A cause for great concern in the world today is the degradation of the natural environment brought about by the alarming levels of carbon in the atmosphere which has been causing various environmental problems and calamities. To solve the world’s dependence on fossil fuel, the major culprit behind the increased gas concentration in the air, people have been looking to alternative energies to supply future energy needs. There are many known alternative sources available and one of these is Renewable Energy.
This refers to the harnessing of energies which may be naturally replenished thus making it clean and cost-effective. Two of the most popular renewable energy sources are wind and the sun. Wind power was first used in Dutch countries where windmills consisting of two to twelve rotating blades, usually attached with sails of cloth, were used to grind flour and draw water. The technology was adapted in American farms in the 19th century. The force of the wind rotates the windmill which powers the attached turbines which, in turn, generates electricity.
The modern wind energy generators utilize wind collected by several wind turbines and the collected wind is sent through a transformer sent over long distances over high power lines. Only certain locations on earth have enough wind energy to make it commercially viable. To generate energy, the wind must blow at a speed of 12 to 14 miles per hour. Also, the inconsistencies of wind power require extra equipment to store power during times when the wind is weak. Furthermore, windy seasons—usually the autumn and winter months—are times when energy demand is low.
Solar energy refers to sunlight converted into usable energy. Solar water heaters have been in existence since the 1890s. Solar panels on the roofs of houses warm the water pipes attached to them, thus providing hot water for the household. Solar plants, meanwhile, are large scale energy transforming facilities wherein paneled mirrors catch the sun’s heat and focus it on a pipe which boils the water. The produced steam then powers a turbine to produce electricity. Modern solar cells directly convert sunlight to electricity. Solar energy is viable in sunny parts of the world.
During nights and cloudy days, however, solar energy power plants have to burn natural gas to boil the water so as not to disrupt its service of providing energy to its user households. Both solar and wind energy are already in use in various parts of the world today. The world has long been ready for it. Denmark, Germany and Texas and California in the US are large generators of wind energy. China and Israel are the leading countries in the use of solar hot water systems. In California’s Mojave Desert, a solar thermal plant provides electricity for more than 350,000 homes.
Solar cells are also currently used in small appliances like calculators, experimental solar-powered cars and satellites in outer space. More experiments are currently being conducted to further explore the possibilities of solar power generation for transportation vehicles. Further harnessing of solar and wind energy and creating more wind farms and solar energy collectors will create more savings to the energy-consuming public as less dependence on imported fossil fuel would translate to lower costs of electricity.
However, long-term feasibility is another story. The world cannot totally eliminate fossil fuel use even as it has begun to use renewable energy because solar production facilities can only supply a small fraction of the total consumption required by people. The cost of production in the long run could also be more expensive if we are to totally depend on renewable energy than on a regular fuel-powered electricity plant.
To generate more power from solar or wind power requires acres of land as collection sites, not to mention the problems that would be faced during non-windy or non-sunny days. Today, renewable energy sites are hybrid sites. When the wind is not blowing as hard or during cloudy days, the collection plants switch to fuel burning to keep the plants in operation. In the end, the world needs to look for better and more alternative fuels if the ultimate goal is to totally replace fossil fuel.