Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fossil fuels have no future; we need to develop renewable energy sources



Fossil fuels have no future; we need to develop renewable energy source

Introduction

Since the turn of the century there has been a lot of enthusiasm that has spurred wide research on the development of alternative sources of energy. Some of the traditional sources of alternative energy are water, wind and the sun (Deniņa and Zvanītājs, 2011). The global needs for energy have been increasing and so the expectation that with time renewable energy sources will be able to replace fossil fuel has continued to grow. The concept of alternative renewable energy sources is very interesting because it implies the production of energy from sources other the main supply of energy: fossil fuels. For a long time now human being have been accustomed to depend on natural gas, petroleum and coal to meet their energy needs such as mass transportation, domestic use and industrial use (Diana, 2011). This paper aims at highlighting it is very crucial to develop renewable sources of energy. 

Why the world depends on fossil fuel

There are multiple reasons why the world is still very much dependent on coal, petroleum and natural gas to meets its energy needs.

Cost   

At least for the short term extracting energy from fossil fuels to produce electrical power has been quite cost effective. Fossil fuels are burned at the power plant and electrical power is delivered in bulk to substations. From the substations it then delivered in reduced amounts to various consumers (Diana, 2011). Either gasoline or coal is used in the power plant to produce electricity. However, coal burns less efficiently compared to gas. A lot of electrical power can be lost if it has to be transmitted over long distances. Therefore power generating companies transport fossil fuels to regions which have more energy needs than others (Todorović, 2012). This reduces the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels because it is relatively easy to transport liquid fuels.

Easy to procure

Reservoirs of fossil fuels, especially coal, are quite abundant and also easy to procure. Studies have established that there are between 2 and 4 trillion barrels of petroleum reserves all over the world. Another study conducted by a UK university estimated that the proven worldwide coal reserves are close to 910,000 million tons. In addition, coal is quite cheap and thus the world still relies of fossil fuel (Todorović, 2012).

Anything else needs change

The simplest reason for depending on fossil fuels is that any other alternative that would replace coal, natural gas and petroleum would mean a lot of change: Psychological, economic and physical change. The technology used for the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels has already been put in place both at the power plant and at level of the consumer. It would be very costly to retrofit factories and replace the heating systems of buildings, factories and homes (Esty and Charnovitz, 2012). Nonetheless, the main reason why it would be very difficult to change has to do with that nature of humankind. Human beings have always struggled with making changes and most especially the kind of changes that would call for giving up ingrained traditions, changing the way of life and thought, and learning new practices and information after many years of being comfortable with familiar old ways (Deniņa and Zvanītājs, 2011).

Why the world needs to develop alternatives

Fossil fuels are not renewable

The question is why we have to consider having alternative if fossil fuels have so many merits. However everyone who has paid some attention to global trends has the answer. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable. Studies have found out that the world is currently using fossil fuels at least a hundred thousand times faster than their formation rate. In a few centuries of even less the demand of fossil fuels will be too much greater than the availability that is needed for sustainability (Deniņa and Zvanītājs, 2011).
Esty and Charnovitz (2012) note that the supply of fossil fuels is limited and the sure conclusion is that they will be depleted at some point. Fossil fuels form through natural processes like the anaerobic decomposition dead organism that have been buried for many years.  The difference between when an organism lived and the time fossils form is hundreds of millions of years. Over these long periods of time the dead organism are exposed to intense pressure and heat in the crust of the Earth and thus they fossilize. According to the American Energy Information Administration in 2011 the main energy sources were petroleum 36 percent, coal 27.4 percent, and natural gas 23 percent. This amounted to 86.4 percent. Non fossil energy sources contributed the remaining percentage. However the global consumption of energy has been increasing by 2.5 percent every single year since 2000 (Jenner et al, 2012).

Fossil fuels are not always cheaper

Advancements in technology have made it cost effective and easier to extract fossil fuels. However, it is not always so. As nations continue to deplete fossil fuel reserves that are more accessible they have to find new ones to exploit. This implies that they have to look farther and deeper offshore and in other less accessible places. This means burrowing deeper into the crust of the Earth in pursuit of coal seams, getting rid of essential top soils and some time getting into cartels and uncertain agreements that may not be in good political interests of many oil rich nations (Diana, 2011).

