Research Proposal: Resources and the Environment

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¶ … Environment

Pros and Cons of Solar Power

The United States currently depends overwhelmingly on coal, oil, and natural gas -- fossil fuels -- to supply its energy needs, which are massive. All of these fuels are not found in quantities that allow them to continue forever. They are nonrenewable. When they are gone, they are gone. It would take thousands if not millions of years for nature to reproduce them.

And for man to re-invent them in some artificial form would be too costly or it would cause irreparable environmental damage. However, renewable energy -- wind, solar, the tides, geothermal -- are continuously available from mother nature and will not be depleted ever.

It is interesting to note when one thinks about it, that most of our renewable energy technology is powered by the sun -- either directly or indirectly with the help of nature.

The earth radiates as much heat into space as it receives from the sun. Scientists refer to this as equilibrium, and the resulting level of energy may be described as Earth's climate (windturbine.me).

Oceans absorb much of this solar radiation, mostly at the lower latitudes near the equator. But the energy generated is distributed all over the globe by winds and ocean tides and currents.

The motion of waves might transfer energy between the atmosphere and the oceans through the winds. As well, solar energy distributes precipitation which is used by dams and other hydroelectric projects, and for plants which are used to create biofuels (windturbine.me).

The message is that not only are there almost infinite quantities of renewable energy sources, but there are also more and different types of sources than one might imagine. For purposes of this paper, we will discuss solar, wind power, and wave/tidal power plants.

Solar Power

Large, flat panels made of hundreds (thousands) of individual solar cells, collect sunlight and then convert it to electricity. Simple. Not so much. But with a large array of solar panels, massive amounts of electricity may be produced and it becomes a valid supplemental power source for the United States. It can be utilized in remote locations where no other power source is available, but more and more it is being thought of as an urban source as well. It can be used for both residential and industrial purposes.

The Pros of Solar Power

The first consideration in our environmentally-conscious, green world is that solar power is the ultimate no-pollution renewable energy source. There are no pollution emissions created by the solar panels. Though there may be a small amount of pollution that occurs while the hardware is being transported, that is unavoidable.

And no pollution includes no sound pollution either unlike conventional plants. The electric power is produced so quietly, that is why its use for residential areas is so favorable.

Another advantage, unlike any other power source, renewable or not, solar power can and does power satellites in space including the International Space Station. And any remote area can utilize the sun's rays to produce power through the use of very highly efficient photovoltaic and solar cells.

The installation in a rural area is normally less expensive than the miles it might take to run a high voltage wire and use conventional electrical power.

Solar power can be easily stored and backed up as well so that on overcast days or even at night the electrical energy can be continuously produced.

Other than the initial installation, the cost advantage of solar power is in the lack of maintenance needed. Keeping the solar panels in working order is quite easy. Most of the repairs to solar equipment is to the casing or frame. And the useful life of a solar panel is usually about 20-30 years, so costly long-term warranties are really not necessary as long as quality equipment is purchased from a reputable manufacturer.

Cons of Solar Power

Solar power can be expensive for the initial installation. One medium-quality solar power generator run around one thousand dollars. Installation in the proper location with enough sunlight is crucial as well. If it is not located properly or faced in the right direction much of the economy of solar power is lost. The environmental advantages are maintained of course, but if the solar system does not work properly due to poor location, then more conventional electricity may have to be used to make up the difference.

Though, as we mentioned, solar power can be backed up and stored, the solar power generators themselves can only actually manufacture electricity during sunlight hours. Therefore, they are of "half-use" part of the day.

Though air pollution is not caused by solar power, it can be affected by pollution in the air.

In geographic areas where pollution is high, the electricity generated can be reduced significantly due to blockage of part of the sunlight. Urban areas are particularly susceptible to this (solar-power-advice.com).

Wind Energy

What exactly is wind energy? As we mentioned before it has to do, indirectly, with the sun's radiation heating the earth. When different parts of the earth are heated at different rates and temperatures, as they always are, it causes parts of the atmosphere to warm differently. We all know that hot air rises. When that happens it reduces the atmospheric pressure at the surface of the earth, and then the cooler air is drawn in to replace it. The result is wind (AWEA).

Air, of course, has mass to it, and when in motion it has energy resulting from that motion -- kinetic energy. A portion of that energy can then be converted into other forms of force or power.

What has that to do with those giant propellers we see all over the landscape? That wind energy system changes the energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical power that can be used for practical purposes. The mechanical energy is used for pumping water in rural locations. It can also be used for other practical farming purposes -- grinding grain, sawing, pushing a sailboat, etc. Wind turbines produce electricity for residence and industrial applications (AWEA).

Two basic types of wind turbines exist today: vertical-axis, and horizontal-axis. These are commonly referred to respectively as the "egg-beater," and the "propeller-style." The horizontal-axis turbines are the most popular today. The make up almost all of 100kW capacity and larger turbines in the global market.

Wind turbines come in many sizes and electrical generating capacities. In the early 1980s, turbines measured about ten meters (30 feet) in diameter. Today we see those enormous structures in farmer's fields. The "propeller" might measure up to 70 meters in diameter, or about 220 feet. The reason they look so gigantic is because they are. The largest of today's turbines can produce up to 5000KW.

Pros of Wind Energy (Pros and cons of solar energy - exposed):

Since wind is caused by the earth heating at different rates in different locations, as long as the sun is lighting our world -- we'll have wind for about another 4.5 billion years.

It's free.

Wind farms are collections of windmills. They require no conventional power, but just sit and spin all by themselves.

Wind energy has no side effects like noise pollution

There is no environmental impact on the ground they are placed on. Cattle can graze in the immediate vicinity of the stations.

It is relatively cheap, and can be used anywhere there is wind.

It can be fed into any type of utility grid, existing or not It is not restricted from any countries which cause less political turmoil and confrontation

It does not produce greenhouse gasses.

Cons of Wind Energy

The biggest drawback of wind energy is that you need a relatively high speed wind to produce electricity. For example you will require wind at a speed not less than 20 miles per hour. Probably, we cannot afford the wind energy in the regions where there is little wind.

Maintenance costs could be expensive. Since most of the parts of the system are moving, they will require lubrication -- gears, as well as the blades, so that they require the least wind and move optimally (Gold).

Though not necessarily a disadvantage, since the structures are so tall, they will require FAA lighting systems to warn off aircraft -- another maintenance cost.

Wave/Tidal Power Plants

Tidal energy is produced through the use of tidal energy generators. These large underwater turbines are placed in areas with high tidal movements, and are designed to capture the kinetic motion of the ebbing and surging of ocean tides in order to produce electricity. Tidal power has great potential for future power and electricity generation because of the massive size of the oceans. These articles explore the potential energy of tidal power technologies (Tidal Power).

A. Types of Technology

Ocean energy refers to a range of technologies that utilize the oceans or ocean resources to generate electricity. Many ocean technologies are also adaptable to non-impoundment uses in other water bodies such as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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