Energy is a factor of the well being of the people and is a production factor of the commercial and industrial sectors. Energy is the power we use for transportation, for heat and light in our homes and for the manufacture of all kinds of products. There are two sources of energy: renewable and nonrenewable energy. Nonrenewable energy we use comes from fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and petroleum. Uranium is another nonrenewable source, but it is not a fossil fuel. Uranium is converted to a fuel and used in nuclear power plants. Once these natural resources are used up, they are gone forever. The process of gathering these fuels can be harmful to the biomes from which they come. Fossil fuels are put through a process called combustion in order to produce energy. Combustion releases pollution, such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, which may contribute to acid rain and global warming. Renewable sources of energy can bee used over and over again. Renewable resources include solar energy, wind, geothermal energy, biomass and hydropower. They generate much less pollution, both in gathering and production, than nonrenewable sources.
For the most part, today’s energy sources are composed of
Petroleum is the most commonly used energy source, supplying about 40% of the planet’s energy. Petroleum is used to produce fuels, such as gasoline (petrol), diesel, and numerous fuels for heating. This rich energy source is found in crude oil. This substance is pumped from deep beneath the earth. The next step in this process is the processing of the oil in large refineries. Here, many of the polluting faactors of crude oil are removed, and gasoline and other fuels are made.
Coal is the next largest energy source used today. It is used mostly to create the steam in boilers, so as to generate electricity or drive large machinery. In many countries coal is still used as a source of heat. Even though coal is used widely across the globe, it does have a sizeable drawback, pollution. When burned, coal releases sulfur and numerous other contaminants into the atmosphere. Th
Natural gas makes up about 21% of the total energy used world wide. Used in households and commercial buildings for cooking and heating, natural gas is extracted from the earth (like petroleum). Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, as it is refined naturally during its formation within the earth. Because of this fact, the need for large refineries are not necessary.
The supply of fossil fuels is being depleted at quite an alarming rate. Soon it may be necessary to extract the oil from bituminous sands and oil shale. Bituminous sands are sands that have been covered with oil producing substances. Rocks that can be processed to make crude oil, known as oil shale, may also be a substitution for other types of energy even if it may be more costly.
Hydro Power creates about 7% of the total energy used today. Hydropower, or water power, is the process of capturing the energy of water that falls from a higher point to a lower point. The water turns large turbines which then create electrical energy. Hydropower creates no pollution of an
Nuclear energy provides about 6% of today’s energy used commercially. Nuclear fission is the process of splitting atomic nuclei of elements such as plutonium and uranium. The advantage of nuclear fission, is that it produces huge amounts of energy from small quantities of fuel. Today it powers many naval vessels and other large ships. Nuclear energy also has some quite formidable disadvantages. Nuclear fission produces many radioactive wastes that stay harmful for many hundreds of years. Since nuclear power fuel sources are so unstable, any sort of accident would release toxic radiation into the environment. This tragedy was seen at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl.
Solar Energy is used widely across the globe. Unfortunately, as currently utilized, this source of energy fails to produce enough power with which to run towns or buildings. It is used mainly on a household level. The sun’s rays are collected with flat-plate collectors mounted in an area with good direct sunlight. The collectors convert that solar energy into heat energy. Electricity is produced by solar, or photovoltaic cells, typically providing heat fo
Wind power is another clean power source and is more widely used than solar power. Electricity is generated by the wind turning the large propellers of windmills. Wind power is a very efficient source of energy in areas that are invariably windy.
Tidal energy is produced by water as it flows from high tide to low tide. As the water rises, a dam closes in the bay. Then when the tide falls, the water is released and flows through a turbine generating energy. The only disadvantage with this system is that energy is only being produced when water in the tide is falling.
Geothermal power is another clean alternative to fossil fuels. Steam power is produced whenever water is channeled onto the incredibly hot rocks that lie beneath the surface of the earth. Power companies drill deep into the earth and generate energy with the steam that is given off. Geothermal energy is already being produced in some European and Asian countries, as well as in the United States.
