Sustainable Energy Sources
In this world that we live in, energy is used and consumed every fraction of a second, even if we are sleeping, the energy sources are being used, and we will not stop needing these power supplies. That is why the problem of infinite usage of depleting energy is posing our everyday lives. This issue must be addressed, and the ever-growing knowledge and studies about finding other sources of energy for the world to use is working to our advantage. Scientists call these other sources of energy as sustainable or renewable energy.
This paper will discuss these sources of energy and will focus on their availability, affordability, and the technology needed in capturing them and in making them available for mass consumption.
Initiatives to Use Sustainable Energy Sources
Major global companies and corporations have already taken the initiatives in using these alternative sources in order to reduce the use of petroleum (fossil fuels), chemical, or nuclear energy, which are all believed to be consumable and be scarce in the future.
Tom Connelly, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of DuPont, expressed the corporation’s action regarding this environmental issue:
Today, we face an energy challenge unlike any we’ve ever seen. While our supply of fossil fuels is depleting with every passing day, our demand for energy continues to rise. In fact, over the next twenty years we will consume nearly 36% more energy than we do now. How will we meet this demand? DuPont believes we must apply science to find more renewable energy solutions while making better use of the energy resources we have today. (2017).
The Swiss Re Group, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer, stated:
Fossil fuels power our economy and our daily lives. But this has come at a price: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Improving energy efficiency and developing low-carbon technologies, including renewable energy sources, are critical to reducing these emissions and securing future energy supplies. Consumers are well aware of the dangers of GHGs and keep them in mind when they make choices about products or services. Corporations are also making strides toward improving energy efficiency. (2017).
Another company has expressed its involvement in the use of alternative energy sources. Hitachi Group is a global company that offers various products and services from automobile parts, electronic appliances and systems, to financial services (Hitachi Group a, 2016).
Hitachi is not only looking to the U.S., where frequency regulation markets already exist, but also sees great market potential in the energy storage field worldwide. For example, there is already growing demand for stabilization of the electrical grid in Japan as the amount of renewable energy grows. Small-scale power grids and micro-grids on islands will need energy storage solutions for balancing demand and supply as well as for utilization during peak times (Hitachi Group b, 2016).
“Diesel generators produce about 89 percent of electricity in Alaska’s rural communities, and power plants use about half of the fuel stored in most villages… only 11 percent (34 MW out of 309) came from alternative resources like wind and hydro; the rest was diesel-generated. (Allena, Brutkoskia, Farnswortha, and Larsen, 2016).
Sustainable Energy Sources
“In solar thermal technologies, solar radiation is converted into heat energy. There are several ways in which the required heat energy is generated and utilized” (Solangki, 2015).
Availability. Sukhatme and Nayak described the availability of solar energy as very large. They defined ‘very large’ in his book as “the potential to generate power many times the present world requirement of power for many hundreds of years” (2008)
Affordability. “The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that emerging concepts promise additional breakthroughs in efficiency and affordability…and are being designed for low-cost, high volume production” (California State Auditor, 2008).
Technology. There are many collection devices for solar energy generation. I have included two of the most popular methods.
The flat-plate collector. According to the author, it is one of the most popular solar energy collection system designed for operation in the low or medium temperature range. “It absorbs solar energy, convert it into heat and then to transfer absorbed heat to a stream of liquid or gas…it does not require tracking of the sun and requires little maintenance” (Tiwari, 2006).
Photovoltaic Cells. It is the “direct conversion of light into electricity at the atomic level. Some materials exhibit a property known as the photoelectric effect that causes them to absorb photons of light and release electrons. When these free electrons are captured, an electric current results that can be used as electricity” (Knier, 2008).
“The use of wind as an energy source begins in antiquity. Vertical axis windmills for grinding grain were reported in Persia in the tenth century and in China in the thirteenth” (Nelson, 2013).
Availability. “The first offshore projects materialized in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Ireland, and China” (Ackermann, 2012).
Affordability. The Canadian Wind Energy Association published in their website that:
Wind energy has successfully moved from a marginal alternative to among the lowest cost options for new electricity generation. Wind energy is now more cost-competitive than new coal, hydro and nuclear power. A 2015 report from the US investment firm Lazard found that wind energy is the lowest cost option for any new supply without any subsidies (n.d).
Technology. “The modern wind turbine is a sophisticated piece of machinery with aerodynamically designed rotor and efficient power generation, transmission, and regulation components” (Mathew, 2006).
Geothermal energy is ‘energy coming out of the molten interior of the earth’ (Sukhatme and Nayak, 2008).
Availability. It is “available primarily in the western states, Alaska, and Hawaii”. According to energy.gov, this type of energy ‘can be tapped almost anywhere’ and available 24 hours a day. Furthermore, geothermal power plants have “average availabilities of 90% or higher, compared to about 75% for coal plants” (n.d.).
Affordability. “At The Geysers, power is sold at $0.03 to $0.035 per kWh. A power plant built today would probably require about $0.05 per kWh. Some plants can charge more during peak demand periods” (energy.gov, n.d.). This rate is very low compared to the average per kilowatt/hour price in all of US of 10.41 cents (US Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2017).
Technology. The US EIA made the following information available in their website:
Although temperatures above ground change depending on time of day and season, temperatures 10 feet below the earth’s surface are consistently between 50°F and 60°F. For most areas, this means soil temperatures are usually warmer than the air in winter and cooler than the air in summer. Geothermal heat pumps use the earth’s constant temperature to heat and cool buildings. Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat from the ground (or water) into buildings during the winter and reverse the process in the summer (2017).
