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Alternative Energy: Worth it or Not?

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Alternative energy. When someone mentions that phrase, they always get mixed emotions. Some people will groan, while others’ eyes will light up, and still others won’t have any reaction at all. This is because that concept represents a multitude of “hot button” issues these days, from global warming to “going green” to modern society in general. One thing is for sure, however. Alternative energy needs to be given some serious thought. There are so many renewable resources in this country alone that could be used to our advantage! And there has been so much advancement in the technology used to harness alternative energy; we just can’t afford to ignore it anymore. The term alternative energy represents many viable resources, and extraordinary technologies, whose research should be pursued and properly funded.

Ever since the discovery of fossil fuels, the entire world has been almost solely dependant on crude oil. Now, we are still far from totally running out of this source of energy, but we are getting there. Some opponents of the alternative energy movement will mention the recent finding of oil in base rock, the deepest layer of the earth’s crust where fossils can’t be found. That would mean “what they’ve been teaching us in school about fuel coming from fossils is wrong.” But even if there is fuel in base rock, that doesn’t mean it will last forever! Those stores will also be depleted eventually, meaning all this discovery does is give us a bit more time.

Environmentalists of various sorts have been pushing alternative energy for years. Now that some people are really starting to think about it, however, they are still facing some problems. Why, might you ask? Their visions are finally being realized, “green” technology is a go. “This is due to the fact that every energy project, no matter how clean, has an impact on the environment.” These people need to learn that you can’t have the best of both worlds, there always has to be a compromise somewhere. And if that means disturbing the scenery a bit with a wind turbine, or blocking off one section of a beach from surfing to capture the tidal energy, we need to do it.

There are many different energy resources in our country alone to be looked into! Water is certainly one of the most obvious ones, and it is truly amazing, because many different energy sources stem from it. It is also being used quite a bit in other countries. Sixty-seven percent of Kenya’s power comes from water and a whopping ninety-nine percent in Uganda.

One of the least known forms of hydro energy is called geothermal energy. In this form the high pressure steam coming out of vents and cracks in the surface of the Earth is captured and used to turn turbines and create electricity. This can be a bit dangerous, however, as its opponents are quick to point out. These vents are very powerfull, and very hot. Plus, most of them are on and around volcanoes, making it even more dangerous! We do have the safety technology, however, to combat these dangers.

Tidal energy is another form of “water power.” In this form, some machine or another, (such as a dam or bobber) captures the energy harnessed in the incoming, and outgoing tides. This form of energy is the hardest to grasp, because tides are so spread out. This is the main argument opponents make against energy of this sort, a simple “how is it possible?” Fortunately for proponents of tidal energy, it has the potential to release some of the most energy of any other water source. In a way, tidal energy is also easier, because tides are nice and easy to predict.

Hydro-electric energy is the most common form of “water power.” It is the type that powers Uganda and Kenya, and many other countries as well. This form consists of damming up a river at a point where it is falling down hill, and shooting it through turbines to create electricity. These dams are both good and bad. On the one side, they create an artificial reservoir behind them, basically a man made lake. On the other side (literally) the stream is mostly stopped, and the river gets much smaller.

Wind power is another well known source of electricity, and right now it is the fastest growing one, because recent technological advances have made it almost cost competitive with fossil fuels and gasoline. There are many pros, and few cons to the idea of wind power. Turbines are very, very large and might break up some of the scenery around them. But if they are put off shore, in the ocean, they can be seen less, and the high velocity ocean winds provide even more power. Another benefit of putting wind turbines off shore is that their foundations often create artificial reefs, helping the fish community around them.

Solar power is the third of the most common energy sources. It has also had some major advances in recent years. Unfortunately, to harness solar power you still need very expensive equipment. The sun is most often used for heating, both naturally and through use of technology. It’s easy because sunlight is free everywhere, and there is no pollution what so ever. This type of power can replace high energy machines such as dryers, and what energy isn’t used can be stored for night time.

There are still many cons to solar heating, however. The application that doesn’t require expensive equipment is a clothes line, and the functionality of this source varies greatly on where in the world you live, and what time of day and year, it is.

Nuclear energy is a term that makes many people duck for cover. It has a very bad reputation after the horrific disaster in Chernobyl, where thousands died and thousands more were affected long term, and what almost happened on the “Three Mile Island.” However, with recent advances in the technology used to house and create nuclear energy, it has become much safer and should be considered once again for use as an alternative energy source. It is incredibly clean, though what waste is created must be stored deep beneath the surface of the earth (nuclear toxic waste is so hazardous, the EPA has declared it must be kept underground for ten thousand years.) As of 2008, 75% of France’s power comes from the nuclear plants within its borders, showing us how powerful it can be as an alternative energy source.
Of course even with this data, people would still dispute the safety of nuclear energy, ever pointing back to Chernobyl. There is a slight problem with this method, however. Most of the factors that caused the catastrophe were simple cases of human error! And the nuclear plant in Chernobyl was also entirely unique, with not another reactor like it in the entire world. Because of this fact in particular, the case really has very little ground to be used as an argument against nuclear energy.

