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Alternative Sources of Energy

Energy is simply the ability or capacity to do work. Energy is in the middle of all economic activities, growth and development, powering the demands to produce goods and services, transport these products, power your automobiles, and more. This is why most governments in the world are always looking for ways and means of generating cheap energy to power their growth. There are many sources and available forms of energy but some of these sources are very harmful to the environment nonetheless there are other equally cheap, environmentally friendly sources and forms of energy that can be tapped and use for development. Forms of energy include; chemical energy, electrical energy, heat energy, light energy, mechanical energy and nuclear energy. Energy that is stored is known as potential energy whiles moving energy is referred to as kinetic energy and it is measured in Joules. It must be noted that energy cannot be created or destroyed but can be transformed from one form to the other. In this work, we will take a closer look at the other alternative, cheap and environmentally friendly sources of energy where we will highlight some of its advantages and limitations as well.

This article will look at these methods of generating energy: Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Nuclear, Biogas, Hydroelectric, Biomass, Tidal, Wave, Radiant, and Compressed Natural Gas.

Solar Energy

It is one of the fastest rising sources of energy in the world today. It involves harnessing the suns energy to produce electricity using solar cells. It is becoming an efficient means of producing energy especially areas located along the equator and allows for quick installation as well. It is said that every hour of sun rays is enough to satisfy the world’s energy demand for a whole year nevertheless energy from the sun accounts for less than one tenth of a percent of the world’s energy demand. From a hand held calculator that is powered by a single solar cell to home powered by photovoltaic array (solar panel) are just two of the numerous ways energy from the sun can be utilized. The cells in the panel are made up of semi-conductor materials similar to chips found in the computer. The cells knocks loose electrons in their atoms and as these electrons flows, electricity is generated.

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On a larger scale however, the techniques employed to generate energy using the sun’s power are a little different. The sun rays are concentrated as heat source and it is used to boil water. This is used to drive a turbine (steam) which generates electricity reminiscent of how coal and nuclear works. Another technique involves the focusing of the sun’s rays by U – shaped mirrors on pipe of oil. The oil boils water which in turn generates electricity. Solar energy has is an unlimited source of energy and it environmentally friendly as well. It is used to power satellites orbiting in space and can be used to power cabins deep in mountains as well as future cars and other buildings. Nonetheless, solar energy doesn’t function at night without storing it using a battery and even during the day especially in cloudy and winder conditions, the technology can be unavailable. The equipment’s used are also very expensive to build, install and maintain and require lots of land areas especially if the production will be for huge consumptions.

In spite of these limitations, energy from the sun according to available statistics surges a little over 20% annually for the past 15 years mainly due to the fall in prices and the much needed gains made with regards to efficiency. The main markets for solar energy in the world include Germany, Japan and the United States.

Wind energy

Energy from the wind is converted into wind power by wind turbines into other useful forms like mechanical or electrical energy for consumption. In the past wind energy was used to propel sailing ships and was also converted into mechanical energy for pumping water to irrigate farms using windmills or to grind grains but currently the main use of wind energy is for the production of electricity. Wind energy is known to be an environmentally friendly source of energy. The Kinetic energy from the wind causes the blades of the wind turbine to spin. The blades are attached to the pivot which is mounted onto the rotating shaft. The turning speed is then increased by a gear transmission box and the transmission is also attached to a high moving shaft which turns the generator and eventually produces electricity. The turbine has an in build brake that keeps blades from spinning very fast which could damage it.

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For a turbine to work successfully, the speed of the wind must be 12 or more miles per hour. Each turbine can produce between 45 to 350 kilowatts of electricity. The electricity produced is then collected and sent to a transformer which increases the voltage and sends it across long distances over high power lines to the final consumers.

Wind produces about 1.5% of global electricity use and has continued to experience enormous expansion between 2005 and 2008 which saw it doubled its production rate. In countries such as Denmark, wind energy accounts for about 19% of electricity production whiles Portugal and Spain records around 11%, Republic of Ireland and Germany’s percentages ranges between 6-7%.