Hydrogen will probably be a replacement for many fuels in the future. It produces large amounts of energy, and the only byproduct is water. Hydrogen at low temperatures can be stored in tanks, and is extremely lightweight. The Hydrogen atoms are removed from water by hydrolysis (from the Greek Hydro – water and Lysis – splitting). Unfortunately hydrolysis is a costly process, but perhaps with continued research it may be realistic alternative to existing energy sources.
Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generators are a futuristic answer to the energy crisis. MHDs convert fuel directly into electricity by burning a fuel at high temperatures, producing ionized gasses. These gasses can be pushed through a magnetic field creating electricity. These generators still have to be refined before they can be widely accepted.
The energy crisis
The speed at which the human race is using energy resources has become a serious issue. Not only are these energy resources being depleted at an alarming rate, but they are also causing some severe damage to the environment.
Most types of fuel reserves were formed millions of years ago by the natural decomposition of trees and other plant material. On land, the combination of heat and pressure slowly changed the plant matter into coal. Natural gases and petroleum were also formed in a similar way but in the ocean. As you can see we are exhausting these resources far faster than they are being restored, and if we continue this practice, the earth will be completely stripped of all of its life-giving properties.
It is obvious that we need to find some alternatives to fossil fuels. We have discovered ways to produce clean burning, environmentally-friendly fuels. All of our current energy resources will likely be consumed by the middle of the twenty first century. Petroleum will be the first fuel to be used up. Maybe with the implementation of electrically powered vehicles on a large scale, the petroleum reserve may weather another century or possibly more. Natural gas is also being used quite extravagantly. With some luck it may last a little longer than petroleum. Coal will probably last another couple of centuries. When these easily-accessible resources are finished, society will have to try to extract oil from bituminous sands and oil shale which is significantly more difficult. Consequently as these resources become scarce, their price rises, forcing alternative measures to be employed.
The secondary effect of energy consumption is the detrimental result on the environment. Producing fossil fuels can destroy the environment with pollution, oil spills, deforestation, and numerous other activities. Wildlife habitats are being destroyed by the logging industry; oceans are being polluted by offshore oil rigs; beaches are being contaminated. The burning of coal fills the air with poisonous substances. Acid rain is polluting many of the lakes and rivers that we get our water from. All of this is happening because of our need for fossil fuels. It is crucial that we find a way to preserve our environment and provide for all of our energy needs.
Not only are we destroying our planet as we are inhabiting it, we are also changing the weather for future generations by filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a harmless gas, but large concentrations of it in the atmosphere create a phenomenon called the “greenhouse effect.” This creates a sort of blanket over the earth, trapping heat that otherwise would dissipate back into space. This trapped heat will consequently raise the temperature on the earth, change global weather patterns, and may eventually melt the polar ice caps, causing floods on a global scale. Nature provides a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through photosynthesis in plants and trees. Unfortunately, humans have also been destroying the rain forests that contribute the most in terms of carbon dioxide removal.
We need more government regulation, economic incentives, and tougher safety standards in order to prevent excess use of energy resources and careless accidents that could forever change the planet we live on. Unless we make some dynamic attempt to change the course we have placed ourselves on, we may see our children living in a very different world than we remember.
As the world develops and becomes more technologically advanced, energy sources will become increasingly important. No matter how advanced we become, if we don’t have the energy sources to support our activities, they won’t happen. In the past, we have relied heavily upon fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas to support our energy needs. As fossil fuels run out, we will be looking to employ different energy sources such as renewable sources and nuclear sources, the technology for which is currently being developed.
To make sure we have plenty of energy in the future, it’s up to all of us to use energy wisely. We must all conserve energy and use it efficiently. It’s also up to those who will create the new energy technologies of the future. All energy sources have an impact on the environment. Concerns about the greenhouse effect and global warming, air pollution, and energy security have led to increasing interest and more development in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, wave power and hydrogen. But we’ll need to continue to use fossil fuels and nuclear energy until new, cleaner technologies can replace them. The future is ours, but we need energy to get there.