Alternative Sources of Energy
Current energy sources are mostly represented by fossils and nuclear fuel. The burning of coal, natural gas and oil products, as well as controlled nuclear reaction, dominates the energy production for industrial and household use. These types of energy sources are easily available, relatively cheap and still abundant. However, carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions cause increasing concern due to the global heating issue. This concern is particularly pronounced in a connection with coal burning as the most polluting technology.
Modern trends dictate the necessity to use renewable energy sources in order to minimize the pollution and CO2 emissions. Diverse conditions in different regions of the world do not permit any renewable energy source to become a universally accepted solution: “…practical renewable energy systems have to be matched to particular local environmental energy flows occurring in a particular region” (Twidell & Weir, 2012, p. 9). The conditions in some regions are highly beneficial for the solar energy use. This type of renewable energy is extremely cheap and safe, when applied for the heating purposes. However, the manufacturing and utilizing of solar batteries imply environmental pollutions that limit possibilities for electricity production.
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Wind energy is the most widely accessible and safe alternative to fossils’ burning. It is present virtually everywhere on the globe, providing inexhaustible energy source. The production costs of wind turbines manufacturing can be easily compensated in a few years of commercial use. There are limitations that result from the uneven distribution of wind energy through the particular region, implying the necessity of conditions’ modeling. Recent scientific researches have solved this problem: “Wind power prediction models … enable detailed wind power prediction for wind turbine prospective sites, even in hilly terrain” (Twidell & Weir, 2012, p. 290). The global wind energy use grows steadily over the last twenty years, gradually replacing polluting technologies.
Every possible use of energy sources envisages the process of energy transformation, supplemented by the entropy increase or decrease. Generally, the term of entropy describes the level of order in a closed physical system. High level of order is associated with low entropy level, and vice versa. Since the industrial energy production and utilization concerns the global environment as a whole, the physical system to which the concept of entropy applies is entire planet. With regard to the electrical energy production, the entropy level is defined by the efficiency of production process. According to Goel (2005), “In an energy conversion process some energy is always lost to environment. This increases the entropy of the system” (p. 10). Consequently, the increased entropy reveals itself in a global climate change, as there is a linear dependence between the temperature and entropy.
The most widely used and most inefficient ways of energy production involve ancient steam turbines, which release a vast amount of heat into the environment. It is one of the main disadvantages of both fossils burning and nuclear reaction as an energy source. The accumulated heat in combination with CO2 shielding effect results in a steady growth of global temperature. The wind energy in this respect does not present any significant threat; in fact, the wind use actually reduces the entropy level. Mechanical friction during the electricity generation is the only source of heat, which compares to the steam-related production as negligibly small. Entropy concept applies for the energy consumption as well, substantiating the need to increase its efficiency. The problem of effectiveness concerns the energy accumulation and storage, which is particularly relevant to the wind energy use. “Without local entropy reduction, no energy accumulation is possible and energy cannot be stored” (Goel, 2005, p. 10). Therefore, effective storage technologies contribute to the global entropy decrease.
Traditional ways of transportation involve two general energy sources: oil products and electricity. The oil derivatives, such as gas for cars’ internal combustion engines and kerosene for aircrafts are the most used and indispensable energy sources: “Worldwide, the transport sector consumes about one-fifth of primary energy … and is responsible for almost 60 per cent of oil consumption in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries” (Abmann, Sieber, & Kulheim, 2012, p. 48). The alternatives in a form of different biofuels or ethanol present no significant difference with regard to the environmental considerations. Electrical energy is widely used on railways and on a number of smaller municipal transports.
There are no sustainable alternatives to gas and diesel combustion engines at the moment. The wind energy, which is certainly beneficial in other areas, cannot be seriously considered for transportation purposes. One of the possible solutions that help limiting the environmental damage is efficiency increase: “In OECD countries, which have reached a very high level of development, gains in energy efficiency have been the main strategy used to decrease energy consumption” (Abmann, Sieber, & Kulheim, 2012, p. 55). However, this approach does not work in developing countries, where second-hand cars and low-quality fuel are still dominating. Another strategy is the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Highly explosive, it nevertheless is environment-friendly, producing pure water when burned in a modified combustion engine. However, there is no technology yet for the safe production and distribution of hydrogen fuel. Major cars’ manufacturers take the most practical approach, producing vehicles that combine traditional combustion engine and electric motor. Some models are powered by the electricity only. Such an approach greatly reduces the damage to the environment; however, it implies the need for the roads infrastructure modification in order to facilitate the cars’ charging.
Considering downsides of different energy sources, the coal is worst by far. Along with the high level of carbon dioxide emissions, it contaminates the atmosphere with a number of toxic chemical compounds when burned. There was numerous purification technologies suggested and tried out over the decades of industrial coal use. None of these methods resulted in any significant improvement with regard to the environmental damage: “…we find a technological solution for one harmful byproduct of fossil fuel use only then to become aware of yet another threat” (Jaccard, 2005, p. 16). Nevertheless, the use of coal has been even increasing over the last few years, as the ongoing financial crisis does not allow for significant environmental investments. The coal is the cheapest energy source available, and it appears to be the decisive factor. Apart from the polluting issues, the coal mining itself remains one of the most dangerous industries. Ruined landscapes and dirty rivers complete the picture.
No other energy-producing technology can be compared to wind farms that generate the cleanest energy possible. The wind itself is a derivative of a solar energy, which can be considered as inexhaustible for the purpose of this discussion. The wind energy is a natural, abundant and fully renewable resource that is available to any state. It has some downsides, as any modern technology. For example, American environmentalists point out that wind farms sometimes “…involve risks to biodiversity: proposed wind farms in California’s mountain passes may interfere with flight paths of the state’s threatened California condors” (Jaccard, 2005, p. 23). It is apparent, however, that the same condors are no less threatened by the traditional power industry. Some cultural issues can arise in communities that find a wind farm landscape offensive to their aesthetic feelings. However, in a light of otherwise perfect energy solution aesthetic feelings can be sacrificed.
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