Alternative Energy Research Paper
Within the next few years, one can expect to see a vast change in the way that mankind harnesses energy. Alternative fuels will play a colossal role in what has become one of our generation’s largest challenges, limited supplies of fossil fuels. Scientists have been working for years to develop alternative methods to power the globe given that materials such as coal and oil are not renewable resources. Once they are used up, they are gone forever. New forms of energy have to be developed but what other sources are there and where will each work best?
With fuel prices increasing every year and the theory that CO2 emissions from coal and petroleum products are heating up the globe, other resources of energy are being developed and put into use around the world. One of the new resources that is being put to use is wind energy. This particular type of energy is based on the old concept of windmills that used to be used on farms.
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When the wind blows it causes the blades on the windmill to spin. This spinning in turn, spins a turbine inside of a small generator. That action creates electricity. Although windmills are fantastic, they are not practical everywhere.
Wind turbines need to have at least a 14 mph wind speed in order to do any good( Wind Power). Unfortunately this is not found everywhere. So wind turbines must be put only in places that remain consistently windy. The wind farms are also built in areas that are wide open with flat terrain. Iowa is now home to over 600 wind turbines (Wind Power). This number of wind turbines produces enough electricity to power about 140,000 homes. Minnesota and Wisconsin are also putting the technology to use in there windy locations. Some schools in Iowa are even using these wind turbines to power their schools (Wind Power).
And when it comes to size on these, bigger is most definitely better. The higher that the turbine is, the more wind that it reaches, thus, creating more electricity. At the flying Cloud wind plant in northeast Iowa the wind turbines are about 240 feet tall. The largest wind turbine in the world is located in Hawaii, it stands 20 stories tall and has blades the length of a football field. The tower which holds the blades of the turbine high in the air is hollow and made of steel. The blades are made of a lighter material called fiberglass and polyester (Wind
Power). So in all, a wind turbine works the opposite of a fan. A fan uses electricity to create wind. But a wind turbine uses wind to create electricity. The key is making sure that we put them in the correct locations where there is a substantial enough breeze for the wind turbines to operate. Water power or hydroelectric power has been yet another alternative resource of energy that has proven to be very efficient. Hydroelectricity is generated by the force of falling water. This method has been proven to be one of the cleanest and safest ways to produce energy.
It is also extremely reliable and cost the least out of all energy resources. This means that the customers who are operating under this source of power pay very little compared to some other resources. Hydroelectric power is very similar in concept to that of the wind turbine. But instead of the wind spinning the blades, with this, it’s the force of the water. Water is held behind a dam forming an artificial lake. The enormous force of the water from the reservoir through the dam is what spins the blades on the giant turbine (Hydroelectric Power).
The turbine is connected to a generator that will create electricity as it spins. Once the water has passed through the turbine spinning the blades to create electricity the water then flows back into the river on the other side of the dam (Hydroelectric Power). Energy resources like this one have proven to be very productive in the past couple of years, creating power for millions of homes every year. Things like this are a huge step in the right direction when it comes to gaining energy independence and protecting the environment. Hydroelectric power is limited to areas that have larger masses of water such as rivers.
One of the most common alternative energy resources that is getting more popular with every passing year is solar energy. Solar energy has been used by humans for thousands of years. People would use it to help start fires or to keep their houses warm. But it was not until 1839 that photovoltaic activity was first shown by Edmond Becquerel. He noticed that certain materials, when exposed to light, could increase their electrical current (History of solar energy). In 1905 Albert Einstein clearly described the photoelectric effect, which is the principle on which photovoltaic is based.
In 1954, scientists found that silicon found in sand created an electric charge when it was exposed to sunlight. The first long term practical use of solar cells was in that of a satellite called Vanguard 1 in 1958. This satellite was powered completely by the sun and proved just how efficient that solar electricity could become. After the energy crisis in the 1970’s, people began to realize how dependent we were on non- renewable resources and solar energy as a result became much more popular (History of solar energy).