Throughout recent years, there have been monumental leaps in the “green” sector. As more and more people are realizing the need for alternative resources, more and more scientists are beginning to look into it. One of our biggest leaps has been in the research and creation of alternative fuels. Ethanol is the biggest alternative fuel out there right now. It is made from mostly corn, but research is also being put into a barley ethanol, for those states and countries where corn doesn’t grow that well. Natural gas is also a great source of fuel that is easily extracted from many places. In 2005, over 130,000 vehicles in the U.S. were powered by natural gas.

Coinciding with alternative fuel is also simply making better use of the fuel we have. The car company Ford is almost finished developing a much, much more efficient engine that sprays fuel into the cylinders, as opposed to pumping it in. This makes everything in the engine move much quicker and more efficiently. Standard gasoline always has a small amount of ethanol in it. Scientists are also trying to figure out a way to put more Ethanol into gasoline, without the need to convert your engine.

The main method of harnessing solar energy is through large solar panels, made up of tiny solar cells. “A solar cell is a small device that produces electricity straight from sunlight. It is also called a photovoltaic cell (photo meaning sun, volt as a measure of electricity.)” These cells are hand made and very costly, with varying degrees of efficiency.

Besides heating and such, a big use for solar panels is to charge the batteries that power things like electric cars, and the new electric boats being developed that will be as fast as gas powered ones. This industry is, as of yet, mostly private, with college teams and privately owned companies making most of the advancements in solar powered cars, boats, and batteries. There are races every year, around the globe, for people to enter their solar powered cars. The biggest race of all is “Sunrace” which takes place every summer in Australia.

Though we have seen it for centuries (and been using it for surfing and sailing) the concept of harnessing tidal energy is still a new one, so there aren’t many feasible ideas on the table yet. Much like that used for basic hydro-electric energy, there have been thoughts of damming up a portion of the beach to capture the tides in a holding place, then releasing it through turbines. This is unlikely to go anywhere, though, as it would do massive damage to the wildlife that depends on the steadily moving tides. A much more environmentally friendly idea is that of a “bobber” of sorts, like the kind you see on a fishing line. This would consist of a long rod of some sort going out into the water. The up and down motion of the tides would be what causes it to move, which in turn powers some sort of generator that would create energy. This is very feasible, because it would have little impact on the surrounding wildlife, and has the potential to harness massive energy. Just think of those huge waves you always see people surfing on in Hawaii and California, think of how much energy we could extract from those beasts of nature!

Alternative energy is a new horizon. It is a new venue for brilliant scientists to make their place in history, and for us to put our names on the record. I am no tree hugger. I have never been one to “crusade for the environment,” or even really a very large supporter of the “green” movement. But as I started preparing this research, I realized we really do need to start thinking about this. We do need to start looking out more for our planet, work a little harder to keep her safe.

Earlier, I mentioned how the term “Alternative Energy” got mixed emotions. It shouldn’t. When we hear that, we should smile, and be proud to know we are doing our share for the environment. We need to start looking into new technology to harness the unimaginable amounts of energy we see working every day, but never really think about. We need to congratulate our scientists on their achievements, and inspire them to continue their work into green technology. The title of this paper is “Alternative energy, Is It worth It?” I never really thought of it before until now and, yes. It is.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Edward Therese said...
Jul. 30, 2011 at 11:27 am

Mostly well written article (your introductory words didn't always fit and the information on tidal energy didn't need to be broken up like that, but other than that well done).  A simple answer the adversion to wind turbines would be to make them more aestetic; a sign in Time Square is powered by wind turbines that are practically unnoticable.  Wind turbines could also be privately owned a lot more easily than other forms of energy - which would simultaneous assist in the price cap... (more »)

softball-411 said...
May 20, 2011 at 10:58 am
I am doing a project in my AP history class that is about teens opinions on alternative energy. Does it help it hurt?  If anyone has any feedback for me I would truly appreciate it! Please feel free to comment.
Momof4 said...
Aug. 19, 2010 at 8:26 pm
Excellent article.  Well thought out and researched.  I too am a proponent of alternative fuels.  I think a proactive approach is much more desirable, rather than having people scurry to find alternative resources as our current ones run down to trickles.  There are some great things happening out there.  When people are ready to accept them, they will be waiting.
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