I am thinking about pursuing the topic of alternate energy sources versus fossil fuels. I think this is a relevant topic to discuss because our ever-changing environment is a persistent issue that needs to be addressed. I am very interested in the effects humans have on our environment, and I think this topic will provide insight into how much people care about protecting our environment.
Spending time outdoors has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember, and I find it essential to help protect and improve the environment whenever possible: recycling, picking up garbage, and even walking instead of driving whenever possible. With the ever growing technological field, the use of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower have increased. These alternative energy sources are a great and sustainable replacement for the use of fossil fuels which are destroying our environment.
- Fossil fuels- A natural source of fuel, formed from the remains of living organisms from the geological past. Common forms are coal and gasoline.
- Alternative Fuel- A fuel source other than gasoline for powering motor vehicles, such as natural gas, methanol, or electricity. Generally known for being good for the environment.
- Solar power- radiant energy emitted from the sun and used as an alternative energy source.
- Wind power- the process of using the wind to move a turbine and create electricity. Another form of an alternative fuel source.
In recent years the creation and use of alternative energy sources have been rising due to the effects traditional fossil fuels are having on our environment. Although alternatives are classified as the more environmentally friendly energy source, many people opposed to this change in energy sources believe that fossil fuels are the superior source of energy.
Fossil fuels are defined as nonrenewable energy sources such as coal, gasoline, and oil. This type of energy source is formed from perished prehistoric lifeforms that were gradually buried by layers of rocks (“Fossils” par 1). A popular belief among supporters of fossil fuels is that the technology used to create the usable energy is well developed and therefore quite reliable (Maehlum par 2). Reliability does not happen overnight, and Mathias Maehlum shows his belief that these traditional fuel sources have stood the test of time by stating that “fossil fuels have been used to power our world for many decades,” (Maehlum par 1).
Part of this dependability can be found within the methods used to acquire it. To extract fossil fuels from the earth one must either mine the earth for coal or drill and use an advanced well system to obtain oil and natural gas (“Fossil Fuels” par 3). Many supporters believe that because of how reliable the extraction of fossil fuels has become, they have become “a dominant energy source” (“Impacts” par 4). Fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal are used conveniently for everyday needs: electricity generation, heating, and transportation (“Impacts” par 4). Supporters also point out the fact since fossil fuels have become a necessity for everyday life. This high demand of fossil fuels caused Covert, Greenstone, and Knittel to note that “fossil fuels provide substantial economic benefits”. They are known for being inexpensive when compared to their alternatives, so fossil fuels are more frequently purchased (Covert 117 & Maehlum par 3). Although alternatives seem like the only way to help protect the environment from the emissions caused by fossil fuels, scientists at the Energy Department’s National Labs are “developing technologies to reduce carbon emissions and ensure fossil energy sources play a role in America’s clean energy future.” (“Fossil” par 3).
This means that fossil fuels supporters are now looking for ways to keep the reliability of the traditional energy sources and make them environmentally friendly, which in everyone’s opinion is the end goal. Will this method be superior to the alternative fuel sources, or will solar, wind and hydropower prevail in the race to save our environment?
Covert, Thomas, Michael Greenstone, and Christopher R. Knittel. “Will We Ever Stop Using Fossil Fuels?” Ebscohost. N.p., 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
“Fossil.” Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
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Maehlum, Mathias Aarre. “Fossil Fuels Pros and Cons.” Energy Informative. N.p., 2 May 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
Renewable energy is viewed as the future of energy for not only our country but the world as a whole. Renewable energy, also known as alternative fuel, are energy sources that fall into one of the five main categories: biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar (“Renewable” par 2). In the past, these sources of energy have been viewed as less favorable than the traditional energy sources known as fossil fuels because of the extensive difference in cost. Although this may have been true, the prices of the technology needed to use this energy have dropped exponentially (“6 Charts” par 1). For example, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the price of land-based wind power dropped from approximately sixty-four cents in 1980 to right around five cents in 2015 per kilowatt hour (“6 Charts” Chart 1). This drop in prices has also affected solar panels, electric vehicles, and LED lighting (“6 Charts” par 4, 10, 13). In addition to the overall drop in prices, the government is also offering incentives for those who choose to make the switch to renewable energy. Although the incentives may vary from state to state, it is likely that the incentives will make the price of purchasing this technology much more financially realistic (“Energy” par. 1).
Although the price is a huge factor when deciding on an energy source, another essential factor that plays into the decision is the impact on our environment. With the increase in attention to climate change, many people are beginning to take notice of how their actions affect the future of our Earth. One major benefit of alternative energy is that it creates zero greenhouse gas emissions (“Renewable” par 5). The term greenhouse gas refers to a form of air pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere (“Greenhouse” par. 1). This trapped heat has caused warmer temperatures around the world and resulted in several factors of climate change including rising sea levels and drastic weather patterns (Mackenzie par. 9). In 2014, the total United States greenhouse gas emission was caused by 26 percent from transportation, 30 percent from electricity, 21 percent from industry, and 12 percent from commercial and residential use (“Greenhouse” chart 2). This means that by switching to renewable energy we could eliminate the emissions in our country completely, and help stop the global phenomenon that is climate change.
