Renewable Energy Sources Review Essay
The environmental damage caused by the non-renewable resources, and their rapid depletion require to transfer the generation of heat and electricity to non-traditional sources of clean energy, especially renewable. There is a need to take urgent measures to make our energy supplies safe and ecological. Today, energy industries are major polluters of the environment. Therefore, the importance of alternative energy is obvious, because it plays a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helps reduce the dependence on imported energy.
Oil Resources vs. Renewable Energy Sources
The renewable energy sources include: energy sources, such as burned biomass and waste (the solid biomass and animal products, biological mass, including any material of plant origin that are used directly as fuel or can be converted into other forms before combustion (wood, vegetable and animal wastes, charcoal, which is produced from solid biomass)), urban waste (materials that are burned to produce heat and power generation – waste of residential, commercial and public sectors), hydropower (potential or kinetic energy of water converted into electricity using hydro power plants, both large and small), geothermal energy (heat coming from the subsurface, usually in the form of hot water or steam. It is clear that there are much more renewable energy sources than non-renewable ones. This paper is going to discuss the importance of creating energy sources that are safe and friendly to the environment, the pros and cons of renewable energy sources, the effect of burning oil on the atmosphere, the environmental consequences of oil resources as well as the solution to the problem the society faces today.
The Effect of Burning Oil on the Atmosphere
Today, most thermal and electric energy is obtained by burning fossil fuels and turning its chemical energy into electricity and heat. About 80% of all types of pollution of the biosphere is due to energy processes. Oil resources are burned in such quantities that the products of combustion (harmful and toxic gas emissions and aerosols) change the composition of the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere.
Carbon dioxide CO2 is produced by burning fossil fuels, especially, oil. This is the base component, which causes the formation of “greenhouse effect.” As a result of incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide CO is extracted. It is the toxic gas that has harmful effect on the cardio-vascular system. CO2 molecules pass the wave of ultraviolet solar radiation, but absorb long-wave radiation in the infrared spectrum of frequencies that cause an increase in temperature of the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide SO2 is one of the most toxic gaseous emissions of power plants. Heavy oil resources contain the greatest amount of sulfur. Sulfur dioxide affects the oxidation, destroys materials, and has harmful effect on human health.
Nitrogen oxides are formed during combustion of any fossil fuel containing nitrogen compounds. Nitrogen oxides have harmful impact on human health, causing the formation of “greenhouse effect” and the destruction of the ozone layer. In addition, nitrogen oxides lead to ” forest extinction”, “acid rain” and so on.
The Importance of Creating Safe Energy Sources
Analyzing the information mentioned above, it becomes clear why it is so important to create energy sources that are safe and friendly to the environment. The use of non-renewable source, especially, oil resources causes the formation of “greenhouse effect”, destruction of the ozone layer, the increase in the temperature of the atmosphere, “forest extinction”, “acid rain”, etc. It also has a deleterious effect on people’s health, especially, on the cardio-vascular system.
Thus, the need for creation of energy sources that are safe and friendly to the environment is determined by the following factors:
- Rapid growth in demand for electric energy and depletion of proven reserves of fossil fuels in the near future.
- The pollution of the environment by oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, carbon dioxide, from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Replacing Energy from Other Sources
The population consumes large amount of energy each year. For example, as stated in the article “U.S. total energy consumption by sector 2013”, “In 2013, approximately 21.09 quadrillion British thermal units of energy were consumed by the U.S. residential sector.” The USA has already consumed 20% of its energy (World Population Balance, n.d.). It is possible to replace this energy with the energy from other sources, for example, such sources as solar energy and wind power. Solar energy is the kinetic energy of the radiation, which is formed as a result of the thermonuclear reactions in the solar interior. Solar energy is one of those alternatives ignoring which will lead to the catastrophic consequences for humanity in the near future. Using solar energy is a progressive method for obtaining various types of energy. However, people began to think about the use of this technology only in the last century.
Nowadays, there are the following technologies of solar energy:
- Active (solar energy is used for water heating, lighting, ventilation).
- Passive (a special feature of passive solar structure building for the organization of ventilation, heating or lighting is the selection of building materials of relevant physical parameters, specific planning of rooms, and placement of windows).
Some of today’s solar technologies are natural lighting systems. They are used for decorating offices and dwellings as the alternative to electric lamps. In addition to aesthetic and psychological satisfaction, natural lighting systems help to save on electricity and are famous among connoisseurs of unusual architectural buildings. Solar roofing has come a long way over the last 20-30 years. Today’s solar panels are much more efficient than they have ever been. As the technology continues to improve, these solar roof kits will become a more practical alternative to fossil fuel based energy sources. (“Portable solar panels, solar energy kits and roof mount”, n.d.)
Solar water heating setup – is the system of water heating in reservoirs, mainly for household needs. Today, China is the world leader in the use of such facilities, where solar collector heaters occupy 80 % of this particular market segment. According to Energy Saving Trust (n.d.), “Solar hot water is a green, renewable heating system and can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.”