Markets for wind energy have traditionally been with Europe, United States and China accounting for over 98% of production in the world. Limitations of wind energy include the growing population along the coast which could see a reduction in the production of wind energy and the hazards the turbines poses to birds. It is also not windy all the time making wind energy unreliable.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is sourced from the earth as it is as old as the Earth. “Geo” means earth and “thermal” is heat so literally geothermal means earth heat or heat from the earth. Geothermal energy is an effective and efficient way of extracting renewable energy imbedded in the earth using natural processes. It can be done on small scale where heat can be provided for a unit or household using a geothermal heat pump or through a geothermal power plant for the large scale mass production. In the past, the romans adopted this technology and used it for space heating and bathing but currently attention has been shifted towards transforming it into electricity. It has been known to be highly reliable and friendly to the environment as well.

The hot water in a geothermal plant is heated by the earth and goes through a special turbine. The blades of the turbine spins and it has a shaft that is connected to a generator which produces electricity. The steam condenses into water in a cooling tower. Until recently, geothermal energy production was limited geographical to areas around the tectonic boundaries but advances in the technology have now expanded it to cover other areas previously unknown for geothermal energy production. Geothermal energy is generated by over 23 countries worldwide. The United States is the world leading producer of geothermal energy which is located in California, a geothermal field called “The Geyers”. Countries such as Kenya, Iceland, Costa Rica, The Philippines and El Salvador are known to generate more than 16% of their nations power need from geothermal sources. Geothermal plants can power a whole city whiles smaller ones can power towns and villages. Although power from geothermal energy requires no fuel and is not hit by fluctuations in global oil prices, it is very capital intensive.

Nuclear Energy

Power from nuclear energy is any technology designed to make use of energy that comes from the nuclei of an atom through a deliberately controlled nuclear reactions. Nuclear energy is matter that has been changed into energy. The breakthrough in nuclear energy came from the world’s famous scientist, Albert Einstein when he created the mathematical formula that explained how it could be done (E = mc2), where E is energy, m is mass and c2 is the velocity of light that has been squared. Ancient Greeks argued that atom was the smallest part of nature however what they didn’t know was that that atom contained other smaller parts, nucleus of protons and neutrons which are surrounded by electrons that revolves around the nucleus. A great amount of energy both heat and light is released when an atom’s nucleus is split apart. A small amount of matter has in it a very huge amount of energy and when this energy is released slowly, it can be harvested to generate electricity. Although there are other methods that can be used in making available power from nuclear energy such as nuclear fusion and radioactive decay, the method currently in use today is nuclear fission.

Fission means to split apart and to produce the energy, a nuclear power plant, makes use of uranium as its primary source of fuel where the atoms of the uranium are split apart in a controlled chain reactions sending off large amount of energy. During the chain reaction, the particles the splitting atom releases go off and strike other uranium atoms which split those ones too and the process repeats itself over and over again and control rods are used to deliberately regulate the splitting so they don’t go too fast which could be highly dangerous. It must be noted that, the reaction creates very high radioactive materials which could also hurt people if it finds its way out and so it is kept in a solid form instead. The reaction gives off heat energy and this is used in boiling water in the very core of the reactor. The water is sent to another section, the heat exchanger section, where it heats up another set of water filled pipes to make a steam. The steam then turns a turbine to generate electricity.

In 2007, nuclear energy accounted for over 13% of the world’s power consumption with Japan, France and the United States accounting for over 56% of electricity generated from nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is generated in about 31 countries worldwide according to available statistics with over 435 nuclear reactors. It is said that France’s nuclear energy accounts for the cleanest air and the cheapest electricity production in all of Europe. France recycles the waste from nuclear to reduce the mass and eventually produces more energy. The recycling process can recover over 94% of the uranium and plutonium and turn them into mixed oxide fuel. This is a way of reducing the long term radioactivity in the remaining waste. Limitation of nuclear energy include the possible use of it for different purpose like nuclear bombs that threatens world’s security and the hazards the radioactive materials can have on the environment and people.

