It’s no secret that humans are causing a lot of air-pollution from our energy use. With the rising increase in population and countries striving to use more modern technologies, the world’s energy consumption and demand is at an all time high, with trends leaning towards even more extreme increases of energy use in the future. So how do we combat air-pollution while still giving the people the electricity they want and need? Many scientists and other professionals believe that by switching to renewable, alternative, and eco-friendly energy technologies, we can have the best of both worlds.
However, these renewable energy technologies aren’t quite at the level we need them to be in order to handle even the base load of energy required around the globe.
Many of the current renewable energies such as power sourced from the sun, wind, and waves still have a way to go before they can efficiently provide the energy needed to sustain the current base load. Many green energy generators like CHP are viable options as we make the switch over to a more eco-friendly energy infrastructure model.
Let’s take a look at the different types of eco-friendly energy technologies available today, alongside the pros and cons of each energy source/technology in order to gain a better understanding of the innovative possibilities of energy for future generations.
Probably one of the most popular and well-known types of renewable energy is solar. Solar power is basically the act of converting rays of sunlight into usable electricity. The sunlight is turned into electricity via photovoltaic panels, better known as solar panels. One of the main advantages of solar power is it’s source, the sun. The amount of sunlight that the earth receives each year makes this solar source the most abundant source of energy worldwide. In addition, solar power reduces greenhouse gas emissions by not producing air or water pollutants like that of coal. However, solar does have some negative aspects as well.
According to Biosphere Online, “Large-scale solar power facilities need a considerable amount of water for cooling and clearly require significant areas of land. Solar facilities are best suited to deserts in order to take full advantage of the minimal cloud cover, but deserts can be surprisingly fragile ecosystems and are still vulnerable to biodiversity impacts.”
The article goes on to assert the point that one of the biggest issues with Solar is choosing the location, as to not affect the surrounding wildlife and habitats.
The use of wind power is by no means a new technology and has been used for centuries to propel ships, grind grain, and pump water (to name a few). Currently, wind power is used to create both electricity and mechanical energy and has been pronounced as having the lowest environmental impact of any renewable energy source.
Wind turbines are placed in high wind areas on what are called “wind farms”. These larger than life “windmills”, convert kinetic energy into electricity via the wind that moves the turbine that activates the shaft connected to a generator, which then produces and stores the electricity. This electricity is then sent to commercial and/or residential buildings( not always in the same area or even state).
Although, these “windmills” may look like they take up alot of space, their actual physical footprint is very low. While, wind power does pose a threat to bird populations and migratory patterns, experts still believe that, “… its impacts are more easily addressed, wind is likely the safest form of green energy in terms of biodiversity.”
The most widely used form of renewable energy, hydroelectric power also known as, hydro power, uses the power created by the gravitational force of falling water (like a waterfall) to create electricity. This is achieved by fitting large turbines with electrical generators. The water that flows through the turbines creates kinetic energy which is then transmuted into electricity in the generators. While an increasingly popular renewable energy source for small scale productions or more remote areas, Hydroelectric energy isn’t without its problems. Hydroelectric power sites have been known to cause the following negative environmental impacts:
- Loss of biodiversity in fish populations and various aquatic animals
- Displacement of local people, alongside problems of rehabilitation and socio-economic issues related to these problems.
Though considered to be the most controversial sources of renewable energy, nuclear energy is entirely free from greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy is created by the fission of radioactive istopic materials through a controlled nuclear reaction. Supporters of nuclear energy stand firm that not only is nuclear energy a powerful energy source that is free of carbon emissions, but that it will also allow for heightened energy security by reducing the United States dependency on foreign oil.
The main downside to nuclear energy is that nuclear fission systems generate radioactive waste in some form. Since waste materials are not so easily disposed of, they are put in a type of “perpetual storage”; radioactive waste is dangerous for both the environment and humans, alike.
While technically not an energy source itself, CHP systems (Combined Heat and Power) are making leaps and bounds in the energy industry as one of the main proponents in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while efficiently providing more than enough electricity that is independent of the grid, as well as offering investors a faster return on investment than other eco-friendly energy sources.
A highly customizable process, CHP or Cogeneration is able to convert natural gas or any other type of fuel into a reliable and efficient source of electricity and heat, on-site.
CHP systems are able to capture the otherwise wasted heat that expels pollutants in the air, by up to 98%. While this technology does still operate on natural gas and other types of fuel, in comparison to the efficiency of other renewable energies, the current technologies don’t hold a flame to CHP.
Geothermal is energy that is derived from below the Earth’s crust. Located a few miles under the Earth’s surface is a layer of magma or molten rock. In this layer, heat is continually produced from the combination of radioactive materials, such as potassium and uranium alongside, solar energy absorbed from the Earth’s surface. This heat contains more than 50,000 times the amount of energy of all the oil and natural gas resources on the planet combined.
According to Americanelements.com, “geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries.”
However, recent advances in technology have expanded the range of viable resources, especially for residential heating operations. While geothermal wells do release greenhouse gases, these emissions are at a much lower rate than the current energy infrastructures use of coal and natural gas greenhouse gas emissions.