Alternative Energy Sources – What is Alternative Energy?
The term “alternative” in this case presupposes the current set of energy technologies against which “alternative energies” are compared. As such, the list of energy technologies excluded is an indicator of which problems the alternative technologies are intended to address. Controversies regarding dominant sources of energy and alternatives to them have a long history, ever since fire was discovered for a matter of fact. The nature of what is regarded as alternative energy sources have considerably changed over time, as with the technologies that we use to extract and utilize them. Currently, in this modern day and age, due to the wide variety of energy choices and differing goals and agenda’s of their advocates, defining some energy types as “alternative” has become highly controversial.
As such, big oil and coal don’t want to lose market share and are launching campaigns to dispel the harmful effects of their energy products .They want to keep that money rolling in, at whatever cost to the environment, and ultimately mankind. They prefer to keep things as they are, and are slow to adapt to the new wave of clean and renewable energy sources, however some progress is being made.The problem with our current energy conventional energy sources are that they pollute the environment, are harmful to the environment wildlife, and humans and they are finite, which means that the day will come when there will be no more, and leading up to that point we will witness increasing prices as demand keeps rising along with the costs to find and extract them. There is no such thing as cheap oil anymore, as all of the conventional, easy to extract sources are all long depleted by ow, and we are now involved with searches and drilling in deep ocean locations, and extracting it from tar sands, which both cost a great deal more than our old wells. Back to the case at hand, in contemporary society standards, the current definition of alternative energy is that which is produced without the undesirable consequences that are associated with the burning of fossil fuels, such as high carbon dioxide emissions, which is considered to be the major contributing factor of global warming according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sometimes, this less comprehensive meaning of “alternative energy” excludes nuclear energy, as there are some nasty potential dangers associated with this form of energy as well, just look at Japan for instance and their nuclear power issues with Fukishima.
Economics historians have long studied the key transitions to alternative energies and regard the transitions as pivotal in bringing about significant economic changes and advances. Prior to the shift to alternative energy sources, supplies of the dominant energy type became erratic, accompanied by rapid increases in energy prices, as we are witnessing with oil today.
Coal Alternative to Wood
Norman F. Cantor, a historian describes how during the late medieval period, coal was discovered as the new alternative fuel to save the society from overuse of the dominant fuel of the era, wood:
“Europeans had lived in the midst of vast forests throughout the earlier medieval centuries. After 1250 they became so skilled at deforestation that by 1500 AD they were running short of wood for heating and cooking… By 1500 Europe was on the edge of a fuel and nutritional disaster, [from] which it was saved in the sixteenth century only by the burning of soft coal and the cultivation of potatoes and maize. “
Crude Oil Alternative to Whale Oil
In the early 19th century, whale oil was the dominant form of lubrication and fuel for lamps, but the rapid depletion of the whale stocks by the middle of the century caused the price of whale oil to skyrocket which began the process and set the stage for the adoption of petroleum which was first discovered and commercialized in Pennsylvania in 1859.
Alcohol Alternative to Fossil Fuels
Then, ahead of his time apparently, Alexander Graham Bell advocated for the use of ethanol from corn, wheat and other foodstuffs as an alternative to coal and oil, stating that the world was in measurable distance of depleting these fuels in 1917. For Bell, the problem requiring an alternative was lack of renew-ability of orthodox energy sources. Since the 1970s and the first OPEC oil embargo, Brazil has had an ethanol fuel program which has allowed the country to become the world’s second largest producer of ethanol (after the United States) and the world’s largest exporter. Brazil’s ethanol fuel program uses modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, and the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to process heat and power. There are no longer light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. By the end of 2008 there were 35,000 filling stations throughout Brazil with at least one ethanol pump.
Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a diverse array of vegetation, and involves the use of the whole crop. This new approach should increase yields and reduce the carbon footprint because the amount of energy-intensive fertilizers and fungicides will remain the same, for a higher output of usable material. As of 2008, there are nine commercial cellulosic ethanol plants which are either operating, or under construction, in the United States. This is a more ethical choice, as we don’t have to use food crops that feed people and animals to fuel our vehicles, and will not increase the cost of food, as corn ethanol increases the price of corn and other foodstuffs made from corn. It also won’t deplete the worlds food supplies as fast, so more people can have access to cheaper food, whereas using food crops depletes resources that could and should be used to feed the masses, and won’t require additional land and other resources to plant and grow them.
