Our daily energy needs are increasing every day at exponential rates, with an increase from 51,000TWh to 150,000TWh in the span of half a century. If this current trend continues with 80-85% of our total energy needs being derived from non-renewable resources such as coal and crude oil and with these said to run out in 110 years (coal) and 54 years (natural gas), we desperately need to look for new renewable sources of energy and save what we have left. The global consumption of energy is said to increase by 44% from 2005 to 2030. Newer methods need to be implemented in the near future so that we would have enough of them working by the time we have exhausted the non- renewable resources.
So, lets first look at what I think are the major problems with our current energy source, coal and oil, these are hydrocarbon-based fuels that are amazing when it comes to energy thanks to their high energy to mass ratio, which is one of the highest and cheapest. But at the same time these are non-renewable and will eventually run out and humans would need to find other, more reliable sources of energy, and then there are the more harmful side effects of burning hydrocarbon-based fuels, the pollution. When hydrocarbons are burnt in the presence of oxygen, we get carbon dioxide and water, both of these act as powerful greenhouse gases when in gaseous form. This, in turn, increases the overall temperature of the earth and CO2 is highly soluble in water which reacts to form carbonic acid, this reaction can take place in the clouds forming acid rain. Acid rain is corrosive over time and is harmful to the flora, fauna and buildings, especially the older monuments made of marble (Taj Mahal) and limestone (Red Shoaib Ahmed11 BIN687 Fort). The burning of fossils also releases other harmful by-products such as sulphur, carbon monoxide, nitrogen compounds, etc. Not only are we using up fuels that took millions of years to form, but we are also destroying our present-day atmosphere and the environment.
So now let’s talk about the solution. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and biofuel are all viable alternatives to the polluting and exhaustible sources we use to date. When we choose a new source of energy, we need to consider its economic viability, energy density, availability and investment returns. Solar is the most abundant and widely available source as the sun shines everywhere for half a day, there have been incredible advancements in solar technology and new forms if photoelectric cells, there are two major solar technologies, photovoltaics(PV) which works by converting solar energy to electricity and concentrated solar power (CSP)which works by concentrating the solar heat onto a central tower, this heat is used to convert water to steam which drives turbines to produce electricity. Tesla has been a leading company in terms of new innovative breakthroughs in solar technology, its Tesla power wall is a lithium NMC (Nickel- Manganese-Cobalt) battery cells which have a storage capacity of 13.5KWh and an Indian household uses only 2KWh per day on average, this provides ample energy at night and days when the sun does not shine. Solar, however, is expensive to install but does give back on the investment in the span of a couple years. The price of a solar panel being 36,000 per kW on average.
Our next solution is wind energy, this form is not easily available for the average person living in the city. Wind energy generally needs wind turbines in a windy environment which means no tall buildings or trees in the way, hilly and flat regions are most suitable for building onshore land farms. Onshore land farms are Shoaib Ahmed11 BIN687 cheaper to build but can have days when there isn’t enough wind. Offshore wind farms are more reliable as the wind stays constant. But the cost of building and maintenance is a lot higher. The most used commercial onshore wind turbine is a 2MW turbine with a range of $3- $4 million. The best thing about wind turbines and this can also be the coolest slogan ever “make energy out of thin air”.
Up next we have hydroelectric power, this is the most reliable source of power and contributed to 16.6% of the total energy and 70% of renewable energy source. The main principle of hydroelectricity is to convert kinetic energy into other forms of electricity. The older uses of water to create energy was with a water wheel which was used to grind wheat and other types of grain. This was later used to turn turbines. Nowadays this same process has been improved upon and made more large scale. Dams are often huge and produce energy in terms of GWh. The largest dam, the three gorges dam in China on the Yangtze River has a capacity of 22.5GWh. the side effects of the large dams are that they need space for the water to build up, this means hundreds of kilometres of forests and people need to be relocated. They also affect the migratory patterns of many different types of fish that need to go upstream to reproduce. The effect of this has been reduced by building fish ladders which provide a way around the dam.
Major industrial effect- all industries require energy, whether it is for transporting of goods or making the goods. Everything requires energy. If there was a one-hour power cut, 98% of companies would face Shoaib Ahmed11 BIN687 $100,000 in lost revenue. In 2016, Amazon’s website went offline for 15 minutes and was estimated to have cost 2.6 million dollars in lost revenue. Many of the larger industries need large amounts of electricity and are located near power plants and hydro plants. On average factories use 91kWh of electricity. So, this means industries need to find and implement these sources of energy if they want to survive when coal and other non-renewable resources run out. Industries having a huge funding can research newer and improved versions to meet their usage and the global energy demand. An industry needs to also consider profitability, it would look for a source that’s economically viable and cheap to acquire. Coal has always been the go-to option for industries, but options such as hydroelectricity and nuclear have been popular alternatives. Industries are what make up an economy of a country, it would be disastrous if they were to go down due to power cuts. Hence most industries have an onsite electric generator which often helps in the time for a small power cut or a fluctuation in voltage. There are many new experimental technologies that have been developed that did not exist a couple of decades ago. thorium reactors are tiny nuclear reactors that can work with less than one tonne of fuel. This would make having a sustainable nuclear reactor much cheaper and less space consuming. Solar winds, scientists have managed to harvest often beautiful but deadly solar winds to produce more energy. It works by using a giant sail to capture the solar wind which is basically a lot of charged particles. When 300 meters of copper wire is attached to a two- meter-wide receiver and a 10-meter sail could generate enough electricity for 1,000 households. When there is a permanent blackout, for the first-day things will continue to go on as usual. By the third day, there will be mass panic, grocery stores would be empty, cards would not work and people would go back to the barter system. Urban people would have run out of Shoaib Ahmed11 BIN687 firewood and food. People would have started to become violent and robbing people of food, stored would not be restocked as petroleum would be scarce. This would also prevent people from moving further away from densely populated areas. There would be millions of people dead by the end of the second week, and mobs running the streets. With phones not working, police and all other emergency services would be useless.
This is what I believe would be the most common scenario on many streets across the world. We have grown into a world where we cannot live without electricity. We cannot say for certain that the future is powered by a single perfect fuel. It is a mix of sources ranging from solar to thermal. One compensating while the others are offline. Humans have been innovative and this has often been what saved us from extinction.
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