Environmental Studies. Energy Sources

Introduction

Energy can be defined as the capability to work. Energy comes in different forms such as light, motion, heat, electrical, among others. Energy can be stored, amplified or converted for use in different ways. The sources of energy can be split down into two different categories i.e. renewable and non renewable. Under renewable sources we have the solar energy, geothermal power, biomass, wind, and hydroelectric while under non renewable we have the fossils fuels (natural gas, petroleum, and coal) and the nuclear power (fission and fusion) (Anon, “Energy matters”, 1998).

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Both renewable and non renewable sources can be utilized to produce secondary sources of energy such as hydrogen and electricity. Most developing countries use renewable energy whilst the developed nations depend on non renewable sources such as coal and natural gas (U.S Energy information Administration (EIA), n.d).

Renewable sources

These are resources that are found naturally such as wind, sunlight, water, and geothermal. They are called renewable because they can be replenished naturally. Most of the renewable sources are environmental friendly and are not exhaustible, that is, they do not cause a lot of pollution although their power generation is limited to an extent that they can not be able sustain large scale power generation. They consume a lot of money to put them up and also their maintenance is costly. The following are some of the renewable sources.

Hydroelectric power

Hydroelectric power is generated from the utilization of water and this has helped many industries. In America it has been used in industries since the early colonial period. This was due to the unavailability of other sources such as wood and coal and this forced American settlers to look for alternative sources. They found that falling water could be utilized to power gristmill and sawmills. The discovery of an electric generator in the mid 20th century increased the need for hydropower and more plants were built (Anon, “Energy Matters”, 1998).

Running water is used to create electricity in the hydroelectric systems. Fossil fuel is used to burn water and the steam from the boiling water turn turbine which in turn produce electricity. Hydroelectric power plants are classified according to their size. There is micro-scale, small scale, and run-of-the-river which is the largest. Run-of-the-river plants are constructed directly on the river in areas where the water is consistent (Anon, “Energy Matters”, 1998)

Hydroelectric power is one of the cleanest sources of energy although in most cases it alters or damages the surrounding for example it leads to change of the quality of water and affects the aquatic life. Another drawback is that it depends on other sources such as fossil fuels for it to be effective.

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Solar power

Another type of renewal energy is the solar power. This energy is gotten direct from the sun by use of solar panels. This type of energy has been used for many years although some scientists have recently started to research on how it can be put into more use. These scientists discovered that, Solar panels can be used to convert the rays from the sun into electricity. This can be done in two ways one is called solar thermal applications where the sun is used to heat liquid or air. The second is called the photoelectric applications whereby photovoltaic cells are used to generate electricity directly from the solar energy (U.S Energy information Administration (EIA), n.d).

Solar energy is one of the cleanest sources of energy and has no harmful byproducts or threats. The major drawback of this type of energy is that it is very expensive to put up the solar panels and also to maintain them. To add to that the energy that is generated by these solar panels is not sufficient for large scale use.

Biomass

Biomass is one of the well established sources of energy and among the oldest in the world. Stored plant’s energy is converted to produce biomass energy that can be used. This energy is produced from the use of organic substances. These organic substances are converted into biomass energy either through: burning, anaerobic digestion, or alcohol fermentation.

Sources of biomass energy can be classified into four, that is, from wood such as trees wastes such as livestock waste, crops such as sugar canes, and the aquatic plants such as water weed. Among the advantages of using biomass energy are that it is inexhaustible, has minimal environmental impact, and is available world wide. There are some drawbacks associated with this type of energy such as its contribution to global warming, it’s expensive, and a lot of energy is lost during its production (Anon, “Energy Matters”, 1998).

Wind

Wind energy has been used throughout history. It has been used to power boats, to drive windmills, and many other uses. Differences in temperature and atmospheric pressure cause movements in the air which is known as the wind. This movement is then transformed into energy by use of a generator. For this to be effective the wind flow or the movement should be reliable. These generators have batteries where they store energy especially when the wind flow is strong to be used when wind flow is not reliable (U.S. Department of Energy, n.d).

Wind energy has a major problem in that the wind farms with the set ups for converting wind into energy consumes a lot of space and can badly affect the environment. The energy generated by these generators is relatively low compared to the cost incurred. Advantages of wind energy are: it’s clean to the environment; it is inexhaustible, and can supplement other sources.

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Geothermal power

Geothermal power is generated when the radioactive elements heats the earth’s crust. This heat is then carried by water or magma to the earth’s surface and it becomes detectable in the form of hot springs as geysers. This heat can be used to power turbines leading to the generation of electricity (U.S. Department of Energy, n.d).

Geothermal power occurs naturally through vents and does not require any construction for collecting the energy although these vents are not available worldwide. This has led to the need to drill artificial vents which are not very effective because sometimes the source of heat is too deep. Another drawback is that this power is not available in many places. Despite this, it is inexhaustible, clean to the environment, and can supplement other sources (U.S. Department of Energy, n.d).

Non renewable resources

Non renewable energy sources are available naturally and cannot be produced or reused. They exist in rigid amounts and people tend to consume them at a faster rate than they can be created by nature.

Fossil fuels

There are many different forms of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and petroleum. These fuels have been used for along period of time since industrial revolution. They are easy to use because they just need an easy combustion. Although they are easy to use, this combustion results to air pollution which greatly affects the environment.

