Since the start of the industrial revolution, the human race has become more and more dependent on electric power to improve the living standards of people around the world. Best estimates indicate that we currently use approximately 320 billion kilowatt-hours of energy every single day (source: National Geographic). Through burning of fossil fuels, mankind has been able to fuel this enormous power requirement. We do know that fossil fuels are rapidly depleting, are non-renewable and have contributed greatly to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
As the demand for power continues to increase and fossil fuel reserves deplete the price of power will continue to increase. Combine this with the effects of global warming and a shift has begun away from the burning of fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources.
The aim is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere, thereby reducing the effects Power Generation has on global warming. Many alternative energy sources like; solar energy, wind energy, atomic energy and bio fuels have a lower impact on the environment and could contribute to a cleaner, greener future. There are also a number of more recent techniques being developed such as ocean energy and geothermal energy.
Currently, the burning of fossil fuels during combustion accounts for 86% of the energy consumed in the world. This is comprised of coal, natural gas and petroleum. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form and are a non-renewable source of energy. During the combustion process, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. It is estimated that 21.3 billion tons of carbon are released through burning fossil fuels each year.
Natural gas is often considered as a green alternative to fossil fuels. This however is not the case. Although considered cleaner than other fossil fuels, natural gas does contribute to pollution and global warming. When natural gas is released directly into the atmosphere it is far more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but since this occurs in very small amounts, it is currently not a major cause of concern.
With surging demand for power worldwide, nuclear energy has become an important power source that may provide a cleaner alternative to address climate change. Currently 14% of the world’s Electric Power comes from nuclear power plants. There are 439 nuclear power reactors in the world. There are however, a number of issues that need to be addressed before the ‘nuclear option’ can be considered as a reliable, clean power source. The management and disposal of spent fuel, public confidence, safety and ensuring nuclear non-proliferation and security are key areas that need to be addressed.
The solar radiation emitted by the sun provides energy for almost everything in the world.
The energy that the sun provides our planet in one hour is more than the total amount of energy consumed worldwide in an entire year. However, this is not a concentrated energy source. One of the greatest challenges is harnessing the energy from the sun in a cost-effective way. Storage of solar energy is a major obstacle.
Wind farms are used to harness energy from wind and convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. Wind farms are good in theory but wind speed can be highly variable. Wind power is increasing in popularity, however only accounts for approximately 1.5% of the global power supply.
This alternative fuel source is derived from plant and animal matter. Oil or ethanol is processed from plants like sugarcane or corn. This is then used directly or mixed with chemicals to provide power through the combustion process. Biofuels provide potential when considered on a small-scale. They are low on greenhouse gas emission and produce little air pollutants.
Under the earth’s crust is a lot of heat. This heat can be harnessed to create electrical energy. This process requires no fuel, is relatively cheap and could provide a sustainable source of energy well into the future.
The world’s oceans are vast and contain large amounts of energy carried by ocean waves, tides, salinity and ocean temperature differences. Not only do oceans contain enormous amounts of energy, but are located in close proximity to highly concentrated populations. Oceanic energy has the potential to provide vast amounts of renewable energy to the world.
At present, oil is the most economically efficient fuel. However, over time as oil reserves are depleted, we will turn to new, renewable sources of energy; some of which have been described in this article. As mankind evolves and strives for high living standards, energy efficiency and the environment will become increasingly important. All we know for sure is that as our energy needs increase, so too will the need for renewable energy sources.
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