Since the 18th century, westernized civilization has almost exclusively relied on fossil fuels to power the world. Everything goes back to burning a substance that is being quickly depleted, as well as filling our atmosphere with harmful pollution. This pollution is not only harmful to humans but to our entire ecosystem. Greenhouse gases and global warming could spell the end of life on our planet if we do not find an alternative way to make our world run.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on this planet seemingly waiting to be utilized.
The most often suggested is solar energy, but there are still more options. Hydropower, geothermal power, and wind power are three of these resources.
Hydropower refers to the power that can be harnessed from falling or running water. This is traditionally done with some kind of turbine or waterwheel. Early turbines captured the mechanical energy through the water turning the wheel and used it as mechanical energy to do things like power a mill for grinding grain.
Hydropower that is discussed today is slightly more complicated. A waterwheel is still necessary, and this turns a turbine axle between two magnets which are used to convert this mechanical energy to electricity (Armaroli, Belzoni, Serpone). All of the liquid water on the planet is influenced by gravitational currents and/or gravity, which lend it raw energy. This raw energy has huge potential to be harnessed to power the world. However, like all possibilities, hydropower has its cons as well as pros.
One of the positive things offered by hydropower is that it creates no air pollution. Once the required dams and mills are built, they are incredibly power efficient, creating 40% more power than fossil fuels (Bostan, Gheorghe, Dulgheru.)
Hydropower is not perfect, though. If dams and mills are not constructed carefully and correctly, they can have a very negative impact on the surrounding ecosystems. Destruction of animal habitats and disruption of natural irrigation are only two of the dangers (Li.) Another issue that the world might face were they to rely on hydropower is that the natural drought-flood cycles of the world would likely make the power source very variable. Times of drought could cause power shortages influencing the entire infrastructure that relies on electricity.
Another alternative power option is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy refers to heat energy that is created by or held in the Earth. It is either generated by the immense heat of the Earth’s molten core or the radioactive decay of minerals. The use of geothermal energy goes back to ancient civilizations. Geothermal energy was most commonly used for heating and bathing through natural hot springs. Hot Springs and geysers are holes in the Earth’s crust where the hot mineral-rich water is exposed or expelled from aquifers. An aquifer is just a naturally occurring subterranean pocket of space or water-permeable rock where water is stored. Due to the immense heat of the Earth’s core, geothermal energy is theoretically infinite. There is endless potential. However, there are plenty of roadblocks making geothermal energy less than the perfect solution that it appears to be at first glance. First of all, geothermal energy is only practically collected at fault lines, hot springs, and geysers and technically it is not a renewable resource, because these sites can be depleted if they are harvested for long enough (Shepherd, Shepherd.) Another imperfection in the use of geothermal energy is that in the process of mining into the energy-rich areas, harmful greenhouse gases are often released from within the Earth’s core. The level of air pollution is much less than that of burning fossil fuels, but still a valid danger (Huenges, Ledru.)
These examples make alternative energy seem bleak, but there are still other promising options. One of these is wind energy. Wind energy describes power harnessed from the motion of air using wind turbines. A complicated web of air currents is responsible for the movement of all the air in Earth’s atmosphere (Li.) Windmills for harvesting wind energy are promising in part because they can be built almost anywhere, even offshore, and still collected useful energy. Wind turbines folloa w similar logic to water turbines, both using a moving axle and magnets to translate mechanical energy into electricity. Like hydro power, wind power creates absolutely no air pollution (European Wind Energy Association.) Of all the energy options presented here, wind energy has the least negative effects on the planet.
The most substantial complaints held against wind energy are noise pollution, wildlife fatalities, and the belief by some that the large windmills are an eyesore (Armaroli, Belzoni, Serpone.) Although there are animal fatalities, primarily of birds and bats, fewer than 200,000 of these animals die a year as a result of windmills, far less than the 39 million birds and bats killed annually by domestic cats in the state of Wisconsin alone (Manwell, McGowan, Rogers.)
I, for one, definitely am partial to wind energy. It is a simple matter of the pros outweighing the cons. Although hydropower and geothermal energy have a wealth of untapped potential, there are also many ways in which they would harm the Earth further.
Wind power could create more than the current demand for energy and with the possibility of erecting windmills anywhere, and very little adverse impact on the ecosystem (Köller, Köppel, Peters) it seems to me like an obvious solution. Regardless of which of these options is the best, there is no denying the fact that fossil fuels are destroying our planet and will not last long and we need a long-term solution.