This topic of this research paper is to discuss why we need to switch to alternative energy sources. Alternative energy sources are readily available, environmentally friendly, and cost effective. Unlike fossil fuels, there is an unlimited amount of resources, and a lot less pollution.
Energy demands of our population are steadily rising. In the 1960’s energy consumption had increased 51 percent, compared to 36 percent in the 1950’s (Hakes, pg 17). The reason for this is the needs and desires to have bigger cars, houses, longer commutes, and more traveling. The needs and desires of our population are still rising. The United States is one of the top consumers in the world, when it comes to the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used to power vehicles, cool and heat homes, and to generate electricity. Fossil fuels are naturally formed from dead plants and animals over millions and millions of years.
Oil, natural gas, and coal are examples of fossil fuels. The world is aware that the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions and the leading contributor to green house gases and to global warming, which is the rise of the Earth’s surface temperature; which has increased 1.4 degrees F since the 1800’s. (World Book at NASA, para. 1). A large amount of carbon dioxide occurs when you burn fossil fuels and this is becoming a major concern for the world’s environment.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not the only threat to our environment. Oil is another major issue. Oils spills are extremely hazardous to our environment, our wildlife, and our own health.
“On March 24, 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil across 1,300 miles of coastline – a catastrophic event that lead to one of the most thorough examinations of the effects of oil on the environment. While the vast majority of the spill area now appears to have recovered, pockets of crude oil remain in some locations, and there is evidence that some damage is continuing.” (Office of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) Damage Assessment and Restoration, para 1).
Now, twenty-one years later, some species are still effect by the disaster. According to the Status of Injured Resources & Service some species are still not recovering and with some species the recovery is unknown. The Status of Injured Resources & Services was started in November of 1994 and is updated about every three years. You can review for yourself all of the species effect by the oil spill by visiting the following webpage: http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/recovery/status.cfm.
Do you know that oil still lingers around the spill site? “This Exxon Valdez oil is decreasing at a rate of 0-4% per year, with only a 5% chance that the rate is as high as 4%. At this rate, the remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely.” (Office of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) Damage Assessment and Restoration, Lingering Oil section, para. 4). Surely, we don’t experience disasters like this everyday, but they do occur. Let us take a look at the incident in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010. An oil rig exploded sending out millions of gallons of crude oil out daily, for three months. Although extensive damage has been done, it is still to early to assess the full effect of this catastrophe.
The population can not continue to utilize fossil fuels the way they are now. They are depleting more rapidly than they can grow back. This is why alternative energy is a must. Not only will it help prevent disasters as mentioned above, but it is much more reliable.
One excellent alternative to fossil fuel energy is solar energy. Not only is solar energy relatively cheap, in comparison to fossil fuels, but there is an abundance of sunlight. Harnessing this energy provides many environmental benefits, the most important being that there are almost no carbon emissions involved. Solar energy does not pollute air, and works extremely silently.
Solar energy also will not contribute to climate change, acid rain, and doesn’t leave behind toxic waste. The radiation from the sun’s rays can be used to heat our homes and can be converted to electricity. There are two ways that we can convert solar energy into electricity, photovoltaic devices and solar power plants. Photovoltaic cells transform solar energy directly into electricity by using a non-mechanical devices made from silicon alloys. The photovoltaic cells work in the following manner. “Sunlight is composed of photons, or particles of solar energy.
These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected, pass right through, or be absorbed. Only the absorbed photons provide energy to generate electricity. When enough sunlight (energy) is absorbed by the material (a semiconductor), electrons are dislodged from the material’s atoms. Special treatment of the material surface during manufacturing makes the front surface of the cell more receptive to free electrons, so the electrons naturally migrate to the surface. When the electrons leave their position, holes are formed.
When many electrons, each carrying a negative charge, travel toward the front surface of the cell, the resulting imbalance of charge between the cell’s front and back surfaces creates a voltage potential like the negative and positive terminals of a battery. When the two surfaces are connected through an external load, such as an appliance, electricity flows. The photovoltaic cell is the basic building block of a photovoltaic system. Individual cells can vary in size from about 0.5 inches to about 4 inches across. However, one cell only produces 1 or 2 watts, which isn’t enough power for most applications.
To increase power output, cells are electrically connected into a packaged weather-tight module. Modules can be further connected to form an array. The term array refers to the entire generating plant, whether it is made up of one or several thousand modules. The number of modules connected together in an array depends on the amount of power output needed.” (U.S. Energy, Kids section, Solar Photovoltaic para 2)
The downfall to PV cells is that is not the most effective form of conversion. They are more effective being used as a battery for our wrist watches; however, it is still currently being researched. Solar thermal power plants operate similarly to power plants that are burning fossil fuels. They transform the sun’s rays into steam that powers the generators, which will produce electricity, but since they are using steam there is no air pollution. By concentrating the solar rays onto receivers, the power plants can also create heat. The installation of a home solar system can cost upwards of $10,000 dollars. After the initial investment, the energy and heat required to heat your home cost nearly nothing. There are also incentives provided by the state and federal government.
The figure above does not represent any incentives that are currently offered by the state and federal government. You can review the incentives provided by each state and by the federal government on the following website: http://www.dsireusa.org. After installing the home solar system, it will generate between 750 to 1,600 kilowatt hours per year, based on the amount of sunlight received (Discover the true FACTS about Solar Energy, Facts about Solar Energy Systems). Another effective form of solar energy comes not from the solar rays we receive from the sun, but from the wind.
The kinetic energy provided by the wind can be captured by means of wind turbines and provided to the population. The turbines transform kinetic energy into electricity. “As of 2008, the United States ranks first in the world in wind power capacity, followed by Germany, Spain, and China. Denmark ranks ninth in the world in wind capacity, but generates 20 % of its electricity from wind.” (www.eia.doe.gov, International Wind Power). Wind is a clean form of energy that produces no air or water pollution. Currently the only environmental drawback to wind power would be the effect on the bird population.
The world’s capacity for alternative energy has grown tremendously in the last few years. With further research and by developing better technology to uniquely fit the various aspects of alternative energy sources, the world can have a much cleaner and healthier world to live in. The risks of using various forms of fossil fuel energy far outweigh the risks of the solar energy methods described in this paper. If the development of alternative energy is not increased, the population may see a world with limited energy sources in the future. Fossil fuels will not remain buried in the earth for the World’s consumption for ever. The time to change the way the world retrieves its energy is now. The world’s future is depending on it. References
DSIRE Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency [ Solar Power Incentives broken down by state]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2010, from North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). It is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), primarily through the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis (PBA). The site is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC. website: http://dsireusa.org/ Facts about Solar Energy systems. (n.d.).
Discover the true Facts about Solar Energy. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.facts-about-solar-energy.com/facts-about-solar-energy.html Hakes, J. (2008). Declaration of Energy Independence: How Freedom from Foreign Oil Can Improve National Security, Our Economy, and the Environment . Retrieved from ebrary database. Multimedia. (n.d.). Global Warming (world book at nasa). Retrieved September 21, 2010, from NASA Official:Brian Dunbar website: http://www.nasa.gov/worldbook/global_warming_worldbook.html Office of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) Damage Assessment and Restoration. (n.d.).
NOAA Fisheries National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Regional Office. Retrieved from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. website: http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/facts/index.cfm Solar energy. (2010, February 19). U.S. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from U.S. Department of Energy website: http://www.eia.doe.gov