As 3rd and 2nd world nations continue to progressively advance toward their goals of joining in on the experience of living the dream of modern society, the world’s demands for energy continue to increase.
With serious concerns over conflicting estimates regarding just how limited the supply of remaining oil actually is, the entire human race is desperately seeking viable answers and solutions to its multiple energy questions and an unavoidable quandary that can no longer be ignored!
So lets take an unbiased look at each of the most likely alternate energy sources, focusing on both the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Solar Energy: The sun is the greatest source of energy available on planet Earth and it comes to us both freely and efficiently. Solar energy is already a proven technology that is “modular” in construction and therefore easy to transport and “add on” to. Low cost and efficient, with very few moving parts, there are less breakdowns, repairs and maintenance problems to this non-polluting energy.
The technology requires no outside sources of energy or water, with the exception of the small amount needed to clean off accumulated dust or grime from the environment. The latest systems are now able to regenerate energy during production, so there is no energy lost in the process.
Unfortunately, locations in the northern latitudes get much less sunlight, as do areas where it rains, snows and is overcast or foggy a lot. Locals with limited land mass won’t have room for the solar cell farms needed to generate the energy and when the sun goes down, so does production!
Until solar is a prevalent part of our energy policy, the equipment will remain “special order” and expensive, as will be the energy storage units required to keep things powered up when the system is not working. Also, solar cells are manufactured using hazardous materials such as silicon, arsenic and cadmium, so mass usage and disposal could quickly become an issue and burning is completely out of the question.
Wind Energy: Imagine energy that is “free as the wind!” The wind blows freely and often, so why not harness that power to fill our sails as we voyage into the future. Wind is quite efficient at producing electricity with no harmful byproducts or waste materials to dispose of. Experts estimate that areas in the northern latitudes and along the shorelines could realistically generate enough energy to cover 20% of our electricity needs.
A well tested and proven source of non-polluting sustainable energy, the infrastructure and technology remains simple, inexpensive and easy to maintain. Wind energy can be generated from the same fields that are used to grow food or raise livestock, as there are no massive buildings or concerns for toxins or pollutants.
However, these large rotating blades are definitely a danger to birds, including several endangered species as well as other flying life forms indigenous and vital to the local “circle of life!”
If only we could predict when and where the wind is going to blow, we could avoid the tremendous inconsistencies in the natural ebb and flow of production. The initial cost to set up the windmills and connect gridlines around the country will be extremely expensive and sadly, large undertakings have yet to have been tried, so there will be a large learning curve and a lot of uncertainty as the technology is attempted to be utilized on a mass scale for the very first time.
Hydroelectric Energy: Another genius idea of taking advantage to the continual movements of nature itself. This is a way of producing electricity from the movement of water that is clean and produces no waste materials. Power is generated constantly, to effectively cope with any increased energy demands while the dams themselves are used to regulate flooding as well as providing beautiful and enjoyable recreational areas, as the reservoirs create man-made lakes to hold vital water for the local area.
Unfortunately dams alter the natural flow of rivers, degrading the quality of the water, killing off many of the fish with large rotating turbines, stirring up once comfortable and supportive spawning grounds, blocking seasonal migration of fish and disturbing the aquatic plant life that is a significant part of the local food chain.
Dams flood large areas of land that once hosted hundreds of species of wildlife while the water dropped over the dam causes a malady known as “gas-bubble disease” in aquatic organisms inhabiting the tail waters, as it is supersaturated with nitrogen.
Tidal Energy: Unfortunately the idea of capturing the power of the mighty, raging sea has almost been completely wiped off of the current chalkboard of viable ideas, due to the fact that the ocean is exactly as just described, mighty and raging and we have yet managed to deal with the hash, unpredictable and corrosive environment of salt, water and natures fury in a string of unending tempests.
Biomass: One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Biomass is an energy process that “takes out the trash” and brings home the power by using animal waste, agricultural crops, grains, wood, mill residues, forest and aquatic debris, to create a potent energy filled alcohol through the process of natural fermentation.
This energy form has much lower emissions than fossil fuels while being in ample supply, creating an abundance of energy out of what otherwise would be stinking up a landfill. However, while it’s true that less greenhouse gases are released when utilizing biomass energy, some carbon dioxide is released into the environment, as well as whole lot of methane, which is considered a key to the destruction of our ozone layer as well as being a contributor to global warming!
Instead of allowing nature to take its course and have the waste material decompose to revitalize and energize the land for future growth, the soil is continually depleted of nutrients, which can seriously reduce vital plant growth, leading to starvation of wild life, landslides and potential for flash floods.
Geothermal Energy: These days, the concept of utilizing geothermal energy is practically off the list of serious contenders as future alternative energy sources, simply because, while it produces sustainable energy both day and night with relatively little down-time, most of the locations that geothermal power is available to us are within carefully regulated, pristine wilderness reserves.
Also when hooked in the system, the fragile, natural balance of water levels are greatly altered, making it necessary to pump additional water into the reservoir, potentially contaminating the groundwater, while the process of utilizing the natural steam involves the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as well as toxic hydrogen sulfide.
So we now come to realize that while there is great hope and tremendous potential for the eventual utilization of several of these key alternative energy sources, for now and the foreseeable future, there is no magical, perfect replacement ready to step up and take the place of crude oil as our primary source of energy world wide.
But clearly there is a great big, beautiful tomorrow waiting just around the corner as we ride on this ever churning “Carousel of Progress” and as long as we remain vigilant in seeking out even greater alternative energy sources, our future looks bright indeed!
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