As the general population realizes the importance of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle, alternative energy sources have been gaining more popularity. There are multiple ways to generate electricity that emit no greenhouse gases, as well as some alternatives that emit less greenhouse gases.
Currently, fossil fuels are the main source of energy worldwide, and powers up most cities globally. To understand the importance of alternative sources, it’s good to understand the negative impact that fossil fuels have on the environment, as well as how renewable alternative energy sources eliminate those concerns.
The Negative Impact of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are any fuels that are taken from the remains of dead organisms, such as plants and animal life, that roamed the Earth a long time ago. Once these organisms were buried, they’re remains decayed under the Earth’s surface in hot conditions without any oxygen. This resulted in the formation of fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil and natural gas (also called fossil gas).
These fossil fuels are burnt to release energy. The most common source of electricity is coal. Coal is used to generate electricity in many powerplants all over the world. While crude oil is also used as a fuel quite often, it’s used to keep cars running rather than to produce electricity.
There are several disadvantages to using fossil fuels as an energy souce.
Fossil Fuels are Non-Renewable Energy
Fossil fuels take a long time to form naturally under the Earth’s surface. To get the energy from fossil fuels, we burn and destroy them.
If humanity doesn’t come up with technology to allow rapid formation of new coal, crude oil and fossil gas, our supply fossil fuels will run out.
This energy source is finite, and if we don’t willingly switch to alternatives now, we’ll have to do it forcibly later. According to current predictions, our supply of fossil fuels will run out within the next 50 years.
Air and Environmental Pollution
Burning fossil fuels releases a large amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even though CO2 is a gas that naturally occurs in the atmosphere, the overabundance of CO2 that comes from burning fossil fuels is contributing to global warming.
However, not everyone is concerned about the effects of global warming, as it’s a process that’s somewhat difficult to observe. To encourage the use of alternative energy sources, it’s important to also focus on other pollutants that come from using fossil fuels.
If you’ve ever been in a big city, you might’ve seen a foggy haze covering the air close to the ground. While occasionally, this can just be fog, the source of the “fog” is usually more worrisome. This fog is actually a cloud of fossil fumes, which is a form of toxic air pollution. Toxic air pollution contains pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde. Both these chemicals are known carcinogens.
As and added disadvantage to the air pollution caused by fossil fuels, other areas of the environment are also negatively affected, particularly during oil spills and other disasters involving fossil fuels.
Mining Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels don’t only cause pollution we burn them for fuel or spills occur. Even regular mining practices are damaging to the environment. Mining fossil fuels involves moving large amounts of earth, either underground or on the surface.
Arguably the most damaging form of mining for fossil fuels are surface mines. Surface mines are mainly used to obtain coal. Once an area is fully mined out, it’s often left as a wasteland, as rehabilitation of open mines is costly. Even if land is rehabilitated, might not be the same as before.
In natural areas where wildlife roam freely, this form on mining completely destroys large areas of an ecosystem where animals previously lived in peace. In areas already inhabited by humans, open mines are often established on areas of land previously used for agricultural purposes. This means land that sustainably produced food for humans (and even animals owned by humans) to eat, is converted into an unproductive wasteland harvest its fossil fuel benefits only once.
Top 10 Alternative Energy Sources
We’re running out of fossil fuels. Using fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases. There’s a lot of pollution of environmental destruction involved in both extracting and using fossil fuel. All these are reasons to switch to renewable alternative energy sources. But what are some of our options in terms of alternative energy?
1. Solar Power
Perhaps the one of the most well-known and widely used forms of alternative energy is solar power. The benefit of solar power is that it uses energy from the sun and converts it into electricity. Energy from the sun is a completely renewable resource, seeing as the sun won’t burn out any time soon!
However, the biggest problem with solar power is that we use solar panels to harvest it. Solar panels take up a lot of space, making them reasonably impractical for mass production of electricity.
To solve the problem of space, Japan has a large solar energy plant that floats in the sea off the shore, however, this may still have a negative effect on the organisms living in the sea, as less sun reaches beneath the surface of the water – only time will tell.
