Alternative Energy Sources
What are the Different Types of Alternative Energy Sources?
In the previous tutorial be saw that Fossil Fuels are the remains of dead plants and animals which have been buried deep within the earth for millions of years. Over time and with the assistance of vast quantities of heat and pressure, these carbon-based remains have slowly formed into combustible hydrocarbon substances such as crude oil, coal and natural gas. But two of these energy sources, oil and natural gas are in short supply so we must find new alternative sources of energy to replace them.
The search for alternative energy sources and different types of alternative energy is a worldwide effort. Many government bodies, universities and scientists are all working on different ways in which we can replace conventional fossil fuels. Alternative energy sources fill the gap between non-realistic free energy sources and the more traditional fossil fuel energies of oil, gas and coal. Once upon a time nuclear energy was seen as the answer to our global problem. The huge amounts of energy that could be produced from a small amount of uranium was seen as the way forward to power our plant. But as we know, like fossil fuels, uranium is also a natural and finite resource.
There are many different types of alternative energy available, each with its own advantage and disadvantage but to get the most out of these environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels, we first have to understand what are Alternative Energy Sources and how we can use them as an alternative to burning fossil fuels.
What is Alternative Energy?
Alternative energy generally refers to any group of non-traditional fuel sources that does not burn fossil fuels or use up any type of natural resources which will result in damage or harm to the environment. In other words “Alternative Energy” is clean energy, well at least in theory. Alternative energy sources provide many benefits over the use of the more traditional fossil fuels such as less harmful pollution and cheaper fuel prices.
The downside however, is that alternative energy sources are not always available when we need them as sometimes the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. In fact due to the Earth’s cycle of night and day, solar power is already 50% inefficient before we even collect one ray of sunlight to convert. Luckily for us, with the latest green energy technologies available today can make full use of these alternatives when they are available.
Most sources of alternative energy depend on obvious, natural sources of energy such as the sun, the wind and water. The sun covers the earth daily with sunlight, which can be turned into heat or electricity. The movement of the wind and rivers produces kinetic energy (the energy of matter in motion), while ocean tides raise and lower the sea level with an unstoppable force. All these sources hold the potential for producing usable alternative sources of energy.
Energy exists in many different forms with the laws of physics telling us that energy has the ability to do work, that is it has the ability to make things happen. Some forms of energy such as solar carries energy from the sun to earth or chemical energy is used in batteries to produce electricity.
Other forms of energy cannot be seen until the energy is released such as heat. Either way, energy can be converted from one form to another, but it is never lost. For example, the chemical energy of fossil fuels can be converted into heat or the kinetic energy of moving water converted into electricity.
But this is where the problem lies. Although the laws of physics tells us that energy can never be created or destroyed only converted from one form to another, the chemical energy in fossil fuels that is released during combustion, not only produces usable heat but also releases large amounts of carbon dioxide as a by-product.
Carbon dioxide is considered to be a greenhouse gas with the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributing towards acid rain and global warming. Then alternative energy can help meet the needs for energy in a sustainable, non-polluting, climate-safe environmentally friendly way.
So what are Alternative Sources of Energy
Well basically alternative energy sources are types of energy fuels that can be used instead of burning fossil fuels or the splitting of atoms. But alternative energy sources are not all the same as their applications, economics and energy output are all different. There are several popular alternative energy sources such as: biomass, wind, solar energy, geothermal, and hydro power.
The earliest energy source was wood for heating, light and cooking, but overuse has led to extensive global deforestation. Mostly an alternative energy source does not emit carbon dioxide or poisonous emissions into the atmosphere, with the exception of biomass fuels. Then the most common forms of alternative energy sources being:-
Alternative Forms of Energy – Solar
- Solar Energy – Solar energy is by far the biggest domestic use of alternative energy. The radiant energy derived from sunlight is converted into electrical energy using solar photovoltaic cells and PV panels producing a type of alternative energy commonly known as “solar power”. This solar power can then be used to power our homes and workplaces…. Learn More >>
- Solar Heating – Solar thermal heating uses the energy of the sun to heat water or other fluids such as a thermal oil flowing through a set of thermally conducting pipes enclosed within a solar panel or reflective dish. Solar water heating is a cost effective way to generate lots of cheap hot water for your home just using the power of the sun…. Learn More >>
- Solar Pool Heating – We all know the benefits of using the suns energy to heat water. The sun’s energy can be used in solar pool heating to help heat the water in a swimming pool without the need for expensive electrical pool heating units increasing the use of a pool by up to four months just using the energy from the sun…. Learn More >>
Alternative Forms of Energy – Wind
- Wind Energy – Wind energy is power or energy derived from the movement of the wind via windmills, sails, and more commonly wind turbines. Wind Power is all about converting the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy for driving machines or pumps, or into electricity energy to power our homes…. Learn More >>
Alternative Forms of Energy – Water
- Tidal Energy – Tidal energy uses the movement or kinetic energy of the seas and oceans to generate electricity. New water power technologies such as marine and hydro kinetic devices can transform the energy of the waves, tides, ocean currents and the natural flow of rivers into sustainable clean energy…. Learn More >>
- Hydro Energy – Hydro energy harnesses the energy produced by moving water using waterwheels and water turbines. The most common form of hydro energy is hydro-electric power. This uses the potential energy of the water in large reservoirs and dams to rotate electrical turbines to generate electricity …. Learn More >>
Alternative Forms of Energy – Earth
- Geothermal Energy – Geothermal is an alternative energy source that uses the natural heat buried deep within the Earth’s core as a source of energy. Water heated by underground magmatic activity is pumped to the surface and used to generate electricity or to heat buildings. A good example of the use of geothermal heat is in the form of hot springs and geysers…. Learn More >>
- Biomass – Biomass energy is made from agricultural crops and plant materials such as wood, sawdust, peat and straw grown specifically to be burnt as a fuel. As its name suggests, Bioenergy is the energy derived from the Biomass (organic matter) which is sustainable as new crops and forests are grown to replace those that have been harvested…. Learn More >>
Why do we need Alternative Energy Sources?
We have seen that there are many different types of alternative energy resources available to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, but some of these alternative energy sources above are not new. For centuries people have harnessed the power of running water in rivers and streams for a variety of needs, particularly for farming and transport.
Also, water wheels and windmills have been used for thousands of years to grind corn and husks to make flour for bread and a variety of different foods. Even passive solar energy was used to warm homes and dry clothes. While some forms of these alternative energy sources above are really improvements of long-existing technologies, others are genuinely new, such as bioenergy, fuel cells and solar panels.
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