Another modern solar technology is helio-concentrators. It is a method of focusing sunlight and producing electricity or heat with the use of reflectors (flat or parabolic mirrors of different shapes and sizes). These solar thermal systems are rare because of the high cost. These systems have been built and used in Spain and Portugal providing converted energy for different purposes.
Another energy source is wind power which is one of the oldest sources of energy used by the mankind and, undoubtedly, one of the most economical ones. Mistaken claims about wind power often scare people away from the use of this energy source. However, wind turbines are the very promising way to obtain energy from clean sources, particularly, in terms of the increased cost of oil, gas, and coal and the shortage of natural resources. “Wind turbines can be used to generate large amounts of electricity in wind farms both onshore and offshore” (“Wind turbines”, n.d.).
Nowadays, the wind power stations are everywhere. Using such modern technology as a wind turbine, these stations convert the mechanical energy of the wind into electricity. They are perfect for the needs of the developing countries. They can be put in place and connected to the power supply system in a shorter time and at lower cost compared to the introduction of large power plants with complicated infrastructure, for the production and transmission of electricity. Therefore, developing countries have a strong interest in wind power market. According to Wind Energy Foundation, Wind energy became the number-one source of new U.S. electricity-generating capacity for the first time in 2012, providing some 42% of all new generating capacity. In fact, 2012 was a strong year for all renewables, as together they accounted for more than 55% of all new U.S. generating capacity.
One more present-day wind technology is a wind powered electric car invented by a brave Chinese farmer. By its characteristics the car can be compared to a conventional car. “What makes the one-seater special is the turbine on its nose. When the car reaches 40mph (64kph), the blades spring into the action and begin generating pollution-free power” (“Chinese farmer invents ‘wind-powered’ car”, 2012).
This Chinese auto inventor has spent more than a thousand dollars to build the car. However, the invention is worth it; he drives on the roads of the city and amazes people.
There are many advantages of wind energy development including environmental and practical factors. The world total kinetic energy of wind can be roughly estimated as 80 times higher than the total energy. Modern wind energy is one of the most advanced and promising types of alternative energy.
The Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy Sources
Renewable energy sources have their pros and cons.
The advantages of renewable energy are:
- They are virtually inexhaustible.
- It is an environmentally clean way to produce energy. It does not pollute the atmosphere, does not consume fuel and does not cause thermal pollution.
- There is no need for extraction, processing and delivering of fuel.
- There is no need for scarce high-temperature materials, with the exception of solar heat concentrators.
- Renewable energy sources can work without maintenance and are constantly renewed by the nature reserve.
- There is no need in energy transportation.
The disadvantages of renewable energy are:
The main disadvantage of most renewable energy sources is their potential energy volatility. Moreover, some of the renewable energy sources have their own disadvantages; however, they are not so important in comparison with advantages mentioned above.
- Wind power creates the noise of high frequency, so they require large areas of land for their placement.
- Solar energy also requires the use of large areas of land, but photovoltaic elements in large solar power plants are installed at a height of 1,8-2,5 meters, which allows to use the land below the power plant for agricultural purposes.
- The flow of solar energy to the Earth’s surface is highly dependent on latitude and climate. The average number of sunny days per year can be very different in various areas.
- The solar power is dependent on the day time and weather conditions.
The Environmental Consequences of Oil Resources
All oil resources are underground. In order to get them, a number of different machines and mechanisms should be used. Unfortunately, the production technology is not always perfect, which leads to negative consequences. The first problem is the exploitation of old fields. Most of them are not cemented, and this results in disrupted integrity and oil gets into groundwater. Nowadays, more and more developed countries introduce new production technology, but it does not save nature from pollution. In terms of exploration, there is a need to drill wells in order to determine the oil field, which adversely affects the exploration area. While extracting oil, the leak in the groundwater or surface may occur, causing irreparable damage. Oil extracting from the underground may cause the landslides.
Oil burning leads to the formation of smog over major cities, the so-called greenhouse effect (carbon dioxide keeps heat of the sun, which can cause global warming), acid rain (when gaseous acidic oxides combine with water vapor in clouds, and when the rains fall, the water contains so much acid that it “burns” plants and poisons the soil and water).
Oil wastes are also of great danger. During the processing of oil resources, many toxic substances may form. In addition, many resources are lost in transit. They litter the earth, seas and rivers. Particular damage can be cause by oil spilled into the sea or ocean. Spilled oil does not allow the sunlight penetration that is necessary for fish and algae. Birds and fish die from poisoning, suffocation or starvation.
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In order to prevent and reduce the impact of the oil resources on the nature, it is necessary to develop alternative renewable energy (wind, solar, tides, geothermal, etc.), which can reduce the need for fossil fuels and thus reduce emissions of toxic gases that lead to the greenhouse effect and acid rain. The existing boiler stations should have ultra-filtration and smoke purification systems. It is also necessary to learn how to neutralize wastes and recycle them. The conditions of transportation of resources should be improved.
All these measures will help to restore stability and harmony between man and nature. Nature will not retaliate against man by bringing all sorts of natural disasters, and the man, in its turn, will make rational use of natural resources.