Coal

Was discovered many years ago when plants which were found on the swamp decomposed. The decomposition of these plants left a substance that was rich in carbon. This substance was condensed to produce coal which was a form of carbon. Coal is burned to produce heat and this heat is used in various ways. This heat is used to boil water and steam from the boiling water is used to spin turbines and as a result electricity is generated. About half of the electricity produced in United States is from coal. Although coal is mined cheaply it has some negative effects to the environment. A major drawback of coal is that it leads to global warming and creates numerous environmental problems (University of California college prep, 2009).

Natural gas

Natural gas comes from wells or from petroleum deposits. It is a mixture of gases such as methane, ethane, and others. It is the cleanest fossil fuel because it contains no sulfur. It then undergoes condensation in order to produce some fuels and the remainder is used either commercially or in residential. Most of the natural gas is found in Europe, the western hemisphere and some parts of Africa. Natural gas is clean compared to coal and petroleum although it leads to global warming. Natural gas is cheap and easy to transport due to the use of pipelines (University of California college prep, 2009).

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Petroleum

Petroleum is also known as crude oil. It is liquid in form and is found in many parts of the world. Petroleum is formed underground in organic rocks. Petroleum has a variety of uses such as manufacture of plastics, medicines, among others, and it is used to generate electricity. Petroleum is found mainly in three forms: mixed-base, asphaltic, and paraffin depending on the chemicals that make up the hydrocarbon in it. Most oil reserves are found in the Middle East, and some in North America. Most of theses reserves have already been exploited and oil is been used at a rate higher than the rate at which new sources are being discovered (University of California college prep, 2009).

Petroleum is preferred to coal due to its ability to produce more energy and it produces less sulfur dioxide. Despite this, it has some negative effects to the environment. Oil releases sulfur dioxide and other pollutants while burning and this contribute to global warming.

Nuclear power

Nuclear power has resulted from scientists’ research for more energy sources. This was due to the reducing accessibility to natural resources such as natural gas, petroleum, and coal. The atomic power was harnessed to produce other energy sources. The resulting sources were the fission and fusion.

Nuclear power is clean compared to the fossil fuels because it does not produce green house gases or pollutants to the environment. However, it is more expensive as compared to the fossil fuels. This high costs are as a result of high construction cost, lack of good management, and many rules. It also posses a threat to safety due to lack of a good disposal mechanism of the nuclear remains (University of California College prep, 2009).

The clean Energy Blueprint

Among the major components of the Clean Energy Blueprint energy efficiency policies was one of them. The clean energy blueprint would lead to a large saving on petroleum as compared to the current savings in America. It was estimated that with the current petroleum consumption in America which is about 175 million barrels in a day, the clean energy blueprint would save about 230 million of petroleum in year 2008 that is approximately 0.6 million per day (USC , “Clean Energy Blueprint”, 2010).

According to the clean energy blueprint, it was found that 20 percent of electricity need in US could be met by use of renewable sources such as wind, sunlight, and biomass by the year 2020. The consumers would then be able to save not less than $440 million between the years 2002 to 2020. The need for 975 new power plants would reduce and the need for natural gas would reduce by 31% and coal by almost 60%. Emissions, of carbon dioxide were estimated to reduce by two-thirds and of harmful air by 55% (USC, “Clean Energy Blueprint”, 2010).

The clean energy blueprint investigated on ways of promoting diversity in production of energy and its conservation and looked into the cost effective methods. It recommended the use of alternative methods of generating energy and emphasized on the use of renewable sources such as wind and geothermal. The use of renewable is both cost effective and friendly to the environment (USC, “Climate 2030”, 2010). By use of these sources the greenhouses gases caused by combustion of fuel will reduce since most of the renewable sources are clean and inexhaustible. These renewable sources can not be exploited as compared to the non renewable because they are replenished naturally. The major drawback associated with these alternative sources is that the setups to generate energy from them are costly and difficult to maintain.

Conclusion

Energy can be defined as the capability to work. Energy sources are divided into two: renewable sources and non renewable sources. Renewable sources are derived from natural processes and can be replenished regularly. Renewable sources occur in various forms and are derived from the sun, wind, water, or from underground heat.

Most of the renewable sources are environmental friendly and are not exhaustible that is they do not cause a lot of pollution although their power generation is limited to an extent that they can not be able to sustain large scale power generation.

Non renewable energy sources are available naturally and cannot be produced or reused. They exist in fixed amounts and people tend to consume them at a faster rate than they can be created by nature. The commonly used types of nonrenewable resources are fossil fuels and nuclear power. The fossil fuels are heated to produce electricity which in turns results to environmental pollution. Nuclear power come from atoms power and although it is clean compared to fossil fuels, if not properly disposed it becomes a threat to safety. The developed nations depend greatly on the non renewable sources. This has led to the increase in greenhouses gases that cause global warming and altering the environment. The renewable resources are the best sources of energy since they do not get depleted and have no adverse effects to the environment. If these developed countries can shift their sources to rely on the renewable sources, then this can help in preserving the environment.

Reference

Anonymous, (1998). Energy matters. Web.

U.S. Department of Energy, (n.d). Energy Sources. 2010. Web.

U.S. Energy Information Administration, (n.d). Energy Basics. 2010. Web.

University of California College Prep, (2009). Non Renewable Energy Sources. Web.

Union of concerned Scientists, (2010). Clean Energy Blueprint: A Smarter National Energy Policy for Today and the Future (2001). Web. 

Union of Concerned Scientists, (2010). Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy. Web.

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