Jun 2, 2013

Alternative Sources of Energy

Fossil Fuels such as coal and gasoline provide most of the energy needs of the world today, but because of their diminishing reserves, high prices and most importantly, their damaging effect on the environment, alternative sources of energy and environmentally friendly fuels are now being developed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “There are more than a dozen alternative and advanced fuels in production or use today.” From the perspective of protecting the environment, alternative fuels and alternative sources of energy usually fall under seven broad headings.
  • Biofuels
  • Natural Gas
  • Wind Energy
  • Hydroelectric Power
  • Solar Energy
  • Hydrogen
  • Nuclear Energy

Any kind of fuels made from plants or animals. These include wood, wood chippings, methane from animal excrement or as a result of bacterial action and ethanol from plant materials. Lately it is ethanol that has become synonymous with the term biofuel and is in wide use in combination with gasoline in the transportation industry.

Natural Gas

Although a fossil fuel, Natural Gas is cleaner burning than gasoline, but does produce Carbon Dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Like gasoline natural gas is a finite source, but unlike it, there is still a very plentiful supply still available. The EIA, in conjunction with the Oil and Gas Journal and World Oil publications, “estimates world proved natural gas reserves to be around 5,210.8 Tcf (Trillion cubic feet)”.

Wind Energy

One of the oldest and cleanest forms of energy and the most developed of the renewable energy sources. There is the potential for a large amount of energy to be produced from wind. The Global Wind Energy Council is forecasting that "the global wind market will grow by over 155% to reach 240 GW of total installed capacity by 2012." Unfortunately wind farms, whether onshore or off shores are unsightly, noisy and generate a lot of opposition.

Hydroelectric Power

Like wind energy, a very old and well developed energy source, but unlike wind energy its capacity for expansion is limited. Over development and unrestricted harnessing of water power can have devastating effect on the local environment and habitation areas.

Solar Energy

Apart from Nuclear Energy, all other forms of energy result from solar energy. Fossil fuels, biofuels and natural gas are in effect “bottled” solar energy. The wind and rivers which provide renewable energy are the result of solar energy reacting with the earth’s atmosphere. It is also possible to harness this inexhaustible supply of energy directly through photoelectric cells or using Thermal Power plants.


Hydrogen could be a very environmentally friendly fuel, and with the advent of the fuel cell it has been proved a viable fuel source for vehicles. But there are serious questions on its production, storage and distribution. There are also questions on its energy efficiency, as so far, it takes more energy to manufacture than it produces.

Nuclear Energy

Once thought to be the “Jewel in the Crown” of alternatives to fossil fuels, Nuclear Energy received a very bad press after the “Three Mile Island” incident and the Chernobyl accident. Nonetheless it had enjoyed a comeback of sorts in the earlier years of the new millennium, but now after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushema power plant, caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, there is a question mark over nuclear power as an alternative source of energy. Although nuclear fission is now a mature and very well understood source of energy it generates a lot of opposition because of safety concerns. It is very costly and produces difficult to handle toxic waste. Nuclear fusion, which would have no such safety or waste problems, remains the “Holy Grail” of alternative energy, but so far science has failed to come up with a working solution.

No one alternative source will solve the problems posed by global warming. Wind energy does have potential, biofuels and hydrogen are possibilities, but all these have associated problems as well. Coupled with more investment and better technology, the solution should come from a combination of all these sources.


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