Ocean wave energy is captured directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), n.d).
Availability. “Areas of the world with abundant wave power resource include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Australia, and the northwestern coast of the United States, particularly Alaska” (BOEM, n.d.). “There is significant opportunity for water power to provide large amounts of clean and renewable power. The Water Power Program is invested significantly in comprehensive analysis of ocean energy potential for future electricity production” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2016).
Affordability. “As for wave and tidal, we have general parameters on cost, but they remain subject to further refinement. The World Renewable Energy Report estimates the cost of wave energy at an average of 9 cents/kWh and tidal and current an average of 8 cents/kWh” (Alternative Energy News, 2017).
Technology. “Although wave power technologies are continuing to develop, there are four basic applications that may be suitable for deployment on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS): point absorbers, attenuators, overtopping devices, and terminators” (BOEM, n.d.).
“Basically, in a tidal power station, a barrage with sluice gates is built across an estuary. As the water level rises twice a day, it is allowed to flow in through the sluice gates.” According to and Nayak, a basin of water is saved inside the gates so that when the tide is low, the water inside the gates will be released to let the ‘water flow through water turbines’ (2008).
“Hydropower was used thousands of years ago to turn paddle wheels to help grind grain. Before steam power and then electricity were available in the United States, grain and lumber mills were powered directly with hydropower” (EIA, 2017).
Availability. “Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source for electricity generation in the United States. In 2015, hydropower accounted for about 6% of total U.S. electricity generation and 46% of electricity generation from all renewables” (EIA, 2017).
Affordability. “Hydropower generation benefits consumers through lower electricity costs. States that get the majority of their electricity from hydropower like Idaho, Washington, and Oregon on average have energy bills that are lower than the rest of the country” (National Hydropower Association, 2017).
Technology. The EIA gave a description of the technology used in generating hydropower:
At both Niagara Falls and the Columbia River, water flows through a pipe, or penstock, then pushes against and turns blades in a turbine to spin a generator to produce electricity. In a run-of-the-river system, the force of the current applies pressure on a turbine. In a storage system, water accumulates in reservoirs created by dams and is released as needed to generate electricity (EIA, 2017).
Tar Sands and Oil Shale
“An expression used to describe porous sandstone deposits impregnated with heavy viscous oils called bitumen or simply deposits of heavy oil.” (Sukhatme and Nayak, 2008).
Availability. “Fairly large deposits of tar sands are available in some countries… estimates of the world’s resources of the oil available in tar sands have ranged from 4000 to 5000 billion barrels.” The authors further said that Canada and Venezuela have the ‘largest deposits of tar sands’ (Sukhatme and Nayak, 2008).
Affordability. Sukhatme and Nayak said that a large amount of energy is needed to produce ‘synthetic crude oil’ from tar sands (2008). High costs in production suggests high price of this energy source .
Technology. The sands from surface mining are first passed through a ‘conditioning drum’ until slurry is formed. The ‘bitumen obtained is subjected to hydro-processing’ and synthetic crude oil is produced. (Sukhatme and Nayak, 2008).
Biomass Energy (Biofuel)
“Biofuel (biodiesel, bioethanol, and biogas) from combustible sources is presently being recognized as an alternate and green renewable fuel for sustainable energy production in the near future” (Medipally, Yusoff, Banerjee, and Shariff, 2015).The Biofuel Organization in the UK defined biofuel as:
A biofuel is a hydrocarbon that is made BY or FROM (sic) a living organism that we humans can use to power something. This definition of a biofuel is rather formal. In practical consideration, any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from organic matter (living or once living material) in a short period of time (days, weeks, or even months) is considered a biofuel (2010).
Availability. “Large scale commercial production of microalgae began in Japan in the early 1960s by culturing Chlorella as food additive. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s it expanded to reach other countries such as USA, Australia, India, and Israel” (Medipally, Yusoff, Banerjee, and Shariff, 2015).
Affordability. “A 2005 study from Cornell University found that producing ethanol from corn used almost 30% more energy than it produced.” (UK Biofuel Organization, 2010).
“Microalgae biofuel production is commercially viable because it is cost competitive with fossil based fuels, does not require extra lands, improves the air quality by absorbing atmospheric CO2, and utilizes minimal water.” The authors further explained that production of this biofuel can be very costly due to several factors (Medipally, Yusoff, Banerjee, and Shariff, 2015).
Technology. Biofuels can also be made through chemical reactions, carried out in a laboratory… the only real requirements for a biofuel are that the starting material must be CO2 that was fixed” (UK Biofuel Organization, 2010).
Fossil fuels are depleting fast, and the world needs new sources of energy, this time, we want sustainable and renewable energy sources that we can use for generations to come. Awareness of the environmental impacts of fossil fuels also motivates governments, groups, and individuals to use available alternative energy sources. Challenges face researchers and organizations in the study and implementation of the usability of these sources of energy but we will always look for ways to find alternative energy sources.
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Alternative Energy News (2017). Renewable Ocean Energy: Tides, Currents, and Waves. Retrieved from http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/renewable-ocean-energy-tides-currents-and-waves/
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (n.d.). Ocean Wave Energy. Retrieved from https://www.boem.gov/Ocean-Wave-Energy/
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