Traditional fossil fuels, while the standard of energy production for centuries, are dwindling in supply and have the maximum negative impact on the environment. Because of this, a variety of alternative energy sources have been discovered that can be used in place of fossil fuels. While they have not really displaced traditional fossil fuels, renewable energy sources have become increasingly prevalent as the cost of energy production drops with little discernable cost to the environment. For those interested in alternatives to fossil fuels, there are a wide variety of energy technologies in use today that help provide energy while reducing the carbon footprint.
The most common form of renewable energy considered when discussing alternative energy, solar technology operates on the premise that the natural light energy provided by the sun for many hours a day in most areas can be converted into useable energy. In some basic applications, this can be very effective, such as a greenhouse, which traps heat produced by sunlight and allows greenhouse crop a longer lifespan in seasonal weather. However, for other forms of energy such as electricity, the cost of photovoltaic cells are still relatively prohibitive, though cost of production is shrinking substantially. Solar energy’s other major advantage is its small-market use. Unlike most other technologies, solar can be used to power objects as small as outdoor lights and areas as small as single homes.
Wind power is another natural form of energy that makes use of an abundant, renewable resource. Wind power is almost universally recognized as useful in terms of electric usage. In areas with a lot of wide open space, turbines can be driven by wind, with the energy collected by those turbines easily transformed into electricity. While still not as common as fossil fuels, in some parts of the U.S., such as Texas, consumers can choose to have all of their power come from wind. The only negative is that wind turbines placed too highly can kill local birds if attention is not paid to their migratory patterns.
According to Stewart Technology Associates, hydroelectric power operates on the same basic principle as wind power, although the turbines used are invariably older and far more powerful. Because of this, hydroelectric is used primarily where there are natural sources of powerful current, which then turn turbines and bring electricity through. Hydroelectric is the largest and one of the oldest renewable energy technologies in the United States, and many states use hydroelectric power in at least a portion of their regulated markets. The biggest drawback is that such areas for hydroelectric development are limited.
Geothermal energy involves the conversion of heat from closer to the earth’s molten crust, usually a few miles below where one can find extremely hot rock and water, or deeper and closer to the core, where magma can be located. This heat can be used to produce steam, which can then power engines along the same lines as wind or hydroelectric power. The major drawback to this form of energy production is that the cost to begin production is usually fairly high, restricting returns on investment.
While not a “true” renewable energy, the use of waste energy, or energy derived from waste materials from living animals such as livestock, is becoming increasingly popular. Besides reducing waste, it also reduces energy costs and carbon footprints, so it’s often considered a win-win. However, while more attention is being paid to it, there is a question about how much energy production is in fact realistic in these cases.