Our world runs on coal, gas, wood and fossil fuel. Although an easy and dependable source of power, fossil fuels and their by-products are the major contributors to the environmental deterioration of the planet. Growing population and rapid industrialization have put a strain on our world and its finite supply of natural resources. Yet it’s only a matter of time before the supply of fossil fuel runs out.
The good news is, we have come up with promising alternative sources of energy. By harnessing the infinite resources of the sun, the wind, water and the tides, we have come up with non-perishable and non-polluting substitutes for fossil fuel. Furthermore, the same chemical reaction that produces the sun’s massive energy, nuclear fusion has become a real, viable and very powerful alternative. Although all of these measures are not entirely devoid of negative consequences, they are considered to be far less damaging than those sustained by fossil fuels.
In sunny Florida and sun-drenched California, houses gleam with big shiny panels on the roofs. These homes are part of the growing number of American families whose energy needs are being met by solar power.
Harnessing the sun’s energy is relatively simple technology. Solar cells, typically referred to as “photovoltaic” cells, transform sunlight directly into electricity. The electricity generated from solar cells can be used to power practically all gadgets – from simple calculators and wristwatches to central heating systems and swimming pools.
Why switch to solar? First of all, the sun’s energy supply is unlimited. In fact, the sun provides us with enough solar energy in a day to meet our worldwide consumption needs for a year. To join this silent revolution you will need the latest solar panels. Although solar panels can be quite an expensive investment, the reduction of your household’s energy requirements translates into hefty savings in the long run. And if that’s not enough, there’s also the fact that you have done your bit for our planet’s growing environmental problem.
Stars are products of a nuclear reaction, the process wherein two nuclei collide. This causes a release of immense energy, enabling these balls of fire to shine for billions of years. And the good news is, there is a way to use this massively powerful chemical reaction in our very own planet.
This highly controversial technology also shows the most potential. Immense energy is produced through nuclear reaction and if harnessed safely and effectively, nuclear energy could solve most of the world’s fossil fuel shortage. Currently, nuclear energy is produced using the nuclear fission theory, where the nuclei of atoms are split to release energy. However, this technology, as unfortunately demonstrated by the Chernobyl explosion, has proven to be very dangerous and prone to leaks and emission of toxic waste.
A much safer option lies with fusion power. In nuclear fusion, two atomic nuclei are joined together to form a heavier nucleus, thus releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. Though still in its early stages of development, nuclear fusion might just be the answer to our enormous demand for alternative energy.
The mighty Romans were one of the first people to harness and enjoy the beauty of geothermal energy. Men have used hot springs for bathing, cooking food and removing feathers and skin from game. Fast forward several thousand years and the ancient hot springs are now today’s urbane health spas and heated swimming pools. Still, hot water and steam are used for far more than rest and relaxation. In fact, they can be channeled to generate electricity.
Geothermal energy is heat derived from the earth’s core. Wide-scale use of geothermal energy is obtained by drilling wells into reservoirs to enable hot water from the earth’s core to be processed and converted into usable electricity. Since it doesn’t entail denudation of forests and damming of rivers, geothermal energy is an affordable and sustainable answer to our acute dependence on fossil fuels.
Experts predict that fuel cell technology will become one of the world’s most widely used alternative sources of environmental-friendly energy. This technology has shown such potential that governments in various countries have shown their support for research and development of fuel cells.
Basically, a fuel cell is similar to a battery in the sense that it converts chemicals to energy through a device. Powered by hydrogen and oxygen, a fuel cell produces heat and electricity infinitely as it does not require recharging. Since fuel cells rely on chemistry and not combustion, there is no polluting emissions or toxic wastes. Moreover, since hydrogen is a renewable resource, fuel cells are a cleaner and more efficient alternative to fossil fuels.
With global warming becoming increasingly hard to ignore, the challenge is to seek out better alternatives to fossil fuel. With oil prices rising and the supply of wood and coal dwindling, now is definitely the time to make the switch.
