cannot digest cellulose. Recent breakthroughs have allowed cellulosic ethanol to be produced economically solving the void created in the food supply.
Hydroelectric energy is yet another renewable energy source. Much of the world is already dependent on hydroelectric energy. The United States and Canada is a leader in harnessing hydro energy. The US which has 2000 hydroelectric facilities is only second to Canada. When dams are not used for producing electricity, it is used for irrigation purposes. Electricity produced from dams does not come with greenhouse gases so it is also a clean energy source. Hydroelectric energy has quite a reputation as a renewable energy source. It accounts for 97% of the total electricity produced by renewable sources. On the downside, topography dictates where a dam can be built so it may not be suitable for some areas. Also, it can be a threat to the marine ecosystem; and in the extreme, it can cause accidents such as flash floods.
Nuclear energy is one of the most efficient energy sources out there. Nuclear energy is derived from a process of splitting atoms, otherwise known as fission. It has a high energy efficiency ratio and produces no greenhouse gases whatsoever. However, it does produce a different type of waste (radioactive waste) and many fear its possible catastrophic effects. Downsides of nuclear energy include uranium mining, which is the main component in fission, being costly process. Also, there is no clear safe way of handling the radioactive waste it produces. Moreover, many people fear that accidents may occur in a nuclear power plant. A nuclear power plant meltdown can be devastating, not to mention nuclear power can be used to make weapons of mass destruction giving nuclear power a negative image.
There are a lot of renewable energy sources available. Based on the location and the resources available, every community can adopt a renewable energy source. If every community would adopt a renewable energy source, there will no longer be a need for fossil fuel. These renewable energy sources produce no amount of greenhouse gases which means that it can help prevent climate change.
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