Biogas

Biogas is the gaseous release of organic matter from anaerobic degradation by bacteria action. It is basically a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide together with other traces of gases. It is manufactured in environments with low levels of oxygen and that have degradable organic matter in them which may include aquatic materials, animal digestive tracts, wet soils among others. The activities of man create waste and biogas technology allows the conversion of organic matter into biogas using closed vessels which can be used for electrical generation or transformed into other forms of energy. Biogas has been identified as a renewable energy source with so many different production techniques and presents perfect opportunities to make use of waste.

The most common technology for producing biogas is the use of enzymes for the digestion of feedstock. Currently there are different techniques and enzymes available and the size of the biogas plant vary in sizes and shapes. To produce the biogas, the waste must be dissolved by secreted enzymes from bacteria. The bacteria (acid forming) transform the waste into smaller substances such as acetic acid and the methane forming bacteria takes over and converts the smaller substances into biogas. The biogas is turn harvested through a tube and transformed into other forms of energy such as electricity to be used by consumers.

Biogas is environmentally friendly as it reduces waste in the system, destroys pathogens that causes diseases, burns cleanly than coal and also emits very low carbon dioxide. The main limitation of biogas is the high cost of production that comes with it. The biogas plant is quite expensive and requires huge financial commitment.

Hydroelectricity

Hydro is water and hence hydroelectricity is the production of electrical energy from the energy contained in moving water. The most widely used form of renewable energy, hydroelectricity is energy produced by hydroelectric power which is the production of power using the gravitational pull of running water. It has little or no effect on fish migration and can be used on small scale to power remote areas or communities.

Whenever it rains in mountainous areas, the water is collected into streams and rivers which run into the ocean. The kinetic energy (the energy contained in moving objects) contained in the stream or river can be harnessed to produce electrical energy. Small scale hydropower plants use water wheels to generate energy instead of a dam. Large scale plants make use of major water diversions and dams to generate power for many household and industries. Dams are built to divert the flow of some part of the river which is made to pass through a hydro electrical power plant. The water thrusts against the turbines which causes them to turn and in the process of turning produce the electricity. Energy produced from hydropower accounts for more than 18% of global energy production.

Hydroelectricity is a very good source of renewable energy by using the kinetic energy of water without causing a reduction in its quantity to produce electricity. Hydroelectricity also promotes a source of guaranteed energy and price stability since water is natural resources and is not subject to the fluctuations of market prices. Hydroelectric power plants can act as reservoirs which can be processed into drinking water and for irrigational purposes.

Nevertheless, hydroelectricity also comes with its limitations. Hydroelectric power plants are very expensive to construct and as a result of that must operate for very long before it can be very profitable. There are usually people who are displaced as a result of the construction of dams close to their settlement. It is also on records that the building of hydropower plants can cause geological damage such as earth quakes and the likes. A clear point in case was the building of the Hoover Dam in the United States that was known to have triggered a number of earth quakes in the area.

Biomass

Biomass is a renewable energy that refers to living and dead biological matter or materials that is used as fuel to produce electricity. It may also include biodegradable waste that is burnt as fuel for industrial production. Biomass can be grown from plants like sugarcane, sorghum and variety of some tree species like oil palm and eucalyptus. Biomass is more or less a garbage or waste and can include manure from farm animals and used tires. Biomass plants produce energy in a very simple way. Wastes are loaded into big hoppers and are burned in a furnace. The heat generated is used in boiling water and the steam that it produces turns turbines and generators that produces electricity. Biomass can also be produced at landfill sites where pipelines are fixed into the landfill to collect methane gas from decomposing garbage. Biomass is environmentally friendly because the waste is reduced, recycled and reused. New techniques are being discovered each day to in the use of biomass as a reliable source of energy.

