Producing electricity in the modern world has significant environmental impacts and as consumers we have a responsibility to investigate alternative sources of energy.
The most common form of electricity production – burning coal – produces harmful carbon dioxide and other chemicals, which contributes to air pollution and climate change.
Coal is the largest source of electricity (42 per cent) and the second source of energy (30 per cent) in the world. The USA, Russia, China, India and Japan make up a large 76 per cent of the biggest coal users.
It is important to remember that coal is not a sustainable resource and is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
There are several alternate energy sources that are much more environmentally friendly and that are increasingly available to households. We often hear the terms ‘green power’ or ‘renewable energy’ – but what are these sources of energy?
Here are four different energy sources that are increasingly used for power:
The heat and light generated by the sun can be converted into energy. Most commonly, solar panels are used to trap the heat and the light of the sun, which then moves through a wire to create an electric current. While there is a cost involved in installing solar panels, solar energy is sustainable and once installed, there is no ongoing maintenance needed. Also, should you produce more energy than your house needs, excess solar energy can be sold back into the power grid.
The USA, China, Germany and Spain are the biggest users of wind energy in the world. This is the most cost effective renewable energy source, as wind can be harnessed to generate energy on a large scale. Large windmills (generally set on wind farms) turn the blades and drive a generator, which produces electricity. While it’s difficult to generate your own wind energy, your house will use energy supplied by wind farms if you elect to buy a percentage of green power from your energy provider.
Biomass is a renewable fuel that is produced by converting an array of plant and animal matter into useable fuels or electricity through steam generators. Specifically, biomass is derived from wood, garbage, landfill gases and other waste. When biomass naturally decomposes, this produces heat which can then be used to produce energy. There are a variety of modern technologies that can utilize biomass for power, such as cars, commercial vehicles, trucks and even airplanes.
Hydro electricity is produced when water flow is directed through a generator which moves the turbines at a hydroelectric power station. Of the world’s electricity 16 per cent comes from hydro electricity. The water is usually taken from a nearby dam or other water sources and when the turbine blades rotate, electricity is produced and passed back to the power grid. Mini versions of hydroelectric power stations can be built on river beds or streams where water flows. This is especially popular in country towns and rural settlements.
There is a great range of alternative energy options available that are renewable and sustainable. Whether it is generated by the sun, wind, plant and animal matter or water, the production of these forms of energy is more environment friendly than burning coal.
If you’re interested in using these alternate, sustainable sources of energy in your home, talk to your energy provider. In most countries, energy retailers purchase this renewable energy on behalf of their customers. This increases the demand, and therefore the investment in the growth of the renewable energy industry. It’s a very simple way to reduce your environmental footprint.
David works and writes for Australian Power & Gas, an energy supplier in Eastern Australia supporting green energy initiatives.