The current generation of biofuels, now in the second-generation of biofuel technologies have the capability to manufacture biofuels from inedible biomass and could ultimately further prevent the immoral conversion of food into fuel.
Coal Gasification Alternative to Petroleum
As of July 2010, there is one commercial second-generation (2G) ethanol plant Inbicon Biomass Refinery, which is operating in Denmark.
In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter’s administration advocated coal gasification as an alternative to expensive imported oil. The program, including the Synthetic Fuels Corporation was scrapped when petroleum prices plummeted in the 1980s. The carbon footprint and environmental impact of coal gasification are both very high, and this is something we do not advocate,as it clearly won’t ease any of the current issues related to fossil fuels.
Alternative Energy Sources
- Solar Energy
- Solar energy is generating of electricity from the sun. It is split up into two types, thermal and electric energy. These two subgroups mean that they heat up homes (and water) and generate electricity respectively.
- Wind Energy
- Wind energy is generating of electricity from the wind.
- Geothermal Energy
- Geothermal energy is using hot water or steam from the Earth’s interior for heating buildings or electricity generation.
- Biofuel and ethanol
- Biofuel and ethanol are plant-derived substitutes of gasoline for powering vehicles.
- Hydrogen is used as clean fuel for airplanes, spaceships, and vehicles.
New Technology for Alternative Energy Sources
- Algae fuel
- Algae fuel is a type of biofuel that is derived from algae. During photosynthesis, algae and other photosynthetic organisms capture carbon dioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen and biomass. The benefits of algal biofuel are that it can be produced industrially, thereby obviating the use of arable land and food crops (such as soy, palm, and canola), and that it has a very high oil yield as compared to all other sources of biofuel.
- Tidal and Wave Energy
- Tidal and wave energy are similar to wind in that they utilize turbines, however in this case they are placed under water and are turned by the currents running through the water.
- Biomass briquettes
- Biomass briquettes are being developed in the developing world as an alternative to charcoal. The technique involves the conversion of almost any plant matter into compressed briquettes that typically have about 70% the calorific value of charcoal. There are relatively few examples of large scale briquette production. One exception is in North Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where forest clearance for charcoal production is considered to be the biggest threat to Mountain Gorilla habitat. The staff of Virunga National Park have successfully trained and equipped over 3500 people to produce biomass briquettes, thereby replacing charcoal produced illegally inside the national park, and creating significant employment for people living in extreme poverty in conflict affected areas.
- Biogas digestion deals with harnessing the methane gas that is released when waste breaks down. This gas can be retrieved from garbage or sewage systems. Biogas digesters are used to process methane gas by having bacteria break down biomass in an anaerobic environment. The methane gas that is collected and refined can be used as an energy source for various products.
- Hydrogen gas is a completely clean burning fuel; its only by-product is water. It also contains relatively high amount of energy compared with other fuels due to its chemical structure.
2H2 + O2 → 2H2O + High Energy
High Energy + 2H2O → 2H2 + O2
This requires a high-energy input, making commercial hydrogen very inefficient. Use of a biological vector as a means to split water, and therefore produce hydrogen gas, would allow for the only energy input to be solar radiation. Biological vectors can include bacteria or more commonly algae. This process is known as biological hydrogen production. It requires the use of single celled organisms to create hydrogen gas through fermentation. Without the presence of oxygen, also known as an anaerobic environment, regular cellular respiration cannot take place and a process known as fermentation takes over. A major by-product of this process is hydrogen gas. If we could implement this on a large scale, then we could take sunlight, nutrients and water and create hydrogen gas to be used as a dense source of energy. Large-scale production has proven difficult. It was not until 1999 that we were able to even induce these anaerobic conditions by sulfur deprivation. Since the fermentation process is an evolutionary back up, turned on during stress, the cells would die after a few days. In 2000, a two-stage process was developed to take the cells in and out of anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions and therefore keep them alive. For the last ten years, finding a way to do this on a large-scale has been the main goal of research. Careful work is being done to ensure an efficient process before large-scale production, however once a mechanism is developed, this type of production could solve our energy needs.
Alternative Energy Sources for Transportation
Due to steadily rising gas prices in 2008 with the US national average price per gallon of regular unleaded gas rising above $4.00 at one point, there has been a steady movement towards developing higher fuel efficiency and more alternative fuel for consumer vehicles. In response to that rise in demand, many smaller companies have rapidly increased their new research and development into radically different ways of powering consumer vehicles. Hybrid and battery electric vehicles are commercially available and are gaining wider industry and consumer acceptance worldwide, not to mention market share. Electric vehicles are now becoming more regular, as are other alternative powered vehicles.
