Types of Alternative Energy
The term “alternative energy” is used to describe all energy sources that do not consume fossil fuels. Alternative energy is environmentally friendly, widely available, and causes very little, or almost no pollution to the atmosphere.
The world’s focus has been steadily shifting towards alternative energy sources to reduce our reliance on traditional fossil fuels. The term can be used interchangeably with “renewable energy” as alternative energy sources are, as the term suggests, renewable.
There are various types of alternative energy in use today, these include:
All living things are dependent on energy from the sun. Used for generating heat, and light, solar energy is free, and is one of the most readily available, and renewable sources of energy on the planet.
Through the use of photovoltaic cells (solar panels), humans can harness the power of the sun’s photons hitting the earth. When these photons hit the photovoltaic cells, they loosen electrons within the cells, thus generating electricity.
Solar energy employs the use of mechanical, and electrical technology such as solar panels, to capture, store, and convert the energy for future use, and solar power is often used in locations that aren’t connected to the electricity grid.
This alternative energy source is widely used the world over and is environmentally sound as it creates zero pollution. It is entirely renewable as the sun will always be available as a power source.
An interesting fact about solar energy is that every single hour, the sun provides us with enough energy to satisfy the needs of the entire world for a whole year, however as things stand today, solar technology is responsible for less than a tenth of one percent of global energy demand.
The one main drawback of using solar energy is that it can be ineffective in colder climates that receive little sunlight, however, it is still a very viable source of alternative energy production in many countries throughout the world.
The energy of the wind has been used for centuries for powering windmills, sailing ships, and more. Even today’s modern whole house fans utilize the power of breeze to provide cooling inside your home.
Interestingly, wind energy is actually a form of solar energy, however, it isn’t harnessed in the same way. What happens is that the energy of the sun warms the surface of the earth unevenly as it hits it, due to clouds blocking the light of the sun in certain areas, as well as other localized issues such as reflective snow.
Due to the earth’s surface being heated unevenly, it produces gradients of pressure. As the air moves from high to low-pressure areas, the wind is then generated, which can be used for electricity.
To harness the power of the wind, propellers are attached to generators known as wind turbines, and these are very commonly used in high-wind areas throughout the world.
Nuclear energy is produced by nuclear reactors that use the process of nuclear fission within uranium, thus generating heat Fission is defined as the process by which an atom splits, and when it does so, it releases a great deal of heat energy. This then heats the water inside the nuclear reactor, steam is then produced that turns a turbine, creating electricity.
The most negative aspect of nuclear energy is that even though it is a fairly inexpensive way of generating electricity, it produces huge amounts of hazardous wastewater as a byproduct, that needs to be stored safely.
The acute heat generated by the mixture of molten rock, and metals within the earth’s core can be captured by geothermal energy stations, and used to make electricity. This works by using water heated by the processes within the earth, and that is turned into steam, that powers turbine, thus creating electricity.
Using hydroelectric technology or the energy of the tides, water-based energy production most commonly uses tidal generators and dams to create electricity. Tidal generators work by being situated on the shore, allowing the tides to flow through turbines in order to generate electricity. Dams, on the other hand, create huge reservoirs at waterways. The water then has nowhere to go, and flows through vents that lead on to the turbines that then generate electricity.
Biomass energy occurs through the conversion of biological wastes, and materials to forms that can be used as energy. Fossil fuels are not considered to be biomass, however, in their original state they would be considered as such, as they would not adversely affect CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The most common sources of biomass energy are wood, agricultural waste, trees, industrial and municipal waste, crops, landfills, and plants. This energy source is entirely renewable, can be easily extracted through combustion, and contains absolutely no greenhouse gases.
The most abundant element on earth, hydrogen needs to be separated from other elements, such as water to be used as power. A downside of this clean energy that only leaves water waste behind it, is that it is expensive to extract, and store.
New Energy Technologies
Alternative energy practices are continuously growing and evolving, and new ways of power generation are being explored and created. The two most exciting of these are:
New Wind Power Technology: New York-based design company Atelier DNA has created the Windstalk. This exciting new technology is used to harness the power of the wind, and requires less maintenance than regular wind turbines. The Windstalk is a flexible, long shaft that is placed in banks in hundreds. It produces electricity by being blown by the wind, and works without the use of blades.
New Solar Energy Technology: Another new and emerging technology comes in the form of the potential development of affordable, screen printed solar panels, that will hopefully be far cheaper than their traditional counterparts.
Using alternative energy is necessary to protect the planet. In addition to this, fossil fuels will eventually run out, so steps need to be made to create changes now. As fossil fuel resources reach lower and lower levels, they will begin to cost more and more. Utilizing the earth’s renewable and freely available resources is, therefore, the cleanest, and most natural way of powering our modern world.