Energy impacts every facet of our lives and as we have seen recently in the news and the recent spike in Oil Prices, the standard fossil fuels we have been using for the bulk of our energy production are gradually being depleted. This is not the only concern though as the polluting and environmental damage caused by Coal, Oil and Gas Exploration alongside refining and transportation is taking a heavy toll on the health of our planet and cleaner alternatives are coming back in vogue. Add Global warming to the mix (CO2 is the main greenhouse gas responsible and our burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor) and you see an urgent need to develop cheap, effective and reliable alternatives.
Investment in energy alternatives has seen a recent spike due to technological advances and politicians climbing on the renewables bandwagon. The first priority for politicians is to ensure their country has secure supplies of energy and secondly because it’s a large concern of the voters and their constituents.
How far they will actually go with this is another matter as the majority of renewables carry a hefty cost and still aren’t as productive as we would like them to be.
What is Renewable energy
Renewable Energy is pretty simple, basically its energy generated from natural resources that are almost infinite in supply such as Sunlight, Geothermal heat, Wind, tides, etc…
But harnessing the potentials of these energies has until recently not been a very cost effective method of energy production. Still, with the recent technological advances we have seen and large government subsidies, alternatives are starting to become a realistic alternative. Whether they can live up to the promise and the hype is another matter and one that will be revealed over the next decade.
So lets take a look at some of the alternatives:
Is the harnessing of light from the sun and converting it into electricity. This is achieved by the use of photovoltaic cells (The photovoltaic market has seen a massive expansion over the last few years and is currently growing at over 35% a year.) The potential of solar energy is truly staggering but currently it’s a very costly alternative and significant research is needed if it is to become a reliable contributor to global energy supplies. An interesting fact to know is that in one hour the earth is hit with more solar energy than our total fossil fuel energy consumption over one year.
Is a very popular and increasingly efficient means of energy production. Wind turbines are used to convert the kinetic energy the wind provides by turning a generator which in turn produces electricity. Technology within this sector has seen rapid development and the market is growing at an annual rate of 30%.
Is the conversion of the energy generated by waves into electricity. This is not a very popular method of energy production, but is more predictable than solar and wind energy. The current wave power devices in production have significant limitations and further research is needed in this area which is beset with difficulties and problems.
Is the use of heat within the earth to generate electricity. The Power generated from Geothermal energy is both cost effective and environmentally friendly and there have been significant advances in drilling and exploration technologies which present us with an excellent opportunity to fully harness the enormous quantities of energy that is offered.
This is the production of liquid fuels by using plants, trees and other naturally occurring materials. Ethanol is currently the major Biofuel in use and is a primary alternative to Gasoline / Petrol. Biofuel industries are seeing rapid expansion throughout Europe and the Americas, but there are still environmental and efficiency issues that need to be worked on.