The decision between alternative energy and fossil fuels may seem clear cut to most considering how it could affect the environment, yet the transition still has not occurred. Will this transition ever be possible given how dependent we have become on traditional fuel sources?
“6 Charts That Will Make You Optimistic About America’s Clean Energy Future.” Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
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“Renewable Energy Sources Explained.” Independent Statistics & Analysis | U.S. Energy Information Administration. US Department of Energy, 2 Sept. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
Renewable Energy: The Savior of our Existence
Imagine the Earth 150 years from now; years after we are gone. Many may see a world of technology: advanced computers, complex societies, and incredible inventions. Although these ideas have great potential, there is one essential factor that could undermine this future from becoming a reality. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego believe that by this time the world’s supply of nonrenewable energy will be extinguished at the rate we are currently using it. (Murphy). In realistic terms, following the trend of today’s society, this idea of 150 years would actually be cut in half due to an approximately three percent increase in nonrenewable energy use each year (Murphy). This brings the extinction of oil to about 70 years from now, and within many of our lifetimes (Murphy). With our ever-evolving society and outstanding advances in technology, there are now ways to create the energy needed for our everyday lives without using a depleting source. Before revealing the energy sources that will save our future, it is important to recognize the ones that will soon be no longer, these sources are called fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are defined as nonrenewable energy sources such as coal, gasoline, diesel and oil. This type of energy source is formed from the remains of perished, prehistoric lifeforms that were gradually buried by layers of rock (“Fossils”). After being subjected to the extreme pressure and temperature within the ground for an extended period of time, the remains form a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons, also known as crude oil (“Where does”). Crude oil is then refined by breaking up the hydrocarbons to make several fossil fuel products (“Where does”). This process can be done in many ways; the most basic of which involves heating the crude oil to separate it into various components (“Where does”). These components are then used to create the fossil fuels we use today (“Where does”).
Fossil fuels, also known as the traditional fuel sources, are known to be well developed and reliable due to the longevity of their use (Maehlum). Traditional energy’s initial form, coal, kickstarted during the industrial revolution when there was a need for an energy source that burned hotter and cleaner than wood (“A Brief”). After this surge of coal usage, other fossil fuels rose to fame. Gasoline, the most popular fossil fuel used today, is made from crude oil as well as other petroleum liquids, and gasoline is mainly used for fueling the engines in vehicles (“History”). In 2015, it was estimated that the United States as a whole used approximately 385 million gallons of gasoline each day, most of which was used in the 200 million motor vehicles traveling a combined total of seven billion miles daily in the United States (“Use of Gasoline”; “Where does”).
Another common fossil fuel used in motor vehicles is diesel. Diesel is generally used in larger vehicles such as semi trucks, buses, trains, farm equipment, construction vehicles, and military vehicles (“Diesel”; “Use of Diesel”). In addition to vehicles, diesel can be used to power backup and emergency generators in large businesses and hospitals (“Diesel”). Diesel is known for its efficiency and safety features as well as having a greater power density than many other fuel sources (“Uses of Diesel”). Diesel can also hold approximately eighteen to thirty percent more energy per gallon than gasoline (“Uses of Diesel”).
Although these fuel sources have many positive features: affordability, dependability, and reliability, they have one major drawback, a negative environmental impact. Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. The term greenhouse gas refers to a form of air pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere (“Greenhouse”). Within the past twenty years, approximately three-fourths of human’s gas emissions have come from the burning of fossil fuels (“Fossil”). This trapped heat has caused warmer temperatures around the world and resulted in several factors of climate change including rising sea levels and drastic weather patterns (Mackenzie). Climate change due to greenhouse gases has a long term effect since these gases can be trapped in Earth’s atmosphere for large amounts of time. The two most commonly released greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are Carbon dioxide and Methane, both of which can linger in the atmosphere for extended periods of time (“Where Greenhouse”; “Greenhouse”). Methane can stay in the atmosphere for approximately twelve years (“Greenhouse”). Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, can stay in the atmosphere anywhere from fifty to thousands of years (“Greenhouse”). This means that the greenhouse gases emitted by humans today, will affect the climate for decades to come.
Fossil fuels not only damage the air quality, but they can also harm the environment as a whole. A major risk involved in using fossil fuels is found in the process to obtain it. The two ways of obtaining oil are onshore and offshore drilling (Paquette 5). Onshore drilling involves a mechanical process of drilling through the surface of the Earth’s soil (Paquette 5). Offshore drilling is also a mechanical process, but it involves drilling into the ocean floor (Paquette 5). When drilling, especially in the ocean, there is a chance that the oil rig could be compromised and break resulting in a catastrophic event known as an oil spill (Khakzad, Faisal, and Amyotte). Oil spills can cause immense destruction to the surrounding environment and nearby wildlife. The United States faced the worst oil spill in our country’s history on April 20, 2010 (The Ocean Portal Team). This spill, known as the Gulf Oil Spill or the BP Spill, continued until July 15, 2010; a total of eighty-seven days. (The Ocean Portal Team). What started as a large explosion, quickly developed into more than 4.9 million barrels of oil, about 206 million gallons, being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico covering 68,000 square miles (Shultz et. al 58).
