How can such respectable goals be attained? The answer lies in alternative energy sources. Most scientists point to the burning of fossil fuels as a leading cause of climate change. Whether from gasoline burned in vehicles, coal-fired power plants, or manufacturing facilities, fossil fuels are the major evil identified as a major threat to our current way of life and the very survival of other species.
Climate change and pollution are problems shared globally, with all industrialized nations and citizens sharing in both the problem and potential solutions. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) formulated an international agreement entitled the Kyoto Protocol, establishing a binding agreement among participating countries to the reduction of emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol’s intention is to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere to curb global warming and climate change.
What Alternative Sources Are Not
Much effort has been expended in recent decades to reduce environmental impact and emissions spewed by industrial plants, including:
- More efficient manufacturing processes
- “Scrubbers” that reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels
- More energy-efficient appliances, water heaters, and even light bulbs
- Lighter, more fuel-efficient automobiles and trucks, even operating on fuels containing less gasoline content
- Reduction in deforestation, and replacement where it has already occurred
These are all improvements that can be recognized as a move in the right direction, but they are not alternatives that put the Earth on the path to sustainability with clean air, soil, and water.
Alternative Sources of Energy
Science is leading the way in the identification and viability of alternative energy sources. No stone is left unturned in evaluating the potential of generating energy from sources other than oil, coal, and natural gas.
Solar energy is the current leader in providing clean renewable energy cost-effectively. Although not yet a viable alternative for gasoline-powered vehicles, solar energy is appearing more frequently for residential use, and an increasing number of businesses are powering large commercial facilities with solar power. Such initiatives not only promote sustainability while reducing energy costs, but also enhance their corporate image as a company committed to being responsible for the future of the environment.
Two primary forms of solar power are prevalent in the production of clean energy:
Solar panels – Readily available photovoltaic panels (PV) are commonly used today in residential installations to provide hot water, power appliances, or power complete households. Larger arrays of PV panels can be installed to power commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities.
Solar turbine power plants – Solar collectors have been installed in large numbers that focus heat from the sun on central towers, generating extreme heat that transforms water into steam. Steam then is applied to drive solar turbines, generating significant electrical power.
Recognized as a viable source of power for centuries, wind is now growing in use as an alternative power source. Towering wind turbines can be seen in large arrays where prevailing winds make such installations practical and cost-effective.
Since there will likely be periods of time when wind power is less reliable, most wind “farms” make use of power storage facilities such as batteries when less energy is being produced.
Moving water is one alternative energy source commonly used worldwide. Where natural movement is available, such as large waterfalls or fast-moving rivers, hydropower can be harnessed with relative ease. More commonly, dams are constructed to form reservoirs that retain large volumes of water that can be released to turn electrical generators.
Large dams may have an impact on land use, particularly agricultural concerns for areas beneath the dams. Construction can also be detrimental to the environment.
Scientists have been aware for centuries that the Earth retains heat below its surface. In recent years, methods of utilizing this heat source to provide energy for homes and businesses have become available and more cost-effective. Where natural phenomena such as hot springs and geysers occur, such heat is readily available to capture and repurpose to heat homes and colocated businesses.
There are additional methods of installing a series of tubes or “loops” just below the surface to utilize the constant temperature below ground. Circulating water through the loop can be utilized to heat or cool homes very efficiently.
New Energy Sources
With global climate change and sustainability creating the necessity of finding alternative sources of energy, scientists in many disparate lines of work search for renewable options:
- Biomass – Organic materials from plants and animals, including waste products can be repurposed and transformed into usable energy sources. This includes burning as fuel, or transformation into products such as methane gas or fuels that include biodiesel and ethanol for vehicles.
- Algae – This is another use of naturally-occurring plant life that can be utilized to generate heat through its normal growth cycles, collect its natural oils for use in biofuels, and finally harvest it as a biomass source.
- Hot off the press – Army scientists just recently discovered a reaction between water and an aluminum nanomaterial that resulted in the production of hydrogen. This could be a significant discovery of a new, clean energy source, since the hydrogen could be utilized as an efficient, cost-effective fuel.
Solar Power – A Leader in Clean Energy for Sustainability
Solar energy continues to increase in popularity for residential homeowners and businesses alike. Significant solar energy collection systems now power solar turbines to create impressive power sources in the US and worldwide.
Solar solutions provide emission-free, renewable sources of power, with their popularity also continuing to drive costs down. Solar power can also work hand in hand with other clean initiatives, such as the development of solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles.
As the industry matures and meets the demand for qualified engineers and technicians, solar power plants and solar panels will generate an ever-increasing percentage of the world’s power needs.