Tidal Energy

Tidal energy is one the world’s oldest forms of energy. Its usage dates back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Romans as well where they used tide mills to transform tidal energy into mechanical energy for milling grains. It is the only form of energy in this world which is derived directly from the relative movements of the Earth – Moon system as well as the Earth – Sun system. The tidal force generated by the Sun and the Moon combined with the Earth’s rotation produces the tides. Tidal energy is an environmentally friendly source and predictable form of energy for electricity production than wind and solar. Tidal energy is generated in two ways, building semi-permeable barrages or by using tidal stream generators. Similar to how a wind power plant works, the tidal plant technology that uses barrages that allows the tidal waters to fill a constructed estuary through sluices which is emptied through turbines to generate electricity and with the tidal stream generators, the turbines rotate under water by moving dense water to produce electricity.

In modern times, the tidal technology makes use of dams with hydraulic turbines instead. It is estimated that, the total world potential for electricity generation through tidal energy is around 62,000 MW of power. For a tidal energy to work properly and efficiently large increase in tides is needed (about 16 feet between low to high tides) and these happens only in a few place on Earth. Nevertheless some tidal plants are already in existence and one of such place is La Rance Station located in France which produced about 240 MW enough to power over 240,000 homes.

Tidal energy is a good source of renewable energy and does not in any way contribute towards global warming. Tidal energy can also be a great way to decrease the use of nuclear energy which could potential lead to a reduction in the high risk associated with radiation. Although the techniques need to harness the power from tidal energy is well advanced, the production is quite expensive to build and to maintain as well and tidal plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic as well as shoreline ecosystems, recreation and navigation. The supply of power from a tidal plant may never be commensurate to the demand but because of the Earth – Moon – Sun activities, they are reliable and can contribute immensely towards better and more environmentally friendly energy production.

Wave Energy

Wave energy is the energy derived from the ocean surface waves. Wave energy relies heavily on the kinetic energy of the moving waves of the ocean. As compared to tidal energy; the wave energy is a bit unpredictable and unreliable since it is very difficult to predict the direction of the ocean waves. Wave plants make use of floating buoyed devices which generates energy via a snaking movement from the ocean waves. Wave energy is not widely used as compared to other sources of energy but has the ability to increase energy production and reduce fossil fuel-based productions. Portugal holds the first commercial wave farm, Agucadoura Wave Park where it generates a total of 2.25 MW of power. The moving ocean wave turns a turbines and this powers a generator to produce electricity. The energy produced is not that much but can be used to augment the existing ones in the system since it is also a renewable source of energy with little or no effect on the environmental conditions.

Radiant Energy

Radiant energy is not that common in the system. The properties of radiant matter were discovered in 1875 by Sir William Crookes and his invention of the device radiometer was the proof that one of the constituent of sunlight was radiant matter. He also found out that electrostatic charges could be transported by radiant mater and this he called radiant energy. It is a natural energy that can be a substitute for electricity at less than a percentage of the total cost. In Switzerland, a community called Methernitha has about 5 working models of self-running, fuel less devices that use radiant energy. Radiant energy can be sourced from the environment through electromagnetic waves or even from electricity by fractionation (a process that uses heat to separate a substance into its components).

Compressed Natural Gas

Compressed Natural Gas although it’s combustion also produces greenhouse gases, it is a more environmentally friendly source of energy as compared to gasoline, diesel or propane. Compressed Natural Gas is made up of methane made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms chemically combined and are highly flammable. The gas is found where petroleum is and is pumped from the ground which then travels in laid pipelines to areas where they are stored. It is an odorless gas, however chemicals are added to it to give it a strong odor so it can be smelled in case of a leak. Compressed natural gas can be converted into other forms of energy such as electricity or used in cars. It is also safer in terms of disasters such as a spill since the gas is lighter than air and will quickly disperse when released.

References

1. Alternative Energy http://www.altenergy.org/

2. The Most Common Alternative Energies http://saveenergy.about.com/od/alternativeenergysources/a/altenergysource.htm

3. Renewable Energy - Energy Matters http://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-energy/

4. Alternative Fuels Data Center - US Department of Energy http://www.afdc.energy.gov/

5. Renewable and Alternative Fuels http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/alternative-renewablefuels/

Science | Alternative Energy


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