From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy sample essay
The gas pump. As of late, it has been the bane of drivers everywhere. With the prices of crude oil skyrocketing combined with the prices at the pump and nearly everywhere else, many people are looking toward renewable energy sources to supplement or replace the use of fossil fuels. This interest in renewable resources has generated new energy policies around the world, has spawned new energy technology and has produced ideas on a different way of living.
Adding to the interest is the awareness on humanity’s impact on our environment, there is so much interest that the United States and many other countries have started to explore the option of producing power by the cleanest sources possible. However, it may not be enough. With the threat of oil reserves being used up and the energy crisis unresolved it is imperative that the United States begins to utilize solar, wind, and hydroelectric power in an effort to decrease the dependency on fossil fuels. Many people notice the rising costs of just about everything. The rising costs are due to the rising cost of energy.
Nearly everything in our economic system requires energy to create, to ship, to stock, or to provide and the energy costs are passed down to consumers. The price for energy has not been terribly high in the past, but now the price is rising. One look at your electric bill will tell you that energy, however inexpensive it is to make or obtain, does not come cheap; at least, not anymore. The price of fossil fuels, not just in a monetary sense, but in an ecological sense is taking a toll on the country and the world. Acid rain, carbon dioxide and global warming are all consequences of cheap acquisition of energy.
Coal supplies a large part of the energy needed to produce power in US and is one of the largest sources of energy in the world (Energy Perspective, Walter Deal 2006), but strip mining ruins the landscape, destroys ecosystems, and when burned causes acid rain. Oil has been this country’s, and the majority of the world, most used form of energy for years. From powering our vehicles and homes to creating lubrications and solvents, its uses are prolific. But we’re are now faced with the possibility of oil supplies becoming scarce, and it has everyone jumping out of their pants to find a better source of energy.
Combine this with the fact that the by-product of using oil (carbon dioxide) is practically burning a hole in out atmosphere and we have a doozy of a problem. Enter renewable resources. Why have we not thought of this before? What has kept the US, and indeed the world, from investing in renewable resources much earlier? The answer is technology. The green energy has always been there, but the capabilities to harness the forces were not advanced enough to take advantage of it. Perhaps it still has not reached that level yet but we are getting close.
For years, people have used the sun for a variety of things: warming things, lighting torches, burning ants, and to cook. The energy radiated by the sun is phenomenal. In fact, the energy the sun shines onto the earth daily is enough to supply the world’s yearly energy needs (National Geographic, 2008). This energy potential of sunlight was not lost on seventeenth century scientists. In 1873, William Adams and Richard Day found that when selenium was exposed to sunlight it created a low charge of energy, though it could not power anything (US Dept of Energy, 2008).
Later on, in 1908 William Bailey invented the solar panel whose design is extremely similar to the solar panels used today. Solar energy technology, while not developed enough to harness the full power potential of sunlight, has been used consistently since the mid-1960’s to power satellites, spacecrafts, electronics, cars and homes through the use Photovoltaic cells (US Department of Energy, 2008). The Photovoltaic cell, which produces electricity when light strikes the cell causing an electron imbalance, has gone through numerous transformations to make the cell as efficient as possible.
There are solar plants littered across the country, most notably in Kerma, California where they use the Photovoltaic system to supplement Pacific Gas and Electric’s electric grid during peak power usage (US Dept of Energy, 2008). These cells can be used in homes across the country and the current technology has created a Photovoltaic cell that is more durable, flexible and easily maintained. In addition to Photovoltaic cells, parabolic trough mirrors, parabolic dishes and power towers use mirrors to direct the sunlight to a specific area where it is used to create steam, that steam is then used to create electricity (The Economist, 2008).
Now SolarReserve, a development firm partnered with United Technologies and US Renewables Group, has designed a system that will capture and store sunlight for several days. The system is similar to traditional capture of sunlight by using mirrors to direct sunlight to towers where molten salt is kept, usually a collection tower. The salt is heated by the sunlight, which can then be stored or used immediately. Since molten salt is an efficient heat carrier and storage medium, it can create energy on demand or stored for later power production thus solving the problem of power generation during cloudy or stormy days.
SolarReserve first demonstrated this technology at their site in Barstow, California and states that the technology is ready to be used for power production on an electrical grid (Wald, New Ways to Store Solar, para. 13). The benefit of this type of solar technology, and other solar power production, is that the fuel source is free. The acquisition of sunlight requires no drilling, no decimation of land and no major disruption of fragile ecosystems. Solar power is also a clean energy source, giving off no emissions in addition to being abundant and renewable.
Sunlight also creates another renewable resource. Wind. The power of wind has been harnessed to irrigate, to grind grains, and to produce electricity. Turbines here in America only provide 1% of the electricity consumed, but the potential for the wind industry is huge. Several countries around the world use wind as a portion of their power generation. Denmark, for instance, generates 20% of their energy from wind. Spain has generated 8% of their power from wind and they are expected to raise that number in the next year (Greenpeace, 2008).