Fossil fuels have a huge environmental and human cost

According to Deniņa and Zvanītājs (2011) the only reason why fossil fuel appears cheaper is because no one ever pays for the real cost. For instance no one is billed for the air pollution caused the entire process of having their television or computer on for 10 hours a day. No one pays for the soot, vanadium, mercury and other pollutants that are created to have lights in the home.
One research that was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1.70 billion USD is total “hidden cost” for extracting energy from coal in Virginia, USA. When this was broken down each utility bill should have included additional 50 USD to cater for the cost of getting energy from coal.  The NAS made the calculations from damages such as the impact of burning coal on yields in farms to damages caused to building materials. However the most hurting cost of all is early disease and death or premature morbidity and mortality (Deniņa and Zvanītājs, 2011).
For instance, it is now established that air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels largely contributes to asthma and chronic bronchitis. Another way in which the use of fossil fuels is very expensive has to do with climate change as a result of the release of GHGs such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scientists have come to the agreement that the warming of the Atlantic Ocean is the main reason for some extreme hurricanes such as Irene. For instance, in the state of Virginia alone the estimated damage of crops and property that has been directly caused by Irene amounted to more than 100 million USD (Diana, 2011).
Some big established companies in the state have noticed this. Most of the main insurance companies in the US have declined to cover the coastal regions of Virginia. This is happening all over the western world. Another cost of the changing climate is the drastically rising sea level. This has highly affected settlements, businesses and agriculture in the Antarctica (Esty and Charnovitz, 2012).
Some regions in Europe are experiencing all-time highs of more than 15 inches rise in the sea level. The implications is that local residents of such regions have to deal with frequent floods and thus spending a lot of money to adjust their settlements, redirecting drains, and raising the levels of streets (Todorović, 2012). In the US some of the people who have been affected by storms have been funded by the government to build new homes. These are very expensive projects costing more than a hundred thousand dollars for each house to be constructed. The point is that the combustion of fossil fuels for energy production is very costly. The real cost of electrical power utilized in the home is never reflected on the bill that comes at the end of the month.
Renewable energy
            Renewable energy is the energy that is generated from natural resources like wind, rain, sunlight and geothermal heat among other natural resources. Renewable energy has been proposed as a safer and cheaper solution to the problems caused by the use of fossil fuel in the world today. Use of renewable energy sources would make more money for the global economy than burning fossil fuel. One particular study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts determined that renewable energy sector is currently creating more than double the jobs created in the fossil fuel sector per million dollars of investment (Esty and Charnovitz, 2012).
                                                            Wind energy
            Airflows are used efficiently to run wind turbines in generating energy. Current wind turbines are ranging from about 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power. Wind is proving to be a source of cheaper and cleaner energy as compared to fossil fuel. Regions with stronger and more constant winds like offshore as well as high altitude regions are producing high amounts for energy from wind. Internationally, the long term industrial potential of this energy is suggested to be 5 times total prevailing international energy production, or 40 times the prevailing electricity demand. This requires more turbines to be installed in regions with high potential.   Many countries have suitable offshore sites where wind turbines can be installed. Using the wind to produce power would make sure that such natural resources are utilized without the production of greenhouse gases or toxic chemical into the environment. This would work so well for some regions such as Virginia which have relied on coal for the production of electricity while having enough wind energy sources (Simoes and La Rovere 2008).  
Hydropower
Another source of renewable energy that does not have much of the limitations that fossil fuel has is hydropower. This is where energy in water is strapped up and used to produce power. Given the fact that water is approximately 800 times denser than air, it is possible to yield power even from a slow flowing stream or moderate sea swell. Various forms of water energy are being used currently. Hydroelectric energy is energy from large-scale hydroelectric dams such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State as well as the Akosombo Dam in Ghana. Micro hydro systems refer to hydroelectric power installations that have the ability to generate up to 100 kW of energy. They are common in water-rich regions used as a remote-area power supply (RAPS). Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity systems get kinetic energy without the use of dam from rivers and oceans. Hydroelectric power has the ability to produce energy without the suffering the costs involved in the use of energy from fossil fuel (Simoes and La Rovere 2008).  

Solar energy

            Energy that is generated from the sun is what is known as solar energy. This energy is generated through the form of solar radiation. Photovoltaics and heat engines are used in converting the heat from the sun into electrical energy. Solar energy has continued to provide adequate energy for domestic as well as industrial use. The installations have high ability in capturing, converting and distributing solar energy.  Solar energy is currently being used in various regions with high temperatures to generate cheaper and cleaner energy as compared to the use of fossil fuel (Simoes and La Rovere 2008).
Studies have found out that other sources such as biomass, biofuel, and geothermal energy sources only require the additional investment and they would be very viable options that can replace up to 40 percent of the globe’s use of fossil fuels (Jenner et al, 2012). Such sources are far cheaper compared to fossil fuel since their energy is generated from natural sources of energy and also cleaner energy helping in addressing the controversial issue of climate change and global warming.

Conclusion

The many benefits of using renewable energy and the enormous cost of fossil fuel combustion cannot be ignored. The only option would be to accept change because ultimately all fossil fuel deposits will be depleted someday. However the main reason why countries should invest in renewable energy is that burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum to produce energy is too expensive.











References

Deniņa, A, & Zvanītājs, J 2011, 'Effectiveness and efficiency of economic incentives for electricity generation from renewable energy sources in Latvia', Applied Economics: Systematic Research, 5, 2, pp. 163-177,
Diana, M 2011, 'Romania’s energy potential of renewable energies in the context of sustainable development', Annals Of The University Of Oradea, Economic Science Series, 20, 2, pp. 176-180,
Esty, D, & Charnovitz, S 2012, 'green rules to drive innovation', Harvard Business Review, 90, 3, pp. 120-123,
Jenner, S, Chan, G, Frankenberger, R, & Gabel, M 2012, 'What Drives States to Support Renewable Energy?', Energy Journal, 33, 2, pp. 1-12,
Simoes, A, & La Rovere, E 2008, 'Energy Sources and Global Climate Change: The Brazilian Case', Energy Sources Part A: Recovery, Utilization & Environmental Effects, 30, 14/15, pp. 1327-1344,
Todorović, MS 2012, 'BPS, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources for buildings greening and zero energy cities planning: Harmony and ethics of sustainability', Energy & Buildings, 48, pp. 180-189,