Making Current Alternative Energy Sources Mainstream
Before our current set of alternative energy sources become more main-stream and deliver a substantial amount of our energy needs, there are several critical obstacles in which we must overcome. There also is a lot at stake in the battle over the new alternative energy sources, which is hampering progress in several ways:
- First there must be increased understanding of how alternative energies work and why they are beneficial
- Second, the availability components for these systems must increase
- Third, the pay-off time, or return on investment (ROI) must be decreased
- Fourth, We must come to a consensus as how we are to move forward in terms of transportation, as an example, electric cars and hybrid vehicles are growing, alternative fuels are expanding and advancing, we must decide on how to move forward with the infrastructure for refueling these new types of vehicles. As it stands now, there is no clear direction or path for which to move forward and it is a hodgepodge of ideas, concepts and technologies.
- Fifth Smart grid infrastructures must also be agreed upon. Again, here we have differences on opinions and obviously agendas, so we need to come to a consensus here as well on how to move forward.
- Last, but not least, much of the issues holding us back from truly pushing alternative energy sources forward and making them mainstream are of financial nature, so we must address those to truly make this much needed change. Big oil wants their share of the pie, big coal wants their share, and no one wants to lose out on those old sources of energy, however, dwindling resources and price increases will dictate that we move forward, and swiftly, irregardless of climate issues, however those should be a reason to move ahead as well. This reminds me of the last great energy crisis, when we were deciding to go with either Westinghouse and Einsteins direct current, or alternating current.
- Sustainable Energy
- Is Electricity Renewable
- Solar Renewable Energy
- Biomass Energy
- Space Based Solar Power
- REnewable Energy Policy
- Offshore Wind Power
- Renewable and Non Renewable Energy Sources
- Green Power
- Solar Power Advantages and Disadvantages
- Green Economy
- Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
- Vegetable Oil as Fuel
- Ethanol Ethics
During the initial years of electricity distribution, Edison’s direct current was the standard for the United States, and Edison did not want to lose all his patent royalties. Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps, which were the principal load of the day, and with motors. Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation. Direct-current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability. At the introduction of Edison’s system, no practical AC motor was available. Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked only with direct current. As of 1882 these were all significant technical advantages of direct current.
Alternating current had first developed in Europe due to the work of Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris. In North America one of the believers in the new technology was George Westinghouse. Westinghouse was willing to invest in the technology and hired William Stanley, Jr. to work on an AC distribution system using step up and step down transformers of a new design in 1886. After Stanley left Westinghouse, Oliver Shallenberger took control of the AC project. Nikola Tesla joined the team after 1888. Tesla partnered with Westinghouse Electric to commercialize his particular AC system. Westinghouse had previously bought the rights to Tesla’s polyphase system patents and other patents for AC transformers from Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs.
Of course, now is not so much different from those early days of electricity, as companies battle over ‘their’ technologies and their ‘market share’. Solar, wind, tidal, wave, hydro, they are all viable sources, and we must utilize them all to replace the current antiquated energy model we have. Now may not be the best time to be fighting over market shares and profits as we are heading down a dark path towards increases in CO2 levels not witnessed for millions of years, and with expectations to reach levels that could spell doom for our current day lifestyles. We truly need to be advocates for the planet in this instance and demand that we push forward with energy policies that favor green power and technologies and are healthy for the planet, and restrict, if not eliminate the damage we do to our home.
What is alternative energy and what are our alternative energy sources are fairly simple, unfortunately, there are many issues that lie in our path towards switching to these newer technologies. Our energy policies must dictate that we utilize them, and switch the massive subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel industries to clean energy production, as this will more or less move it forward, otherwise it will stay as it is now, a hodgepodge of projects here and there, but nothing substantial enough to make a real dent in our greenhouse gas emissions or poisoning of our planet. Unfortunately, money is the only motivator in today’s society, so we need to create more incentives in moving forward, not less, at least until we progress to a green economy, if we ever do get that far. If you think the economy is bad now, just wait till the real storms and devastation from climate change hit, then we really will have trouble!
Demand that politicians and the 1% quit playing with our lives and the future of our home and move forward with alternative energy sources and let them know what is alternative energy, or remind them that it is imperative that we make significant progress and soon! Peace my friends!