Clean energy sources bring hope to the environment – Scot Scoop News
Underground and under pressure for millions of years, plankton and plants decompose into natural gas, oil and coal – fossil fuels. Using coal mining and the drilling of oil and gas wells, these resources are extracted from the Earth and then burned to release energy.
Sixty-one percent of the energy used in the United States comes from fossil fuels, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Environmental scientists have signaled that the shift to clean energy is more imperative than ever as the devastating impact of fossil fuels becomes ever more apparent and the imminent depletion of materials draws near.
Fossil fuels themselves are not harmful to our environment or public health. It is the process of extraction and burning into energy that contributes to air pollution.
“When fossil fuels are burned, they emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to climate change. In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 74% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Savannah Bertrand, Policy Associate at Institute for Environmental and Energy Studies.
To persist with current rates of fossil fuel burning would continue the average temperature increase, which has adverse effects on human health and global conditions. If the transition to clean energy does not happen quickly, it will be forced in about 30 years when the natural supply of fossil fuels is exhausted, according to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.
There are many alternatives to fossil fuels: solar energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy and, more recently, nuclear energy. The durability of each energy source must be taken into account before use, and their efficiency is also an important element to consider.
The capacity factor of an energy source is the percentage of time throughout the year during which it generates the maximum energy. Nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor. According to Office of Nuclear Energyit had a capacity factor of 92.5% in 2020. After nuclear, geothermal is the second most efficient source, followed by natural gas, hydro, coal, wind and finally solar.
Each energy source has unique advantages, but they also each come with constraints that can greatly impact their production.
Although it is the most efficient, nuclear energy has a negative image in the media and in public opinion because of its radioactive waste and its history of accidents.
“The popular perception of nuclear energy is that it is the most dangerous way to generate electricity. Similar to how people fear airplanes, people irrationally fear nuclear power. Even though planes are among the safest means of transport, when a plane breaks down, it makes headlines,” said Isabelle Boemeke, a nuclear energy activist. “If your only exposure to a technology is its negatives, it makes sense to think of it in those terms. However, when you look at the data, nuclear energy is still one of the safest.
Besides the inaccurate portrayal of nuclear energy as a dangerous source, its radioactive waste is also portrayed in an excessively negative way.
“The radioactivity of nuclear waste means that in theory it could also be used as a source of energy. However, to turn waste into a power plant, it would have to be forced to decompose faster, which is currently not possible. This puts him in a middle ground; it’s not radioactive enough to be useful, but not safe enough to be left alone,” said Ian Hagmann, professor of physics, engineering and green technology at Carlmont High School.
The process of nuclear energy creates radioactive waste, but it is not hazardous to the public. Nuclear power plants are entirely responsible for their waste, so unlike fossil fuels, nuclear power does not contribute to air pollution.
Another relatively new power plant is geothermal electricity. Geothermal energy uses underground reservoirs of steam and hot water to generate electricity or to directly heat and cool buildings.
Although minimal compared to burning fossil fuels, geothermal power plants can emit small amounts of greenhouse gases. Their main drawback, however, is the potential for surface instability; land above geothermal reservoirs can sometimes subside slowly over time and may be linked to earthquakes.
Unlike fossil fuel and nuclear power plants which can be built virtually anywhere, geothermal power plants require tanks which are only found in specific places, usually near the boundaries of tectonic plates or hot spots.
Geothermal energy is not the only source of localized energy. Hydropower, wind power, and solar power all have specific location requirements.
Although hydroelectricity, wind energy and solar energy are considered to be the most renewable sources, according to the US Energy Information Administrationthey are not as reliable as other sources and do not produce enough power to support current consumption.
“What makes nuclear fusion so ideal is that we can control the reaction, which can produce a lot of energy efficiently. If we rely on the capricious sun, water and wind, there can be power shortages. Especially like in California: we’re in a drought, and California’s 10% of hydropower is now going to zero,” Hagmann said.
Ultimately, the biggest barrier to the development of renewable energy are the logistical barriers. According to Hagmann, it is important to focus on what can be done despite these barriers to improve the state of the planet.
“The energy has to come from somewhere. The transition from fossil fuels brings us to nuclear energy, which does not pollute in the same way,” said Hagmann. “Climately, we need to think about the planet urgently, so the focus should be on Earth security.”