As fossil fuel reserves begin to dwindle, prices start to rise and treaties calling on the world’s leaders to lower their carbon emissions reach their final stages, the world is starting to look to renewable energies as the solution to a very big problem. There are a number of sources of renewable energy, including hydro, wind, ethanol and solar power, and the likely scenario is that a combination of all will be utilised in the future in order to generate enough energy to meet global demand. Here, we look at the pros and cons of each to try to get a better picture of our renewable, sustainable future.
Unlike fossil fuels, all renewable energy sources are clean and green, meaning they produce little or no pollution – no chemical processes occur so there are no harmful by-products. However, the current costs are relatively high and there are problems with consistency.
• Solar power is ideal for generating power directly to individual homes or businesses – solar can be installed in a vast range of sizes, making it incredibly flexible.
• Installation is quick and homeowners can be enjoying solar energy in a matter of days.
• It is available all over the world, wherever the sun shines.
• Most countries offer tax incentives.
• After the initial investment in the photovoltaic panels the energy is completely free.
• Many panels are needed to produce the total energy required, even for one household.
• On cloudy days and during the night little or no energy can be produced.
• There are opportunities for recreation on the reservoirs which are created as a result of damming.
• The dams provide a form of flood control.
• Hydro plants have a long life compared to even nuclear plants so the initial cost is a long-term investment which pays for itself over time.
• Natural river flows are disrupted, which blocks seasonal fish migration and spawning and causes ecosystem damage.
• Large areas of land are flooded.
• It can take up to ten years to build a large hydro plant.
• Once the wind turbines are built and installed, there is a very low maintenance cost.
• Wind farms can be built off-shore.
• Land occupied by turbines can still be used for livestock farming and grazing.
• Wind energy has already gone mainstream so the industrial base is there.
• Wind is an unreliable source of energy and is wholly dependant on weather conditions, geography and the seasons.
• Wind turbines are expensive and the initial start-up costs are high.
• Some consider turbines to be an eyesore, blighting the landscape.
• The turbines can be incredibly noisy.
• The rapidly rotating blades place birds in severe danger.
• As a fuel additive to gasoline, ethanol helps to reduce toxic gases.
• Ethanol is relatively inexpensive to process.
• The production of ethanol supports rural agricultural communities.
• It uses more energy to produce than it makes.
• There is evidence that ethanol corrodes engines over time.
• When there are still countries which suffer from severe food shortages, many question the ethics of planting crops solely to supply energy.
Emily Buckley is a journalist who is passionate about energy conservation and has written a number of articles relating to Solar Power informing the world how it can help the environment and save you money