The Alternative Energy Source to Oil
1.0 “Renewable Energy” is the term used to describe those energy flows that occur naturally and repeatedly in the environment, e.g. from the sun, wind and the oceans, and from plants and the fall of water. It also refers to the energy available from wastes and to the emerging clean technology of fuel cells.
There are wide ranges of renewable energy sources/technologies, varying in technical and commercial viability. These include:
• Solar Power (Photovoltaic)
• Hydro – electric Power
• Hydrogen Fuel Cells
• Wind Power
• Nuclear Power
1.1 The modern drive to harness renewable energy began in the 1970’s. It was promoted by concerns over the price and availability of fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal. Fossil fuels are finite – only coal is predicted to be available in significant quantities at the end of the 21st century at current rates of consumption. Using fossil fuels to generate electricity also produces pollutants, which can lead to environmental problems (such as acid rain and the “greenhouse effect”).
By contrast, renewable energy produces few, if any, harmful emissions. Exploiting renewable, which at present meet over 2% of the UK’s electricity needs, also reduces the rate at which other energy resources are used up. With the world’s population continuing to grow, renewable energy promises to play an increasingly significant role in the future.
1.2 The estimated oil reserves in the Earth’s crust are about 1 trillion barrels. Oil consumption is at 25 billion barrels per year and increasing at 1.5% per year. At current rates of consumption, measured against known reserves, there is only a 30-year supply of oil in the Earth’s crust. Even if the reserve estimate were doubled, it is a moral imperative that the population takes immediate action to develop a sustainable energy economy.
2.0 Solar energy is quite simply the energy produced by the sun and collected elsewhere, normally the Earth. The sun creates its energy through a thermonuclear process that converts about 650,000,000 tons of hydrogen to helium every second. The process creates heat and electromagnetic radiation. The electromagnetic radiation (including visible light, infra-red light, and ultra-violet radiation) streams out into space in all directions.
Only a very small fraction of the total radiation produced reaches the Earth. The radiation that does reach the Earth is the indirect source of nearly every type of energy used today. The exceptions are geothermal energy, and nuclear fission and fusion. Much of the world’s required energy can be supplied by solar power.
2.1 The first practical solar cell was developed at Bell Laboratories in 1954. With the advent of the space program, Photovoltaic cells made from semi-conductor grade silicon quickly became the power source of choice for use on satellites. The...