Current flooding in Paris and Texas are only the most recent ways we are beginning to see the effects of climate change in our weather patterns. In an effort to explore alternative energy sources that can help offset our carbon footprint and mitigate climate change, InduSoft is taking a look at some of the more sustainable and low-carbon sources of energy available now.
Solar power is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources, particularly when combined with other methods of energy production. On some days, the state of California actually produces more solar energy than the grid can consume, and talks are underway to determine how that surplus can be shared across state lines as California works toward its goal of having 50% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2030. Solar energy is projected to grow 94% in 2016 in the United States alone. This method of energy generation is relatively low cost once equipment is installed, and produces no carbon emissions.
More than 63 GW of new wind power capacity were added in 2015, making Wind energy one of the fastest growing sectors in alternative energy, especially in China, where investments in wind deployment are highest. The benefit of wind energy over other renewable resources like Solar is that wind power can be generated at night. It also produces no carbon emissions and is a sustainable source of power.
The benefit of geothermal energy is the steady base-load. Where other renewable technologies produce variable power, geothermal energy rarely fluctuates due to weather effects and does not suffer from seasonal variation. North America and Europe are the largest producers and consumers of geothermal energy. 25% of the total electricity demand for geothermal power comes from Iceland, where this energy source is common due to high volcanic activity.
Hydroelectricity represents over 20 percent of global electricity generation, and it relatively low cost compared to some other forms of alternative energy. Hydroelectricity produces no waste, and very little carbon emissions, and can also be adjusted quickly for variable energy demands. The main downside of hydroelectricity projects is that large dams can interfere with local fisheries and wildlife, and additional precautions must be taken not to cause environmental destruction when building dams and reservoirs.
Hydrokinetic energy can be generated from ocean wave energy, tidal energy, river in-stream energy, and ocean current energy. Hydrokinetic energy is still underdeveloped in comparison to more established forms of power generation such as hydroelectricity, but the potential in this sector is great. Like geothermal energy, the base-load potential of hydrokinetic energy is high, thanks the regularity of tidal and wave flows.
Radiant energy is generated through electromagnetic waves, and is the subject of much research at present. It is fairly cheap to produce and makes no waste or carbon emissions. However, at the moment most radiant energy projects are fairly small in scale. While it has been proven effective for heating water, more research is required to determine if this will represent a viable source of energy for future demand.
Today nuclear power generates 11% of the world’s energy needs, with over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries, with 70 more under construction. Around the world today, a majority of nuclear plants use light-water designs, with 60% of output created with pressurized water reactors, and 21% with boiling water reactors. China is becoming the largest new developer of nuclear facilities and many more are being commissioned throughout Asia. Nuclear power’s downsides include safety concerns following many well-publicized incidents of nuclear meltdowns, but this method of energy creation does not release carbon into the atmosphere.
Biomass can be created by anything from wood shavings to animal waste, making it a particularly attractive source for renewable, alternative fuels for vehicles. Biomass has the potential to provide 1.4 times the approximate annual 150E3 Terawatt hours required for world energy consumption alone. Biomass, however, does create carbon emissions (though fewer than oil), and experts warn against using biomass in cases where plants like switchgrass sequester more carbon than can be saved by burning it for fuel.
Compressed Natural Gas
Compressed natural gas is another fuel already in use, though like biomass, CNG also emits carbon. Renewable natural gas can be produced from biomethane and also produces fewer carbon emissions than oil. Natural gas is increasingly being used to replace gasoline in many industrial vehicles such as forklifts and lawn equipment.
Hydrogen can also be used in vehicles as fuel, and emits no carbon or pollutants. While it is fairly cheap to produce, it can also be a challenge to store due to the combustible nature of the fuel and low energy by volume. California offers the most options for hydrogen vehicle fuel cells in the United States.