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Alternative Energy – The Solution To The Fossil Fuel Dilemma Essay, Research Paper
Alternative Energy – The Solution to the Fossil Fuel Dilemma
If the United States continues to employ fossil fuels for energy, the nation will ultimately become more dependent upon fuel imports from the troublesome nations of the Middle East, and we will continue to damage our precious environment. Since the United States relies so heavily on fuel from the Middle East, the U.S. is subject to the will of those quarrelsome nations in order to maintain our fuel reserve. A shortage of oil can happen at any time and would cause an energy crisis that would hinder the United States. Another reason for us to substitute fossil fuels with alternative energy sources is that fossil fuels are hazardous to the environment. In order to minimize dependency on foreign oil and to maintain a habitable environment, the United States must maximize usage of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy.
It is imperative for the United States to replace fossil fuel energy with modern Alternative Energy sources. We have evidence of disaster based on the energy crisis of the 1970s. Barbara R. Fogel has some interesting remarks on this subject:
It seemed like an inexpensive and innocent habit, but suddenly the United States found itself hooked on oil. Our very life—what we ate, how we lived, what we were, our heat and light, our jobs and cars—depended on oil, and now there didn’t seem to be enough to go around. (1)
Fogel is saying that we had become dependent on oil, and our suppliers were the troublesome countries in the Middle East. With most of our country’s energy coming from the Middle East, we were subject to obeying the whims of those countries in order to maintain our supply of energy. Fogel comments on the effects of our dependency on the middle east for oil: In the 1970s the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to drive up oil prices. The price of oil went from $2.50 a barrel to $30.00 a barrel in six years (2). This price change caused us to plunge into an energy crisis. Fogel also says that many experts believe the oil crisis will inevitably repeat itself if the U.S. does not curb its high demands for imported oil (2). This means that if we do not use some other form of energy, then the U.S. will fall into another energy crisis.
Alternative energy is crucial to the preservation of a habital environment. According to Christine A. Erwin, doctors say that fifty thousand American deaths per year are directly connected to airborne particulate matter. About one third of this pollution comes from power-plants (1). Therefore, if we were to produce power without producing the pollutants, then we would cut the airborne particulates by one third, thus reducing American deaths.
Solar energy is one answer to producing power without pollution. This energy is inexhaustible and available for use anywhere. Fogel says that if everyone could make full use of the sun’s light and heat, we would have about twenty thousand times as much energy as the entire world uses now (73). We can never use up solar energy because it is enormous and limitless. According to Erwin, solar energy is already being used everywhere in many different applications. People are using solar energy to heat pools, houses, and hot water tanks and also to produce electricity be means of Photovoltaics (2). This means that solar energy not only takes the place of fossil fuels for producing electricity, but can also be used for non-electric applications such as heating water or homes by capturing the solar heat. “Raw, Clean, Power” exclaims that solar energy comes at no cost whatsoever to the environment and that if we used solar energy, we would protect the environment (1). This means that by using solar energy, we would protect the environment from the pollution that comes from fossil fuels, thereby supporting a more habitable planet.
Another reason to use solar energy is that it does not have to be gathered or refined like fossil fuels. Erwin says that unlike its fossil fuel counterparts, sunlight is readily available and does not “…need to be explored, mined, extracted, transported, combusted, transmitted, or imported…”, (1) making it the cleanest, cheapest to maintain, and most abundant energy source on the planet.
One way to harness energy from the sun is to use sunlight to produce heat. Fogel states that Solar One, the biggest solar power station in the entire world, collects sunlight using 1,818 giant twenty-three-foot square mirrors in the southern California desert. Solar One uses the mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a water tank to make steam for generating electricity to power over forty thousand homes (62). Sunlight directed by mirrors can produce heat.
Just as mirrors are used to produce heat, photovoltaic cells are used to produce electricity. According to the web site “Photovoltaics,” these photovoltaic cells are made of semiconductor materials (usually silicon) and absorb the photons in sunlight and release electrons. These electrons are captured to produce an electric current (2). Because of Photovoltaics, energy can be produced for free during daylight. The site “Photovoltaics” also states that we can run the current to a battery and store it until it is needed (2). Therefore, we can use the electricity created during the day to power appliances at night.