Solar comes from the Latin word for sun. The sun has proven to be the most powerful source of energy. If we could somehow harness all of the sun’s energy hitting the earth for just one hour, it would meet the energy needs of the entire world for a solid year (Energy Kids Page). We can use solar power as a heat source and as an energy source. Solar panels on a house could be used to heat water or air, or it can be used as a primary energy source. In the United States alone, more than 10,000 families get all of their electricity from the sun (Energy Kids Page).
Silicon from just one ton of sand, used in photovoltaic cells, could produce as much electricity as burning 500,000 tons of coal (Energy Kids Page). The downside to solar energy however, is that it is quite expensive to make a lot of electricity using photovoltaic’s. A lot of open land is also required to have enough cells to make a substantial amount of energy. For this reason, there are few big power plants in the United States, most of them located in California. Biomass energy is another energy resource that we could begin to see more of in the years to come.
Biomass is a term for natural energy. When Biomass is burned, it releases heat, this heat creates energy (Biomass Energy). If you’ve ever camped out in the back yard and had a campfire going, the action of burning logs was creating biomass energy. Biomass energy is the burning of natural materials such as trees, and plants to create heat, and then electricity (Biomass Energy). Waste products, such as trash can also be burned to create biomass energy. Biomass energy just so happens to be the most common form of renewable energy being used in the United States today.
We create enough energy through the burning of biomass materials here in the United States to power over two million homes (Biomass Energy). In Iowa, some farms are growing switch grass on their land. They then sell that to the power companies who then burn it with coal to create steam for the generators which creates electricity. Energy can also be harnessed out of decomposing garbage. It puts off a gas called methane which is captured by a micro turbine and uses it to run a small jet engine which creates electricity (Biomass Energy). Nuclear energy is the most ommon of all the alternative energy resources. “Nuclear energy is energy in the nucleus (core) of an atom. Atoms are tiny particles that make up every object in the universe. There is enormous energy in the bonds that hold atoms together. Nuclear energy can be used to make electricity. But first the energy must be released. It can be released from atoms in two ways: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. In nuclear fusion, energy is released when atoms are combined or fused together to form a larger atom (Energy Resources-Nuclear Power).
This is how the sun produces energy. In nuclear fission, atoms are split apart to form smaller atoms, releasing energy (Energy Resources-Nuclear Power). Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to produce electricity. Nuclear energy produces around eleven percent of the world’s energy. Nuclear power is made by nuclear fission. This heats water to create steam. The steam produced turns the turbines and then the turbines run the generator. At the very end of the line, the generator produces the electricity that will be sent to millions of homes and businesses.
Some of the major advantages of nuclear power are that it costs about the same as coal, so it is not very expensive to make. It does not produce any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses, so it is environmentally safe. It is a very reliable resource as well. The major disadvantage to nuclear power is the fact that it is extremely dangerous. It must be sealed up and buried for many thousands of years to make sure that all radioactivity has faded. Although it is very reliable, a lot of money has to be spent on safety.
Nuclear energy from Uranium is not renewable, once we’ve mined and used all of the Uranium, it is gone forever. So although it is a very efficient way of producing electricity, the risks are a significant concern. In conclusion we can see that there is a plethora of ways to power the globe. Whether it is from the tall towers of the wind turbines, the immense pressure from the dams, the heat of the sun, the burning of all wastes and other biomass materials, or the dangers of splitting the atom to create nuclear energy, all of these resources have proven to be very effective.
The answer may be to use them all together, utilizing each where it is most appropriate. Together these resources will help to dramatically alter the way that we harness energy for many years to come.
Works Cited “Energy Resources-Nuclear Power. ” Nuclear Power-Energy from splitting Uranium atoms 4 Nov 2008 . “Wind Power. ” Wind Power 4 Nov 2008 . “Energy Kids Page. ” Nuclear Energy (Uranium) Energy from atoms 4 Nov 2008 . “Hydroelectric Power. ” tvakids. com. 4 Nov 2008 . “History of solar energy. ” Solar Energy Information. 6 Nov 2008 . “Biomass Energy. ” Allianate Energy Kids. 6 Nov 2008 .