Research Paper: Alternative Energy Conservation Planning

Pages: 10 (3063 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Energy  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … energy industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuel production, consumption, and technology. In order to better understand a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way forward, it is necessary to examine some of the more conventional alternative energy technologies available for use. Solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, ethanol, hybrid, and hydrogen technologies all have their costs and benefits, and understanding them helps to mitigate these costs while amplifying their benefits. The structure of energy consumption is also likely to change in the coming decades, shifting from a centralized energy production model to one where communities and groups are creating their own independent and self-reliant energy infrastructures. Once the different types of technology are applied in smaller, more customized ways, they can be used in unison to create a comprehensive energy production and consumption plan that is maximized relative to sustainability and low environmental impact.

No one energy solution is the answer to the problem of CO2 gasses and other potentially detrimental environmental impacts. The solutions also depend greatly on the region, and the geography and social dynamics of the area in question. There are many different pieces to the solution that will likely best fit most energy conscious populations. It is also nearly impossible to analyze alternative energy solutions without the understanding that the current costs of certain technologies will undoubtedly become lower as improvements and technological advances take place in the future. Therefore, no specific technology should be excluded in the solution to the rise in global energy demands outside of the realm of pure fossil fuels.

The Current State of the Energy Industry

Energy consumption has become an important issue as humans have grown in number. The ways in which energy is obtained and consumed need to be examined in order to both better understand the potential for growth as well as the path that creates the best possible future scenarios and environments for mankind. Since the industrial revolution, oil and other fossil fuels have become the mainstay of both the energy sector as well as many of the economies of the largest and most powerful nations. There is a great scientific debate over whether or not oil is going to be a resource that exists even fifty years from now, having been depleted by human use. There are many different alternatives to oil, some of which have cropped up recently and others that are older than oil consumption itself. In order to form an accurate opinion and make an informed policy decision regarding energy consumption and resources it is necessary to examine the current trends in fossil fuel usage as well as the possibilities that exist with alternative fuel options. Each of these alternative options has their pros and cons, and in order to exploit the benefits of each and to minimize the negative effects, it is necessary to use these alternatives in a way that considers both their best uses as well as their limitations as a whole. Each of the alternatives can be used exclusively, but true benefit will only come through alternative energy technology integration and comprehensive energy planning.

It has been well established that the world's oil resources will not last forever. Some scientists feel as though humans have reached a point called "peak oil" where oil production will no longer be able to keep up with consumption, driving prices higher and causing the complete depletion of Earth's oil resources in the next few decades. Others argue that peak oil has not yet been reached, and that there are enough oil reserves still in the ground to power Earth for many more centuries. Whichever argument proves to be true, the fact that fossil fuels contribute other ills upon the planet must not be overlooked. The energy industry itself is tied to the fossil fuel lynchpin. If fossil fuels are indeed becoming less and less available, then the transition from them to other alternative energy sources becomes a very necessary and prudent action. The earlier humans start to begin to realize that a transition is not only necessary, but also potentially economically sustainable, the easier the transition will be when it occurs.

In many countries there are currently government subsidies for alternative fuel production. In the U.S., ethanol production from corn has been subsidized since 1978. The subsidization is based upon oil price targets of $20 per barrel crude oil and outdated cost analyses of the ethanol production process, so currently these subsidies are under scrutiny from many parties relative to their cost vs. benefit (Tyner, 2007). But other countries have begun to adopt clean energy technologies outright. France and Holland have done so with nuclear energy and wind power, respectively, with many other countries planning on following in their footsteps. The necessary framework exists for alternative fuels to become more feasible, but the skeletal nature of this framework needs to be reinforced with realistic government and private sector encouragement. Entire economies were created around the oil industry and so entire economies can be created from alternative energy sources if the proper transition is navigated and attention is paid to more than just profits and current ease of energy access alone. The alternative energy revolution is just around the corner, and there will be many different technologies being utilized to solve a very global problem.

Energy Alternatives

When thinking about energy alternatives to fossil fuels it is very important to remember that the current costs of production, delivery, and consumption are not the most beneficial way of approaching the issue. If the price of oil is driven up high enough, even some of the currently least cost effective energy sources will become cost effective relative to the cost of oil. Battery technology, which is at the heart of the hybrid revolution in automobiles, needs to be viewed through this lens. Currently batteries are very expensive, heavy, and inefficient. But in a few years time, these problems could become a thing of the past, and propel batteries into more and more technological uses. The same is true for hydrogen, solar, ethanol, and other energy sources. Many people mistake discussions about alternative fuel and energy sources for discussions about automobile technology. In fact, much of the pollution and fossil fuel consumption comes not from cars and trucks, but from coal fired power plants and other facilities that burn these fuels to create electricity. Therefore it is necessary to keep in mind that while automobile energy technology is important, it is not the answer to all of earth's fossil fuel consumption problems.

In terms of pure sustainability and environmental impact, solar power outstrips all other energy sources (Sukhatme, 2006). Using the sun as an energy source, solar power creates no immediate polluting byproducts and as completely sustainable. It is completely renewable as well, and according to some scientists' definitions of alternative energy, solar power is the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective means of producing electricity that exists. Of course this fact depends on where the solar panel is located relative to how much sun it is receiving and the general weather patterns and expectations of this location, but when all other alternative sources are examined, solar comes out on top in these two aspects (Sukhatme, 2006). Solar power is currently very costly to produce, especially through small community plants. The focus from large government operated power plants has shifted to smaller, more communal, more sustainable models. Solar does not fit well into this model, and many people who are pushing for community energy sustainability and reliance have a hard time with solar energy, at least as a primary means of energy production. Solar power is however completely scaleable and can be adapted for use by individuals as well as energy firms and government facilities.

Wind power technology has also enjoyed a relatively huge increase in popularity recently, as the U.S. And many energy conscious European nations have begun to employ wind turbines in many of their coastal and plains areas (Manwell, et al., 2009). Wind power technology has existed for hundreds of years, but only now are scientists able to truly harness it in an efficient manner. Wind is a completely renewable resource, but the wind turbines are often quite expensive to construct and maintain. However, wind power plants easily fit within the community energy reliance model that many governments and scientists are pushing, as just like solar, individuals can harness wind power technology in their own backyard. Wind power is relatively unreliable however, and just as solar energy is highly dependent on the location of the solar panel, so too are wind turbines highly dependent on their location. This makes wind power very attractive as secondary energy sources, but not as a primary source that communities can rely on. Another major drawback to wind power is the environmental effect it has. Birds, bats, and even insects have a hard time with wind turbines and millions are killed each year at the expense of the wind generator's power output (Manwell, et al., 2009). This environmental consideration, which… [END OF PREVIEW]

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