Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Alternative energy definition - What is alternative energy?


Is alternative energy the same as renewable energy? In order to define alternative energy we first need to define alternative energy sources. Alternative energy source is any source of energy that does not belong to traditional energy sources. Traditional energy sources are fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Some dictionaries, like for instance, Oxford dictionary puts alternative energy sources in correlation to environment by stating that term „alternative energy sources“ refers to energy sources that do not use up natural resources or harm the environment.


There have been many opposite opinions about what this term should and shouldn't include, and even today defining alternative energy sources will often be looked at from several different perspectives. For instance nuclear energy is thought by some to be alternative source of energy while other say that only renewable energy sources are in fact alternative energy sources. The same situation is with hydropower because some think that hydropower is a traditional source of energy together with fossil fuels while others do not look at hydropower as traditional source of energy.

To stay out of these controversies as much as possible let us focus here on the most common alternative energy sources: solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy. Other alternative energy sources include the likes of biofuels, tidal and wave power, and hydrogen.

Solar energy is coming from the Sun and this is the most abundant source of energy available on our planet. Solar power technologies have recently experienced huge decline in prices but nonetheless solar industry still heavily depends on subsidies and other tax incentives. Solar energy industry also needs to find the adequate energy storage solution in order to solve the intermittency issue (since the sun doesn't shine all day long). Given the enormous potential of solar energy as well as large funds and numerous researches it is pretty realistic to say that one day solar energy will become the dominant energy source in the world (once it reaches cost parity with fossil fuels).

Wind energy is better in cost-competitiveness when compared to solar energy but still suffers from intermittency issue just like this is the case with solar. Many countries have started massive wind energy expansion (most notably China). In years to come it is expected that the global wind energy industry will focus offshore, in areas with more powerful and more frequent ocean winds.

Geothermal energy refers to the heat stored within the earth's core. Geothermal energy is unlike solar and wind available 24-7 but has high drilling and exploration costs, which means that with current technological development harnessing geothermal energy is only viable in areas near tectonic plates. This is also the reason why there are only 24 countries in the world currently harnessing geothermal energy.

These three alternative energy sources have one big advantage over traditional fossil fuels, and that is their environmentally friendly character. Fossil fuel burning still remains the main contributor to climate change and air pollution which means that world needs to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources as soon as possible in order to avoid environmental disaster of gigantic proportions.

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