All About Energy and How to Use it More Efficiently

All About Energy and How to Use it More Efficiently

In our ever-growing and developing society the need for increased amounts of energy and renewable sources of energy has never been greater. Our current systems have negative effects on the environment and rely too heavily on finite resources that will eventually run out. To respond to this situation, scientists have been hard at work experimenting and discovering new methods for generating energy that will have little to no detrimental effect on the environment. As new ideas are discovered, there will surely be even more breakthroughs in energy efficiency in the near future. Let's compare the characteristics of all current energy generation techniques to increase our understanding further:

Generators, Turbines and Power Plants

Most of our power is generated by power plants now. Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are used to create steam. The steam builds up in pressure and turns a turbine which then cranks up the generator. This generator turns and the kinetic energy creates electricity which in turn gets transferred to you. Right now much of our power plants do not use renewable or clean resources, but there are many companies that are starting to focus more heavily on renewable energy.

Electricity Generation: A look into how power plants work, and their basic components.

Turbines, Generators, and Power Plants: A simple explanation of how generators, turbines and power plants all work together.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal Energy is one of the least explored clean energy alternatives. By drilling, it is possible to tap into hot water reservoirs below the Earth's surface to create heat and electricity. It is cost-competitive with fossil fuels and produces little to no air pollution. Unlike many other alternative energy sources, it's extremely stable and not dependent on climate or location. One of the disadvantages is the possibility for seismic upsets with improper drilling. Anyone seeking to install one of these systems should consult with a geologist to make sure the area is safe for drilling.

Geothermal: A basic look at geothermal energy and its ability to be used in the home.

Geothermal Energy: An article that outlines the advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy.

What is Geothermal Energy?: An in-depth article published by the International Geothermal Association discussing what Geothermal energy is.

Geothermal Basics: Q &A (PDF): A collection of frequently asked questions about geothermal energy.

Fossil Fuels: Coal, Oil and Natural Gas

Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are the product of millions of years of decomposition of various material deep in the Earth. Fossil fuels are not a renewable energy source and come in limited quantities that must be drilled for. This drilling can cause widespread environmental disruption like contaminated ground and drinking water, and the burning of fuels like coal can produce pollution. Currently fossil fuels are responsible for generating the majority of our energy and heating, but many governments are looking into alternative renewable resources to be prepared for when these resources run out.

Non-Renewable Energy: An article that explains the basic advantages and disadvantages of fossil fuels.

Facts about Fossil fuels: The American Petroleum Institute presents some basic information about fossil fuels.

Fossil Fuel: An article that discusses the dangers of using fossil fuels and their non-renewability.

Introduction to Nonrenewable Resources: A basic introduction to fossil fuels and how they are formed.

Hydropower

Hydropower involves channeling the flow of water to generate electricity. It's an incredibly flexible source of energy that can be increased or decreased simply by changing the flow of water. It can be beneficial because it enables electricity to reach remote areas. It is considered a clean and renewable resource but it does have the disadvantage of potentially displacing people and disrupting the natural migration patterns of fish and the wildlife in the area.

How Hydroelectric Energy Works: An explanation on how hydroelectric energy works and its environmental concerns.

Is Hydropower a Renewable Energy or Not?: A discussion on whether or not hydropower should be considered a renewable energy.

Energy Source: Hydropower: An article that defines what hydropower is and how it is captured.

What is Hydropower's History?: An article on the history of hydropower.

Hydropower: The history, uses, advantages/disadvantages, and the future of hydropower are all discussed in this article.

Nuclear Energy: Fission and Fusion

Nuclear Fission is the taking of a captured neutron and splitting it into two or more nuclei. This releases a lot of energy which can be harnessed to generate electricity. As an energy source it has been implemented in many places for over 50 years now. Some disadvantages are that right now it doesn't have a lot of public support and a clear way to dispose of radioactive waste is still being ironed out. Nuclear fusion, while not ready to be implemented yet, has a lot of distinct advantages: no pollution, unlimited fuel and a very safe method of generating energy. To create nuclear fusion you take two nuclei and mash them together to form another kind of atom. This releases a huge amount of energy at some very high temperatures. The resulting waste is very low in radioactivity and in case of any leakage it would not be dangerous. Right now there is not enough technology in place to stabilize and control the conditions to make nuclear fusion possible.

Clean, Sustainable Responsible Nuclear Power for the U.S.: A clear, non-technical assessment of the benefits of nuclear energy for the United States.

Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?: An article that discusses if nuclear energy is a clean, renewable resource.

Fusion vs. Fission: A comparison between nuclear fusion and fission.

Nuclear Fission and Fusion: The International Energy Agency offers a basic understanding of the differences between nuclear fission and fusion.

How Nuclear Reactors Work: An explanation of how nuclear plants generate electricity as well as the different types of nuclear power plants.

Ocean Energy

Ocean Energy (also known as Marine or Tidal Energy) is the harnessing of the power of the ocean tidal movements in order to generate electricity. Like geothermal energy, it's not one of the more commonly researched alternative energy sources. It is a clean renewable energy source and its capabilities to produce energy are extremely large and promising. There are a number of wave power plants in production, and there is sure to be much news on this developing alternative energy source in the future.

Ocean Energy Resource (PDF): An in-depth look at all the components of ocean energy as a resource.

Capturing The Ocean's Energy: A history of the development of marine energy.

Harnessing the Power of the Sea (PDF): An informative brochure that explains wave and tidal energy.

Ocean Energy Making Waves: An overview provided by the United Nations University about ocean energy.

Solar Energy

Solar energy harnesses two forms of energy that the Earth receives from the sun – heat and light. There are three ways to do this: the use of solar cells (found in solar panels), solar water heating, and solar furnaces. They are a clean source of energy because, following their installation, they do not require any additional fuel and do not generate waste or pollution. Economically, they require a large initial investment to buy and install them. Another disadvantage is that they do not work at night, and their effectiveness is also very climate and location dependent.

What is Solar Energy?: A basic introduction to solar energy and how it works.

Solar Energy Basics: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a large amount of well-documented information about solar energy.

Solar Power Glossary: This site features a well put together glossary of terms related to solar energy.

Types of Solar Energy: Penn State defines the main two types of solar power used today.

How Do Solar Panels Work?: An interactive diagram that shows how solar panels generate electricity.

Wind Energy

Wind energy is a renewable resource that comes from harvesting the kinetic energy produced by the wind blowing across the Earth's surface. Wind turbines are set up so that when the wind blows against them and causes them to turn, they produce kinetic energy which is then converted into electricity. Wind energy is a green resource since it does not burn any fuel and only uses the wind that moves it to generate energy, making it a clean, inexpensive and inexhaustible energy source. There are three major types of wind energy right now: utility-scale wind, small (also known as "distributed") wind, and offshore wind. Utility-scale wind is generated by large turbines capable of producing over 100 kilowatts of electricity which is then distributed via large power supply companies. Small or distributed wind comes from smaller turbines that produce less than 100 kilowatts of electricity and are normally used to power a farm, small business or house. Offshore wind is when turbines are built in bodies of water, but this has not come to the United States yet.

Introduction to Wind Power: Appalachian State University Provides an insightful introduction to Wind Energy.

Wind 101: The Basics of Wind Power: The American Wind Energy Association has a great interactive introduction to wind energy, its uses and how it is utilized.

How to Use Wind Power: A technical look at what types wind energy systems are available and commonly used.

How Does a Wind Turbine Work?: A great interactive graphic that illustrates how a wind turbine works.

Wind Energy Glossary: A glossary of terms and definitions related directly to wind energy.