We might not notice it right away but the world is fast becoming a gargantuan trash bin. Just last year, the global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide rose to 19 billion tons. In addition, methane levels reached 27 million tons after almost a decade. Useful or not, fossil fuels have done a good job damaging the environment.
As we all know, fossil fuels have become some of the major culprits of the earth’s wear and tear. The burning of coal, oil and natural gas contribute largely to carbon dioxide emissions.
Half of these emissions are absorbed by the planet’s vegetation, soil and oceans. The leftovers remain in the atmosphere for centuries or even longer.
With all the disadvantages that fossil fuels pose on humans and the environment, the call for alternative sources is set to become louder.
Some of the alternative energy sources that are perceived to help restore the environment (or at least not be as damaging) include tidal energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy and biofuels.
Tidal energy refers to the rising and falling of sea levels that can be used to generate electricity. Typically, tidal power can be obtained by building a dam across the opening to a tidal basin. The dam is built with a sluice that is opened to let the tide flow into the basin. When the sluice is closed and the sea level falls, conventional hydropower technologies can be utilized to produce electricity from the elevated water in the tidal basin.
With tidal energy, there is no traditional burning of fuel involved. As a result, it produces no greenhouse gases or other wastes. One disadvantage of tidal energy is that it can only be harnessed in areas with significant water level changes.
Also, tidal energy systems can pose environmental effects on tidal basins as they lessen tidal flow and cause silt buildup.
Hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable power in the world and provides one-fifth of the world’s electricity.
It is a renewable energy source that depends on the hydrologic cycle of water, which involves evaporation, precipitation and the flow of water as a result of gravity.
Technically, converting water into electricity involves the use of a device called a hydraulic turbine that turns flowing water into mechanical energy, which is then converted to electricity with the use of a hydroelectric generator.
Hydroelectric energy doesn’t cause pollution since producing it doesn’t create heat or toxic gases. It also doesn’t involve the use of fuel and requires low operating and maintenance costs.
While it does not cause pollution, it has certain impacts on the environment such as loss of wildlife habitat and destruction of ecosystems.
Since ancient times, people have relied on the wind’s energy. More than 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used the wind to sail ships. Others built windmills to grind wheat and other grains. Today, the wind is used to generate electricity.
Wind energy is non-polluting, sustainable and available in infinite quantities. Best of all, nature’s gift is ours for free. For these reasons, great gusts of wind are harnessed into the more usable mechanical energy and electricity. Though wind is still not a primary source of energy, it has served almost two million households in the United States in the past few years.
Wind energy is a clean fuel, resulting in zero byproducts or polluting effects. While wind generators do not pollute the air, they are quite noisy and have been known to have a negative effect on wild birds. Although the sight of gleaming blades turning and twisting in the air can be beautiful for the occasional tourists, they are considered an eyesore for many as they destroy the beauty of natural scenic landscapes. Nevertheless, a terrain decked with windmills is definitely a much prettier sight than the traditional smoke-emitting power plants.
Did you know that GM passenger vehicles and the Mercedes Benz E Class have something in common? They are all capable of running on biofuels, which have been regarded by many as better alternatives to gasoline.
In a time of rapidly increasing prices at the fuel tank, it might be time to make the switch to biofuels. Also known as agrofuel, this alternative source of energy is derived from renewable resources, such as plants and organic waste as a substitute to fossil fuels. Biofuels have found their main use in the transportation sector, with many automobile manufacturers going green with their new breed of eco-friendly, biofuel-powered cars.
Automobiles are a major contributor to pollution. By looking for alternatives to gasoline environmentalists are hoping to drastically lessen the emission of toxic fumes in the coming years. Biofuels are touted as one of the best alternative energy sources for the transportation sector, as they emit over 50% less greenhouse gas than fossil fuels.
In fact, the use of biofuels has become more popular and widespread all over the world. The rising price of oil coupled with the recent trend of environmental awareness has triggered many to make the switch.
Alternative energy sources show remarkable promise in helping to decrease the amount of toxic substances produced by fossil fuels. Not only do they provide defense against dangerous by-products, they also help safeguard many of the natural resources that we presently depend on as sources of energy.