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It is unofficial – but around the world many of
us agree on one thing: it is very likely that
there will be an energy change in the future. We
all know energy is a big issue in the
contemporary world, and we have been convinced
that humanity is at a crucial crossroads in its
history because we face an energy shortage. Many
experts believe this problem can only be solved
by the use of alternative energy solutions.
By energy, I mean the fuel that drive our cars,
give us electricity and enables us to enjoy
modern amenities we feel so vulnerable without.
Fossil fuels have been the prime source of energy
for human society since the beginning of the
industrial revolution. These fossil fuels have
been the muscles, which have enabled us to
progress and develop to such dizzying heights. We
face a problem in the 21st century because our
stocks and reserves of these fossil fuels are
running low; this news is worsened by the fact
that these reserves cannot be renewed. Many
governments and private agencies have started
promoting Alternative Energy Solutions to
overcome the looming energy crisis caused by the
depletion of the non renewal’s sources of energy
that all fossil fuels – coal, all oil and natural
gas – represent.
Alternative Energy Solutions include all prime
movers that can use a renewable natural resource
to produce energy. This may be wind, thermal
energy from the earth, and wave action in the
shores and solar energy from the sun. Alternative
energy resources can also include new technology
like fuel cells. However the primary fuel
humanity has long depended on has been oil. We
now know from our own projections that the oil
reserves in the world are slated to be unviable
by 2050. Simply put, the world is running out of
gas! In addition, not to mention, time.
The utilization of other forms of energy is
therefore very important. When we speak of
alternative energy, it usually means the
production of electricity via the use of some
natural and renewable resource. What are these
renewables, one may ask. Someone else may extend
this line of questioning and say: Are these
renewable resources as efficient as the fossil
fuels? Below are some answers.
Wind energy is the word that comes to mind
whenever people talk of renewable energy sources.
Humans have harnessed the wind to drive machines
since medieval times. In the 21st century we use
wind turbines to produce electricity. As a source
of power, wind is an excellent option. Wind
turbines generate electricity by rotary motion
that is caused by the airflow.
Some of the negatives associated with wind energy
and wind turbines lie in the unpredictability of
wind. For example, no wind means the turbine does
not rotate and electricity is not generated.
Sites are another problem; rows and rows of wind
turbines are just not feasible in a city of a few
million people. The most important issue however
lies in cost effectiveness, most power companies
are still reluctant to invest in or buy their
power from companies that use wind turbines. This
is changing as governments around the world have
started subsidizing power generation through
alternative sources like wind.
There are other possible sources of renewable
energy; tidal energy uses the energy of the ocean
and is an effective though rather geographically
limited source of power, thermal energy from the
earth taps geysers and other underground sources
of heat. This is a very important source of
energy in places like Iceland – it is also
geographically limited in its suitability.
Nuclear energy can be considered a potentially
inexhaustible source of power. However, it could
have many dangerous complications and most
environmentalists fear its use.
New technological innovations like fuel cells are
still a long way off from truly becoming
substitutes to the fossil fuel powered internal
combustion engines that have driven us all this
far down the road. Indeed looking at all the
possible sources of alternate energy and
especially renewable, wind and hydroelectric
projects are the only two viable long term
sources, solar power is a potentially huge
alternative source of energy but it has a
technological handicap-we do not posses the
engineering expertise to make better solar cells.
Solar cells are also very costly to produce and
are not cost effective – even less so than wind.
Given all the setbacks we currently are unable to
overcome, it will still be some time yet before
we can throw away the polluting but efficient,
fossil fuel guzzling machines that we so fondly
know as cars. The use of alternative energy
sources is a very important area of research and
demands humanity’s attention.
As soon as fuel supplies run out on us, we may
have to go back to that ultimate transport
machine to take us places: our legs.