Early wind turbines were used to grind grain and to bring water to irrigate crops, now the turbines are created to crank out electricity. Wind farms are cropping up everywhere; just recently T. Boon Pickens announced that he was partnering with General Electric to build the world’s largest wind farm in Texas (The Economist, 2008). This partnership comes about due to the suddenly lowered costs of turbine production. Couple that with the fact that, aside from the cost of construction, the generation of the electricity is free and (theoretically) will not go away, you have a deal of a life time.
Current turbines have become more reliable than earlier ones; they are easily built and generate power as soon as they are up. Some snags manufacturers of turbines and the electric companies have come up against are the questions of storage, the issue of visual impact or noise pollution, and the effect turbines have on animals. Electric grids have traditionally used alternating current to transfer power to the grid; however, the location of turbines can sometimes be remote places, which can mean that power is lost in the transportation to the grid.
The non-traditional idea of using direct current has cropped up, since direct current travels well over long distances and there is less power loss, using direct current grids to transport the power to areas where the energy can be used effectively solves the transportation dilemma (US Department of Energy, 2008). The use of DC instead of AC forces a change in the way power is transported on a grid and although many balk at the idea, Europe has already a similar system in place and plans on extending it to the United Kingdom.
The system pushes power to the grid and channels excess power to help push water uphill to Norwegian hydroelectric systems. While wind has been making leaps and bounds in technology and production, the hydroelectric systems in Europe and most of the world have helped power these countries for years. In reality, hydropower has been used for centuries around the world and it had been used in ancient Greece to turn water wheels to grind wheat into flour (US Dept of Energy, 2008). The water wheel is probably the most well known way of producing energy from water, and it was this early application that spawned the idea for current turbines.
The amazing thing about water is that it is perpetually recycling itself. It is evaporated into the air from oceans and streams then comes back to the ground to start the process all over again. This process is what makes hydroelectric power so attractive. Unfortunately, although hydroelectric power accounts for one fifth of the world’s power generation and is the cheapest source of energy, the building of dams can displace wildlife and destroy ecosystems. There have been some advances to making dams more eco-friendly though.
By building fish ladders and developing aeration techniques, installations can have a minimal impact on wildlife and the environment (National Geographic, 2008). There are even some technologies that are being developed to harness the power from ocean waves. With mechanisms similar to wind turbines, the energy in the ebb and flow of the tides is captured to produce clean energy. Unlike wind energy, tidal energy is constant and easy to predict, which makes “coordinating the flow of electricity in the grid quite manageable” (Holzman, 2007 para. 7).
Tidal turbines are also easier on the eyes. Whereas wind turbines and solar plants may mar a skyline, tidal turbines are generally not visible at all. While you may see commercials and ads touting the beneficial effects of renewable energy going on right now, the generation of clean power is not an immediate process. It is going to take a lot of hard work and a great change in lifestyle to accomplish it. Although there are many companies working hard to provide the technology or the means to produce clean power, consumers can help by investing in green energy.
Many utility companies offer a green power program that allows consumers to donate a portion of their power bill to the research and development of clean energy (Environmental Protection Agency, 2008) and consumers can get tax credits for energy efficient home improvements. Although renewable resources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power may be expensive at the outset, the use of clean energy will pay for itself in terms of environmental impact, and especially its renewability.
Because it is not a change that will happen over night, it is important for consumers to remember that they too can assist in investing in the future of renewable resources. By donating a small amount every month through their power company a consumer can help his or her utility company pay for the additional costs that are accrued in using green power and the new technologies to generate green power. If a change is to come, everyone has to be on board and willing to change their lifestyles from the current “throw away” lifestyle. Change for the better has to come from consumers as well as the pioneers of renewable energy.
References The power and the glory: A special report on energy (2008). The Economist, 387(8585), 1-14. Deal, W. (2006, May) Energy Perspectives: Another Look at Fossil Fuels, The Technology Teacher, 65(8), 10-14 Greenpeace: Global Wind Energy Outlook. Retrieved July 2, 2008, from http://www. greenpeace. org/international/press/reports/globalwindenergyoutlook Hydropower: Going With the Flow. Retrieved July 6, 2008, from http://science. nationalgeographic. com/science/environment/alternative-energy/hydropower-profile. html Wald, M (2008, April 15).
New Ways to Store Solar Energy for Nighttime and Cloudy Days. The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2008, from http://www. nytimes. com/2008/04/15/science/earth/15sola. html? _r=1&ref=business&oref=slogin US Department of Energy: Solar Technologies Program. Retrieved July 6, 2008 from http://www1. eere. energy. gov/solar/photovoltaics. html US Department of Energy: Wind & Hydropower Technologies Program. Retrieved July 6, 2008 from http://www1. eere. energy. gov/windandhydro/ Holzman, David C. “Blue power turning tides into electricity. ” Environmental Health Perspectives 115. 12 (Dec 2007):
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