Different types of energy and their benefits and drawbacks

In these times of climate change and rising populations, the world will need more sources of energy. Popular forms of alternative energy include natural gases, nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass energy. Every form has advantages and disadvantages tied to them and will better suit different areas of the planet. In a hot and sunny place like Rocklin, solar panels are efficient and cost-effective but in a place such as Anchorage (Alaska) they may not be as well suited to the land.

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available and the United States has the sixth biggest reserves in the world. Clear advantages of natural gas are that it has less emission of similar fuels and still retains a high energy output. The United States has large reserves of the gas and at our current rate we possess a 100-year supply. So we wouldn’t need to buy the gas the foreign nations like resources such as oil. Natural gas is highly flammable and safety precautions would be needed to prevent a fire; same with oil and nuclear plants.

Nuclear power has remained controversial throughout its history with such incidents as Chernobyl and Fukushima; there is a mixed opinion on nuclear energy. When a nuclear power plant explodes or melts down radiation spreads through the air and can harm living things and water supplies. Radiation is still emitted without a disaster but at a very slow rate that barely affects humans at all. Nuclear waste is the byproduct of the factory instead of CO2 emissions, nuclear waste is the contaminated water that surrounds the plant. The nuclear waste is sent into mountains where the water will decontaminate over the plutonium’s half life.

Solar power is becoming popular with rising energy costs and more people showing awareness and concern for the environment. Solar doesn’t require any resources to run, which means that the United States will not have to buy things like oil from overseas nations. Solar power can also never run out because it uses the sun’s energy which cannot run out for a very very very long time. Solar power is helpful for individuals who want to save a little money through free power and government rebates and tax breaks. The solar panels are still expensive and take around 10 years to pay for themselves but they live up to thirty years so they essentially are triple the value. The largest downfall of solar power is that it cannot get any power unless the sun it out which means it’s impractical in many cloudy areas.

While wind power may be less popular than solar, it too is making a comeback. The advantages of wind power are similar to solar as they produce no pollution and they do not take resources to run off of. A notable disadvantage of wind turbines is that they kill birds who fly by them. Bird populations have been shown to have dropped in areas with a large amount of turbines but not to the point where they shouldn’t be used. Wind power is better in solar in the sense that it can be used any time of the day but on the flipside it can’t work with still air. Wind Turbines also are very expensive and a personal model costs anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 and are also very loud, which makes them inconvenient in a neighborhood and most people would prefer solar.

Geothermal energy is a form of alternative energy that is spoken about much less commonly and for good reason. It’s much harder to find a location for a geothermal plant then a solar/wind field. Geothermal doesn’t create pollution or need any power source just like wind and solar. Except for the fact that geothermal power doesn’t need any sort of environmental condition to run it just needs to be in the right place. The only places a plant can be built are on an area with a natural heat-producing feature, such as a volcano. The problem with building near a volcano is they’re dangerous to work around in case of an eruption which is why most plants are built over geysers. The problem with geysers is that there is only a limited amount of places with active geysers for geothermal plants. Geothermal plants are also self sustaining and they power themselves after activation. They also produce power at a ninety percent efficiency and they can operate twenty four hours a day. Geothermal plants tend to have a longer lifetime than oil or coal plants with many plants built in the early 20th century still operating well today.

Hydropower is a very well recognized power source but its impossible to have a personal model for energy like wind or solar. Hydropower is a renewable resource and it runs off of the power of moving water and large dams create a very large amount of energy. The main problems with dams is that they change the ecosystem and block river flow and can cause people to move out of their area. Hydroelectric dams also can block fish such as salmon from reaching breeding grounds and some damn have been removed to allow salmon to get to the breeding grounds. The question between building dams or not building dams is it worth the damage to the local ecosystem for the large amount of power that is produced.

Biomass energy is a relatively clean source of energy made from crops. Biomass creates less pollution than fossil fuels and natural gasses but still has a higher amount than solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, and geothermal power. Biomass is easily sustainable if crops are farmed and managed effectively. Biomass requires a large amount of land and water to sustain and after the plants have grown it requires a large amount of storage room before it can be converted into power. Another slight disadvantage is that this “clean” power source still produces pollution and in turn is technically not a clean power source. Biomass energy is also very expensive due to the large amount of labor and transportation involved in the process. Biomass must also be created near where it was grown. The main uses of biomass energy today are for producing power through driving turbines and making fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol

There is a consensus of everyone interviewed, fossil fuels cannot be in continued use forever. Eric Leverenz said, “Alternate energy is important just because we are going to run out of fossil fuels eventually and alternative energy is cleaner,”

While Levi McGinnis takes a more economic standpoint with his statement that alternative energy is “somewhat important because it is cleaner, but alternative energy is also more expensive.”

Everyone interviewed also stated how solar was the best energy source (Eric said it tied with nuclear) with Alex Didier’s explanation stating the important factors “Solar power because it becomes free energy after it’s installed and saves money on energy. It also is a clean fuel because they do not pollute the environment.”

No matter what energy source(s) is chosen the point remains clear, alternative energy is important to the future of the modernized world and it must be put into effect before traditional fuels like fossil fuels run dry.

 By CHRISTOPHER SACKETT