Wind can also be used to produce electricity. Fogel says that big windmills will make a big difference in providing energy. Windmills may not be able to replace all the energy produced by oil, but these seemingly outdated devices can cut significantly into the amount of oil the U.S. must import (70). By using this clean, efficient source of energy, the United States will cut down on oil imports from the Middle East and help preserve a habitable environment. According to “Popular Science,” even the most efficient wind farms cannot compete with the low prices for fossil fuels (14). However, a new design in wind turbines has been developed that will improve efficiency of wind turbines. “Popular Science” discusses the latest wind turbine prototype and its possibilities:
Weisbrich’s modular Wind Amplified Rotor Platform (WARP) looks like a stack of wheel rims laid on their sides, with a pair of turbines mounted to each of the rims concave surfaces. Wind-tunnel tests at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, suggest that the WARP design can amplify wind speeds by 50 percent or more, because the curved surfaces channel wind toward the turbines. (14)
This new design in wind turbines will make wind farms competitive with today’s super cheap fossil fuels.
Electricity can also be produced by harnessing the power of water in motion. Clean and safe, hydroelectric power is the electrical energy produced by “…harnessing the energy of falling water…” says hydroelectric power (1). Fogel tells us that hydropower is one of the cheapest sources of power in the country. In fact twenty percent of New York State’s electric power comes from hydropower and costs one-tenth the cost of oil burning methods (67). New York is utilizing hydroelectric energy that is cheaper and cleaner than energy from fossil fuels. If New York can benefit this much from hydroelectricity, then the entire nation could do the same or better while lowering costs and reducing damage to the environment.
Existing dams could be used for the production of hydroelectricity. The web site “Hydroelectric Power” explains that only 2,400 of the United State’s 80,000 dams are currently being used for hydropower. Therefore, creating new hydroelectric projects does not necessarily require building new dams. Many existing dams can be retrofitted with hydropower equipment so that those dams can produce electricity (Hydroelectric 3). Creating more hydroelectric projects will produce more clean and cost effective energy.
Geothermal energy, another clean source of energy, will greatly reduce the amount of oil the U.S. has to import. Energy obtained from the earth’s natural heat is explained on the web site “Geothermal Energy”:
Geothermal energy can be harnessed from the Earth’s natural heat associated with active volcanoes or geologically young inactive volcanoes still giving off heat at depth. Steam from high-temperatures geothermal fluids can be useful to drive turbines and generate electrical power, while lower temperature fluids provide hot water for space-heating purposes, heat for greenhouses and industrial uses, and hot or warm springs at resort spas. (1)
Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping into the heat of the Earth. Augusta Goldin explains that this heat comes from molten magma deep in the Earth. Periodically, this magma rises, heats the solid rock above, and breaks through. Some of this heat is conducted to the next layer, porous rock filled with water. Then the water heats up, creating a hot-water aquifer that we can use to tap into the massive heat reserves of Earth (130). We can use the earth as the heat source for steam-driven generators because of the incredibly hot molten magma heating certain areas of the earth’s crust. This source of energy is limitless and is not hazardous to the environment.
By maximizing the usage of clean and safe alternative resources, the United States will eliminate its dependency on foreign oil and will promote a cleaner, more stable environment. With the advanced technology of today’s world, the United States should begin a worldwide changeover to clean, renewable alternative energy sources including solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal. By taking advantage of these alternative energies we can protect the world from pollution and the economic detrimental by products fossil fuels. Implementing the most up-to-date technology in the field of energy can protect the world now and insure that it will be habitable for future generations.
Erwin, Christine A. “Solar Facts.” Solar Fact Sheets. Online.
Fogel, Barbara R. Energy Choices For the Future. New York: Impact, 1985
“Geothermal Energy.” The Plus Side Of Volcanoes. Online.
Goldin, Augusta. “Geothermal Energy Is an Abundant and Clean Energy Source.”
in Energy Alternatives. Ed. Bonnie Szumsk.
“Hydroelectric Power.” Hydroelectric. Online.
“Photovoltaics.” Pvexp. Online. http://www.seina.org/pvexp.htm. 1/25/99
“Raw, Clean, Power.” Solar Energy Limited Map. Online.
“Wind Power Towers.” Popular Science. 14 December 1996: 14.
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