The 20th century was without doubt the age of fossil fuels—oil, in particular. Fossils had been excavated almost throughout the entire history of humanity, but it is the 20th century which brought the scales of the excavation to the limit. Gasoline for vehicles, aircraft, and vessels, fuel for space flights and war machines, heating systems—all this and much more works on fossil fuel, even in 2017. However, since the first studies proving that the utilization of fossil fuels makes a huge part of the global warming process, there have been talks about not only regulating its usage, but also about seeking for alternatives to oil, gas, and other sources of energy popular nowadays. Such alternatives are usually called with a generalized term “renewable sources of energy,” meaning that unlike fossil fuels (which are gradually depleting, and are expected to become exhausted completely by the end of the current century) these new sources will constantly replenish themselves.
There are two terms in regard to the subject which are regularly used nowadays: alternative energy, and renewable energy. The former is a more generalized term, used to describe any energy source that is different from traditional fossil fuels, and which cause little-to-no negative impact on the environment. In its turn, the term “renewable energy” refers to energy generated with the help of the forces of nature: sun, water, wind, biomass, the inner heat of the Earth (geothermal energy), and so on (PennState Extension). Renewable energy is based not on depletable material, but rather on natural processes that cannot readily disappear if made use of. For example, solar energy is something everyone around the globe has access to; the Sun shines for billion of years with almost the same stability, and it is unlikely that generating energy from its heat and light can do any harm to the star itself. The same goes for windmills, watermills, and so on: instead of working on matter, alternative sources of energy make use of how the wind blows, or how the water flows, and thus cause much less harm to the environment, and do not exhaust natural resources.
Currently, there are several sources from which scientists have learned to accumulate energy: solar energy, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, and bioenergy. Solar energy is created by the light and temperature produced by the Sun. Respectively, there are two types of solar energy: photovoltaic and thermal. The former implies producing electricity from sunlight, using photovoltaic elements, or cells. These cells are combined in large groups, known as solar panels, and put on rooftops, or other surfaces which are constantly being exposed to sunlight. Another way of capturing sunlight in order to produce energy involves using heliostats—huge mirrors which reflect and concentrate sunlight, converting it into thermal energy. Heat energy can be later converted into electricity as well (due to steam generation, which then drives steam machines), or can be used in industries that currently utilize gas and other fossils in order to produce heat. The energy outcome from every solar power station is huge, but there are other alternative sources of energy as well. For example, hydropower: free-falling water drives special turbines, which rotate and generate electricity; wind energy is gained in an approximately similar way, except that electric turbines are driven by wind, not water. A more advanced source is ocean energy: by exploiting temperature differences between ocean surfaces and depths, it is possible to produce a vast amount of energy. Tides and waves can serve as secure energy sources as well. Geothermal energy is gained by utilizing the heat of the Earth’s core; finally, bioenergy is gained from processing organic matter: agricultural and forestry products, biological waste, compost, garbage, and other similar substances can be converted into thermal and electric energy (Australian Renewable Energy Agency).
Renewable energy is effective in many ways: economically, ecologically, politically, and so on. It is no surprise that many countries around the world have started attempting to substitute or diversify their energy with the help of alternative energy sources. For example, their share in the overall energy consumption in the United States in 2016 already was around 10%. 15% of the electricity generated was from alternative sources of energy. Industries in the United States actively use biofuels and other non-hydroelectric energy sources: their consumption has doubled since 2000 to 2016, and according to estimates of the United States Energy Information Administration, the amount of projects relying on alternative energy sources will only continue to grow (EIA). Other nations actively research and implement renewable energy as well. For example, Sweden is expected to become the first country in the world to completely give up on fossil fuels; the Swedish government has announced this goal in 2015, causing huge investments into the country’s research and industries connected to renewable energy. Costa Rica was the first country to have reached 99% of its annual energy production solely due to alternative energy sources in 2015. Also in 2015, Denmark became the first country to produce 42% of its electricity with the help of solar turbines. The list of countries heavily developing alternative energy sources includes Morocco, Nicaragua, China, Germany, Scotland, and many others (CleanTechnica).
Alternative energy sources have high chances to become the future of humankind’s energy solutions; fossil fuels were necessary at a certain stage of technological and scientific progress, but nowadays, it has become obvious that their extensive usage is not only expensive, but also dangerous for the environment and the health of billions of people around the world. Countries such as Sweden, the United States, Denmark, and several others actively research and implement renewable energy technologies, helping them to produce more electricity and thermal energy due to such sources as the Sun, rivers and waterfalls, ocean tides and waves, biomass, and the heat of the Earth itself. Renewable energy is cleaner, cheaper, and able to completely substitute fossil fuels. When this happens, the whole planet will become a better place to live.
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