On top of that, solar panels themselves contain a number of pollutants, which is concerning. Solar panels aren’t made to last forever and must be replaced every few years.
Because of this, solar power can be wonderful for households. Seeing as homeowners can all fit their solar panels to their own home, so enough space doesn’t have to be an issue. For mass-production of electricity, solar power still poses problems.
2. Wind Energy
Wind energy is harvested using wind turbines. Just like solar power, wind energy is a renewable resource, as we won’t be running out of wind any time soon. However, the challenges of producing wind energy is also similar to that of solar power. Both energy sources rely on optimal weather conditions to produce power, and both require quite a lot of space.
However, wind energy is more viable for mass power production than solar power. Many countries around the world have already built power stations that harvest wind energy for power.
Hydropower is power produced from moving water. Common sources of hydropower include waterfalls and rivers – where the movement of water is used to generate electricity. Dams can also be used to generate hydropower whenever the floodgates are opened as this creates a type of manmade waterfall.
Like solar energy and wind energy, hydropower is renewable, as rivers keep running, dams keep filling up. However, hydropower is also dependent on weather conditions, as draughts can lead to rivers, waterfalls and dams drying up. Unlike solar power, hydro electricity isn’t usually accessible to homeowners, unless there’s a river or other body of moving water close by.
4. Tidal Energy
Tidal energy can be seen as a form of hydropower, but unlike normal hydropower, tidal energy harvests electrical power from waves in the sea. This is more sustainable, as draughts won’t affect waves. However, tidal energy still isn’t widely implemented.
Another problem with tidal energy is that many countries are landlocked, and can therefore not harness tidal energy to produce electricity.
Biofuels aren’t commonly used to produce electricity. Instead, biofuels are used as an alternative to crude oil for fueling cars. Biofuels are typically made from plants which are often specifically farmed for the purpose of making fuel.
The good thing about biofuel is that it’s a renewable source of electricity, as agricultural activity can sustainably produce more plants to turn into biofuel. The bad thing about biofuel is that it still pollutes the environment when burnt. Another disadvantage is that converting society to run solely on biofuel would require humans to use more land for agriculture, destroying natural habitats to do so.
6. Nuclear Power
Nuclear powerplants are a popular source of alternative energy, but it’s definitely not a clean one. In a way, nuclear power only replaces the issues of fossil fuel power with a potentially worse problem – radioactive pollution. Radiation is a known cause of cancer, and is far more carcinogenic than any pollutant released by burning fossil fuels.
Nuclear power production produces large amounts of nuclear waste. In reality, it’s impossible to sustainably dispose of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is usually buried beneath the Earth’s surface – often even in concrete slabs or stainless steel to contain the radiation.
Despite the disadvantages of nuclear power, many countries use it. These countries often pay the price when disasters such as Fukushima and Chernobyl strike.
7. Hydrogen Gas
Hydrogen gas is great as a fuel, because it burns completely clean. In the future, scientists may be able to develop technology to sustainably burn hydrogen to generate electricity for large populations, but currently, this isn’t a reality.
A large issue with hydrogen gas is that it’s also often derived from fossil fuels. However, there’s an abundance of hydrogen available in outer space. With technology to harvest this hydrogen, it could become a sustainable form of energy, but currently there’s no technology to make this possible.
8. Biomass Energy
Biomass energy is derived from burning biological matter – usually wood. In recent years, biomass energy technology has developed, so waste from landfills can also be used.
The production of biomass energy might also pollute the air, although less than fossil fuels. When organic waste is used to produce biomass energy, it’s a good form of recycling. However, this form of energy isn’t as commonly used on either a domestic or industrial scale.
9. Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy uses energy from in the form of heat to produce power. This heat energy is obtained from deep beneath the Earth’s surface in areas such as hot water and rock beneath the surface of the Earth. Currently, geothermal energy is one of the newest and most promising sources of alternative energy. It’s clean and produces no pollutants. At present, one of the biggest challenges for geothermal energy is the large upfront cost of power plants.