Considering all of the consequences brought up by the use fossil fuels, one may wonder what they can do to avoid them. The answer is alternative fuel sources. Another common name for this type of fuel source is renewable energy. Renewable energy is viewed as the future of energy for not only our country but the world as a whole. Renewable energy sources are forms of energy that fall into one of the five main categories: biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar (“Renewable Energy Sources”). In the past, these sources of energy have been viewed as less favorable than the traditional energy sources because of the extensive difference in cost. Although this may have been true many years ago, the prices of the technology needed to use this energy have dropped exponentially (“6 Charts”). For example, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the price of land-based wind power per kilowatt hour dropped from approximately sixty-four cents in 1980 to right around five cents in 2015 (“6 Charts”). This drop in prices has also affected solar panels, electric vehicles, and LED lighting (“6 Charts”). In addition to the overall drop in prices, the government is also offering incentives for those who choose to make the switch to renewable energy. Although the incentives may vary from state to state, it is likely that the incentives will make the price of purchasing this technology much more financially realistic (“Energy”). “We need to invest dramatically in green energy, making solar panels so cheap that everybody wants them,” said Bjorn Lomborg, professor at the Copenhagen Business School and former director of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute, “Nobody wanted to buy a computer in 1950, but once they got cheap, everyone bought them.” (“151 Inspiring”).
When adjudicating about taking the leap to alternative fuels, one has many opportunities to choose from. The most commonly used alternative fuel source in the United States is hydropower, consuming a total of twenty-five percent of all renewable energy usage (“Renewable Energy”). Not only is hydropower popular in the United States, it has also become a large source of energy globally. According to the Energy Information Administration, global usage of hydroelectricity is expected to grow by 2.5 percent per year until 2040 (“Renewable Energy”). The process of obtaining electricity from water is a fairly simple process. This operation can be done in several types of stations, all of which use water’s kinetic energy while flowing downstream. Generally, to produce hydroelectricity, water is fed through a turbine or generator which in turn converts the water to electricity. The electricity is then transferred into an electrical grid and used to power houses and businesses (“How”). A large scale example of a hydropower facility is the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam creates large amounts of electricity by using the power of an entire river along its walls (“Hydropower”). Because of the simplicity involved in creating hydropower, all states except two, Delaware and Mississippi, use hydropower for electricity in some way. The states that do participate in the use of hydropower reap the rewards of lower electricity bills (“Hydropower”).
Another way to reduce your energy bill is by using solar energy to power your world. As of 2015 solar power only accounted for five percent of the total renewable energy consumed in the United States, but it has much more potential. The amount of energy emitted onto the Earth from the sun within one hour could provide enough energy for everyone on the Earth for a whole year (“Solar”). The energy that is obtained from sunlight must be accumulated by solar panels to be used as electricity. Solar panels use conductive cells made of substances such as silicon to absorb the energy from sunlight. The sunlight is then converted into electricity and transferred through a wire to a circuit and stored in a solar cell until used (“Power”). This stored energy can then be used to heat, cool, and light homes and businesses (“Solar”). This type of alternative energy is common for residential and commercial use because of its ability to increase efficiency, diversify energy sources, and save money (“Solar”).
With all of these reliable alternative options to fossil fuels, why do we as a society voluntarily endanger our environment with a fuel source that will run out? Why not switch to an energy source that will help protect our environment instead of destroying it as well as well as be around? There are many reasons why people do not trust alternative fuel sources, most of which are not true. One reason is that people believe this kind of energy will not be able to provide power 24/7. This statement is false because depending on the type of alternative energy, one may be able to generate power at all times of the day. For alternatives such as solar where energy can only be obtained during daylight hours, the electricity generated is stored in a fuel cell so it can be accessed at any time of the day (“Renewable Energy Myths”). Another myth is that alternative energy takes up too much usable space that could be used for more important purposes such as farming. Through international studies, this was found to be a myth because most livestock was completely unaffected by fuel generators (“Renewable Energy Myths”). The final notable myth is that creation of alternative energy generators creates just a much of a carbon trace as fossil fuels. Although the process of making these generators does leave a small trace of carbon, the use of the generator will quickly offset the carbon emissions by quickly generating energy with zero traces of carbon (“Renewable Energy Myths”).
If the world does not soon realize the importance of making the inevitable switch to alternative fuels, we will soon experience a complete loss of all fossil fuels in the not so distant future. In a world without fossil fuels, there will be no cars, no trains, no buses, and no planes. In a world without fossil fuels, there will be no way to transport necessities such as food and medical supplies. In a world without fossil fuels, power will be lost to not only homes but businesses, factories, and even hospitals. In a world without fossil fuels, trash will line the streets because garbage trucks won’t have their desired fuel source. The only way around this total evolution of lifestyles is by decreasing the dependence on fossil fuels and increasing the use of alternative fuels. “The good news is, we have everything we need now to respond to this challenge [fossil fuels],” said former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, “We have all the technologies we need, and more are being developed…. But we should not wait, we cannot wait, we must not wait.” (“151 Inspirational”).
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