Alternative Energy - Kinder to You, Kinder to the Planet
Alternative Energy is the new buzz word of the moment. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past decade, you cannot fail to be aware of the massive global efforts being made to discover viable ways of powering our incredible energy needs. These are a vital alternative to our use of fossil fuels for energy, because that source is fast running out. But what is the definition of alternative energy, and are we just going to swap one finite source of energy for another? Then the search for a 'forever alternative energy source' continues.
The problem with our current energy sources derived from fossil fuels, is that they have taken millions of years for Mother Nature to produce, but only decades for us to virtually use them up. Coal, Natural Gas and Oil are not things that can be recreated overnight, so are known as a non-renewable energy resource. You only need to look at the soaring prices of fossil fuels and especial fuel to know that demand for this limited resource is beginning to outstrip supply.
A few decades ago, nuclear power was hailed as the perfect answer to the upcoming fossil fuel problem. It was though that massive amounts of green alternative energy could be gained from a relatively small amounts of uranium. But along with the dangers that we now know exist with this option, uranium ore was found to be a finite natural resource. One day we're going to run out of that as well.
So the hunt for a truly renewable energy source began. A source that not only is infinite, but also does not emit the toxic gases produced by burning fossil fuels that are at least partly responsible for climate change (not to mention filling the air we breathe with toxins that you honestly don't want to even think about).
So what are the choices for a newer cleaner alternative energy, and can they ever really replace traditional energy sources in terms of efficiency and cost?
- Geothermal Energy
- Solar Energy
- Biomass and Bioenergy
- Hydro Energy
- Tidal Power
- Wind Energy
Geothermal Energy - Is an interesting alternative energy resource. Deep below our feet the core of the planet is a seething, boiling mass of molten rock. This is an enormous form of green energy, and one that is only recently becoming seen as a viable source of heat and electricity. You only need think about the power of volcanoes, or the geysers that shoot boiling water and gases hundreds of feet into the air, to realize quite how potent this can be. This molten rock heats water below the surface of the earth, and this can then be pumped upwards using geothermal heat pumps. Via these, we can create electricity or used it as central heating for buildings.
Solar Energy - Solar energy, or using the power of the sun, might sound the stuff of science fiction but it truly is one of the strongest forms of alternative energy there is. After all, the sun already provides us with warmth and light, so it makes sense that as human technology advances we can harness that power and create electricity and other sources of renewable energy. We do this via solar convertors known as photovoltaic cells. You have probably seen them adorning the roofs of many houses and are sometimes referred to as simply solar panels.
The free energy provided by the sun's rays can be turned into electricity but also be used to heat water. Advancing technology also allows us to store the energy created by the sun, as well as our ability to harness the light source even on cloudy days.
Biomass and Bioenergy - These alternative energy sources are perhaps a little less well known than some of the others. Biomass energy refers to a source created from both biodegradable organic waste and plant sources specifically grown to be burnt as an alternative energy source. Both kinds are a form of renewable energy.
Organic waste might include compost, garbage and animal manure, which could be converted into a green energy. Plants grown specifically for fuel include trees, straw, grasses and peat. Once used, harvested, these plant sources can be regrown, and using biodegradable waste means that even our trash plays an important role in energising our planet.
Hydro Energy - This is energy generated from the movement of running water. Hydro energy has long been used to create energy - think of water wheels and water mills. Today we harness this power using hydro-electricity stations. Huge dams built in natural rivers and waterways utilize the massive power of the trapped water, which is then directed so that its force turns enormous electrical turbines and generates electricity. This is one of the biggest forms of alternative energy used on the planet right now, with an estimated 90% of all clean electricity generated in this manner.
Tidal Power is another, more recent form of hydro-energy which is generated by the forces of the sea. Tidal power comes from the kinetic energy produced from the falling and rising motions of the ocean tides, waves, sea currents and water flow in and out off estuaries. Using hydro-kinetic marine devices, it is possible to transform this tremendous power of the oceans into electricity. This will warrant a substantial investment into building these tidal power stations, but once created, the energy source to power them is free, as well as having low running costs.
Wind Energy - This powerful force of nature has been harnessed for thousands of years using windmills. Today we have taken this one step further, and the sight of wind turbines in countries all over the world is a common one. Governments are investing substantial sums into building these wind farms both on land and out in the sea as it is seen as one of the most cost effective forms of creating electrical power.
As you can see, our search for cleaner, greener alternative energy sources has created both brand new forms of renewable energies - such as photovoltaic cells and bioenergy - as well as improvement on those technologies that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, such as hydro-energy and wind energy.
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By Peter Emson