Alternative Energy Pros and Cons 101

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Is Every Form of Alternative Energy a Good Idea?

Climate change, and therefore, alternative energy, is a hot topic of debate these days, and with very good reason.
If we don’t do something to curb our appetite for fossil fuel and other pollutant-producing means of energy production, the effects on our climate and ecosystem will become more and more serious.

Through the use of alternative energy, we have the ability to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels and other polluting, non-renewable energy sources. So, why haven’t we made the switch to renewable energy yet?

We realize that this is the type of question that has the potential to spark a heated debate, and the type that doesn’t have a simple answer. So for now, let’s just take a look at the facts.

Solar Energy

There are different methods and types of technology used to harness the sun’s energy, but for now, let’s just group them together under the solar category. Solar energy has the advantage of having a plentiful source of power (the sun, of course), and it produces no greenhouse emissions while it is in operation. They are also typically very low maintenance, only requiring the occasional cleaning.

However, the manufacture, installation, and disposal of solar power systems can be environmentally harmful. They tend to be expensive, though the cost is decreasing. And while their efficiency is improving, solar power systems still leave something to be desired.

Wind Energy

Wind energy also uses an inexhaustible, natural supply of power. Wind power has the potential to supply the world’s power needs 200 times over. Like solar power, wind energy produces no greenhouse gases when in operation, and that is a huge advantage over power produced using fossil-fuel.

Critics of wind power are quick to point out that, while our supply of wind isn’t going away, it is very unpredictable. Even in areas where high winds are the norm, they aren’t a constant, and a constant supply is necessary in order to make a technology viable as a primary power source. Like solar panels, some find wind turbines to be an eyesore, and they too are quite expensive initially.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power plants work on a similar principle to that employed by wind power plants. Instead of wind turning the turbines, they use water to turn turbines, which converts the kinetic energy of the flowing water into electricity.

They, too produce energy using a renewable source, give off no greenhouse gases, and are relatively low-maintenance and low-cost once they are operational. However, they are also not without their detractors, who point out that large-scale hydroelectric systems are very disruptive to the ecosystem, creating a reservoir where there was no natural body of water, and creating vastly different conditions downstream.

The Future of Alternative Energy

There are also, of course, other forms of alternative energy (geothermal, wave and tide, ethanol, etc.), but for now, they all seem to be held back by some common themes. While they utilize alternative, renewable energy sources, and often produce emissions-free power, they are often expensive or difficult to deploy or maintain, and some bring with them ecological concerns.

However, technology is always improving, and hopefully very soon, we’ll be able to rely on a combination of alternative energy sources as a replacement for the non-renewable fossil fuels that we are so accustomed to using.

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