With the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) taking place in Abu Dhabi in a few days' time (15th - 17th January 2013) it seemed an appropriate time to take stock and review the sustainable energy sources that we have access to at this time. This article will explain some of the sources of renewable energy and state their pros and cons.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Sustainable Energy refers to sources of energy that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. The types of energy that this article will examine include Solar Energy, Hydroelectric Energy, Wind Energy, Wave Power and Geothermal Energy.
This is perhaps the most well-known source of sustainable energy. Solar Energy refers to energy that is generated by converting sunlight into electricity. This is done through either Photovoltaics (this is the method used with solar panels) or Concentrated Solar Power.
The Sun is a source of immense power and due to its virtually limitless nature would make a great source of energy. Only around one hundred millionth of a percent of the sun's energy reaches earth and experts estimate that if we could harness 100% of this for 1 minute it would be enough to meet the demands of the earth for a whole year.
At the present time, the reason that Solar Panels cannot be effectively implemented is because they just aren't efficient enough. Solar Panels convert approximately 16% of the sunlight that directly hits them into electricity, this coupled with the monetary cost of producing and installing solar panels means that it is ruled out as a viable option for the majority of the UK.
This is another famous source of sustainable energy. Hydroelectric power refers to power generated by water running through and turning turbines and thus driving generators - usually in a dam. Once constructed, electricity can be produced very cheaply. There are a number of famous dams around the world that are used for this very purpose; the most famous example is probably the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam is located on the Colorado River and borders the states of Nevada and Arizona; at one point, the Hoover Dam provided most of the electricity for the famous gambling city Las Vegas; this is not the case now due to the vastly increasing level of power that the city uses.
There are a few drawbacks of hydroelectric power; the most notable ones are as follows.
The dams can be very expensive to build, although the costs can be offset because often dams are also installed as a method of flood control.
Finding a suitable location is also an issue; building a dam can impact both humans and animals that live in the local area. Plant life can also be affected as water supply downstream can be impacted.
Wind power has been used to some extent for a very long time, even back in the middle ages windmills were used to grind corn, but is it a realistic source of sustainable energy these days?
Wind power refers to power generated due to wind driving a generator; this is usually in the form of a wind turbine or wind mill.
The basic idea is very similar to that of hydroelectric power, except the generators are powered through wind instead of water.
The more of these turbines that there are and the bigger they are results in more electricity being produced. This is why there tends to be wind farms rather than stand-alone turbines.
One of the big advantages of wind power is that wind is free and that any land that turbines inhabit can still be used for other purposes such as farming.
The main disadvantages are that it isn't windy every day, meaning that your power supply could be unpredictable. Suitable locations are often near the cost due to more frequent and stronger winds; the land in these locations can be expensive though so it is often an expensive power source to initially erect.
Finally, many people see wind farms as an eye sore, it is usually a case of 'I'm all for wind energy as long as I can't see or hear the turbines!' Villages and towns have been known to hold formal protests and demonstrations against them! You can't have it both ways people.