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Solar Vs. Non-Renewable Energy Sources
Energy is a daily requirement. Whether we’d like to bike, walk, or drive to work, or spend the evening enjoying one of our favorite movies, energy is required for any activity. While humans derive energy from the food we consume in order to complete different activities, the machines and technology we’ve created require a different fuel source. Importantly, while energy can be transformed from one type of energy (e.g., solar) to another (e.g., electric), it cannot be created or destroyed, as per the established law of conservation of energy.
Energy Sources, Energy Extraction, and the Environment
Energy comes in many forms, including chemical, mechanical, magnetic, nuclear, and thermal. Many of these different types of energy are naturally occurring in the environment around us and, thus, their extraction and use by humans has an impact on the planet and its inhabitants. This interaction may be positive or negative, or —more typically— a mixture of the two. For example, wind turbines have been heralded as a space-efficient, green alternative to the use of coal, fossil fuels, or nuclear energy sources. However, some find turbines aesthetically unpleasing and cite threats to wildlife (particularly, bats and birds) and the impact of the noise generated by turbines on people and animals living in neighboring homes and surrounding habitats. What these energy sources have in common is that they all may be considered as either non-renewable or renewable energy sources.
Non-Renewable Energy Sources
Non-renewable energy sources are those that will be effectively depleted once we consume the resources currently available because they cannot be recreated within a short period of time —that is, they require a period of 1,000 years or more to regenerate— effectively making them finite resources. Fossil fuels, coal, and oil have a long history of providing energy to the world, with the dawn of petroleum drilling and production in the 1850s and, since then, the ever increasing reliance on internal combustion engines, which continue to serve as the basis for many transportation systems worldwide. This is largely due to the relatively wide availability of fossil fuels, oil, coal, and other nonrenewable sources, the ease with which they can be transported by producers and used by consumers, and the relatively low cost of non-renewable energy production.
It is important to note that many non-renewable energy sources —like fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, and oil— can have detrimental effects on the environment. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which took the lives of nearly a dozen oil rig employees and produced the largest oil spill in U.S. history, is still fresh in all our minds. Over the long term, the use of fossil fuels at the rate at which we currently consume them is not sustainable, partly because the cost of harvesting non-renewable sources will become prohibitive as the sources are increasingly depleted and partly because of the environmental impact, namely global warming.
Renewable Energy Sources
In contrast to non-renewable energy, renewable energy sources are natural energy sources that can be renewed over a relatively short period of time, making them effectively infinite sources of energy. Examples of renewable energy include solar, aeolian (i.e., wind), tidal, rain, and geothermal energy. Renewable energy sources currently account for less than 20% of the energy used by humans. However, renewable energy sources can be used for a number of purposes, including hot water and electricity from solar energy, the use of bio-fuel to power motor vehicles, and harnessing rain energy for hydroelectric power generation. Fortunately, a variety of renewable energy sources are widely available throughout the world, representing clean alternative fuel sources that have the potential to be harnessed at relatively low cost, both economically and environmentally. The wide availability of renewable energy sources means countries no longer have to rely on other sovereign states to fulfill their fuel requirements, reducing conflicts and making good economic sense as well as domestic renewable energy production has the potential to create meaningful work for many.
Importantly, renewable energy sources tend to be less harmful to the environment, humans, and other organisms. For example, geothermal energy is a green energy alternative that produces low carbon emissions and represents a huge source of renewable energy deep in the earth’s surface. The challenge lies in developing cost efficient machinery capable of reaching this deep layer and also the initial costs of building plants where geothermal energy can be converted into electricity. Such plants necessarily must be close to the source due to the difficulty of transporting geothermal energy. Moreover, they must maintain stringent safety standards when handling the super heated water that is transported within geothermal electricity generation plants.
Spotlight on Solar Power
Solar power is an excellent renewable energy source that offers a variety of economic as well as environmental benefits. Solar energy is that generated by the sun in the form of radiant light as well as heat. Solar power can be harnessed through both active and passive techniques. Active techniques include the use of solar thermal collectors to harness heat and photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electric current, while passive techniques can be as simple as orienting a building toward the sun. There are a number of benefits to solar power, including reduced electric bills, government incentives, and electric company credit for selling energy you produce in excess of your needs. Solar power is an abundantly available renewable energy alternative that requires little maintenance and represents an environmentally friendly energy source that does not directly contribute to pollution. Not only does the sun provide 20,000 times the power needed to meet our worldwide energy needs, solar power has been successfully harnessed in areas far from the equator like Germany, which hopes to produce 100% of its energy needs through solar power by 2050.
For those wishing to switch to this economically and environmentally more friendly alternative energy source, Solar Piper has developed a solar calculator with more functionality than any other, streamlining the conversion process and making solar energy more accessible than ever before.