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Alternate Energy: Which is the best?

There are only a finite amount of fossil fuels on the planet, and sooner or later we’re going to have to fully replace them with completely renewable, alternative energy. As it stands, Gas continues to be the primary source of the UK’s power, with just over 40% of the UK’s energy (taken from 2018’s second quarter) coming from gas-fired plants. Coal, on the other hand, has been responsible for creating only 1TWh (1% of the overall power), partly because of prices creeping up due to increasing scarcity.

 

What is alternative energy?

This is probably a good starting point, as a lot of people still don’t understand this fully.

Instead of burning coal, oil or natural gas, alternative forms of energy put a large amount of focus on reducing the amount of resources we burn through. This means that we don’t have an impending energy crisis, as the energy we’ll use will be renewable and infinite. This also greatly helps the earth’s health and stops climate change and other issues we’d have to face at some point.

Below are the options we currently have, along with a description of how they work, and some benefits and drawbacks of each one.

 

Wind

Wind farms utilise the previously untapped potential power of the wind to generate energy. Wind turbines have blades that are designed to rotate when pushed by the wind, starting at 3-5mps. This causes a chain reaction inside of the box on top of the turbine, ending with a generator, which converts this energy into electrical energy and connects it to the grid.

By using the kinetic energy of the wind’s movement, these wind turbines can create huge amounts of electricity without using any fossil fuels, or leaving behind pollution.

Pros of Wind Energy

·         No pollution

·         A lot of potential- can be more energy than we’ll ever need in the future

·         Completely renewable

·         Really good for space- a farm can power 600 U.S. homes

·         Getting cheaper every year

·         Clean- less risks than fossil fuels and nuclear

Cons of Wind Energy

·         Intermittent- when winds are low there’d be less power

·         Quite expensive to make still

·         Threat to birds

·         Noisy

 

Hydroelectric

Hydroelectric power is an alternative energy source that utilises the force of water (either from natural methods like ocean tides, or man-made streams designed to move water around) to turn huge turbines and generate energy.

This is very similar to wind, except a lot more reliable, since you don’t have to wait for the weather to be right to get energy. The ocean is very predictable and will generate power all year round.

Pros of Hydroelectric Energy

·         Renewable- as long as there’s water, there’s power

·         No pollution

·         Reliable- wind has major drawbacks in this, but water is always flowing in these facilities

·         Can be altered when needed- when power consumption is low, water flow can be reduced, and vice versa

·         Not hazardous- safer than other methods

Cons of Hydroelectric Energy

·         Environmental issues- building dams means losing open sea. As well as this, fish habitats are determined by a number of small details about the water that they’re in, meaning draining water to move it elsewhere can majorly damage sea life.

·         Building power plants in general are expensive, and there isn’t an exception to hydroelectric plants. However, once built, maintenance costs are low, and they don’t require a huge team working around the clock to keep it afloat.

·         Geographic difficulties- some areas are prone to droughts, which may affect the amount of water available at the time

·         Currently limited- because of where the UK is, there are only a small number of sites where water can be used for energy on a large scale, but the ones that do exist make up about 2.1% of the UK’s entire electricity mix.

 

Solar

Life wouldn’t be possible without the sun. It provides light and heat, which have always had potential as far as our power goes too. Today, we’ve found a way to use the energy from the sun on the grid, in two ways. There are two main types of solar energy: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP).

PV turns sunlight directly to electricity by using PV cells (image below) made of semiconductor materials. These are cheaper, exist in many more places than CSP and are generally more common. They’re usually the first thing people think of when they hear “solar power.”

CSP concentrates the sun’s energy using huge reflective farms to produce heat, which is then used to generate electricity. They look more like this:

 

The sun is a great renewable energy source, as it’ll never go away within our lifetimes. When the seasons allow it, solar panels are a wonderful way to harness waste-free renewable energy from something we previously thought we couldn’t get a lot of use out of (other than the obvious ways).

Solar is also growing year on year, and has the potential to power the whole planet alone.

Pros of Solar Energy

·         Renewable energy source- the sun’s heat won’t be running out any time soon

·         Reduces electricity bills for individuals- you can even be paid to install them in your home!

·         Relatively low maintenance costs

Cons of Solar Energy

·         Quite expensive to build

·         Weather Dependent- winter would generate near no energy

·         Quite expensive to store

·         Uses a Lot of Space- CSP systems are huge

·         Some toxic materials and chemicals are used to make the PV cells

 

Conclusion

The world has been working together to find an alternative energy source that works perfectly, and all of these are effective but still flawed. We’re still in the early stages of life after fossil fuels, and only time will tell if we’ll be prepared.

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