What Is Alternative Energy?

Jared Skye
panels for solar energy

Alternative energy is defined as energy that is derived from sources that are a natural alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The term is often used interchangeably with the similar term "renewable energy" due to the renewable nature of alternative energy sources.

Types of Alternative Energy

There are many different types of alternative energy sources used around the world. The specific types utilized are generally those best suited to the landscape and climate of the area. Solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, geothermal energy, and water-based energy sources are all very commonly used.

Solar Energy

Solar energy comes from the sun in the form of photons striking the Earth. Humans can harness the power of these photons through the use of photovoltaic cells. National Geographic explains that when the photons from the sun strike these cells, they knock electrons loose from within the cell. These electrons generate electricity as they move throughout the cell, thus turning passive photon energy into usable electricity. It has been estimated that enough energy from the sun hits the Earth in one hour to power all human electrical needs for a year. Despite this, less than one percent of global energy consumption is met by the current solar power infrastructure, according to National Geographic.

  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Power: You may be familiar with the advantages of solar power, but it's important to learn about the disadvantages before you decide it's the right alternative for your home or work.
  • How Solar Panels Work: A quick and easy-to-understand overview of how solar panels take energy from the sun and use it to generate electricity in covered in this article.
  • Solar Energy Diagrams: Here, you'll gain a thorough understanding of how and why the processes used by solar panels work the way that they do.

Wind Energy

Wind energy is technically a form of solar energy, but it is not harnessed in the same manner. As the sun's energy hits the Earth, it warms the surface unevenly. Clouds block sunlight in certain areas, some places are covered with reflective snow, and many other localized issues impact the temperature imparted by the sun. As the surface of the Earth is unevenly heated, it produces pressure gradients in the form of air pressure. Colder, high pressure air is in a constant state of moving toward warmer, low pressure air. As the air moves from high pressure areas to low pressure areas, it generates wind that is turned into electricity.

  • Efficiency of Wind Energy: When first learning about wind power, it is helpful to find out exactly how efficient this alternative is, especially when compared to other energy sources.
  • Pros and Cons of Wind Energy: Find out the reasons people both praise and oppose wind energy.

Wind pushes propellers attached to generators that produce electricity by harnessing the power of the wind. These generator systems are known as wind turbines, and they are commonly used energy-capture devices utilized in high-wind areas around the world.

  • Design of a Wind Turbine: Learn more about the different designs utilized by wind turbines and the various elements that factor into how these turbines are designed.
  • Wind Farm Information: When a group of turbines are placed together in order to produce electricity, the resulting group is called a wind farm.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is a steam turbine-based mode of energy capture. Nuclear reactors use the process of nuclear fission within uranium to generate heat. Fission is the process by which an atom splits. When the atom splits, it releases large amounts of energy in the form of heat. This heats up water within the nuclear reactor which in turn produces steam that turns a turbine and generates electricity.

There are a number of pros and cons associated with using nuclear energy as an alternative energy source. One of the major benefits of using nuclear energy is that it is a comparatively cheap method of generating electricity that produces large outputs. However, a large negative aspect of nuclear energy is that it produces large amounts of hazardous nuclear wastewater that needs to be stored.

  • How Does Nuclear Energy Work: In this article, the author goes into the nuts and bolts of how nuclear energy works in a way that is accessible to lay readers.

Geothermal Energy

The Earth's core is a tumultuous mixture of molten rock and metals. The intense heat generated from within the core of the Earth radiates toward the surface where it can be harnessed by geothermal energy stations. Geothermal energy stations are designed to harness hot zones close to the surface of the Earth. Water is heated by the Earth and is turned to steam which turns turbines that generate electricity.

  • How Does Geothermal Energy Work: This article goes through a thorough examination of how geothermal energy capture works. It covers the basics of how how geothermal energy capture works and it also talks in-depth about the various types of geothermal systems that are commonly used.
  • Advantages of Geothermal Energy: Learn eight different advantages of using geothermal energy.
  • Disadvantages About Geothermal Energy: Every energy source has a potential pitfall; educate yourself on the potential pitfalls of using geothermal energy.
  • Cost of Geothermal System: Before you decide to install a geothermal system in your home or business, it's best to find out the potential cost before you make any plans.

Water-Based Energy

Water-based energy capture can use the tides or other forms of hydroelectric technology. The two most common facilities used for water-based energy capture are dams and tidal generators.

  • Dams are used to create large reservoirs along waterways. These reservoirs drown out the landscape around them and deprive the landscape downstream with its normal flow of water. The stopped-up water from the reservoir is run through vents that lead to turbines. As the turbines spin, they generate electricity.
  • Tidal generators use a similar principle, though they do away with the dam. Since tides are constantly moving in and out, the tidal generators simply sit on the shore and allow the tides to move the turbines and generate electricity.

New Energy Technologies

The science behind harnessing energy from renewable sources is constantly growing. While there are always new methods of power generation being developed for all sources of alternative energy, two recent tecnhologies being explored are in the areas of wind and solar power.

New Wind Power Technology

American company Atelier DNA has developed a new wind power technology that they have called "Windstalks." The Windstalks are essentially long, flexible shafts that stand in banks of hundreds wherever there is extra space. As the wind blows the stalks around, they produce electricity completely without the use of wind blades. They also require significantly less maintenance than the average wind turbine.

New Solar Energy Technology

Another example of emerging new energy technology can be found in the world of solar energy. Some of the major downfalls of solar energy is the cost of solar panels and the efficiency of current units. However, new screen printing technologies are making affordable, sheer panels a more likely possibility. Screen printing like this is significantly cheaper than the more costly lithography techniques that have been used for decades.

Alternative Energy Is Necessary

Alternative energy is a necessary component of any intelligent energy policy. Fossil fuels are literally a finite resource, no matter how much disagreement there is over how much more is available on Earth. The fact remains that as there are fewer fossil fuel resources, they will become more and more expensive. Therefore, utilizing the free and renewable resources available all over the world is a natural step forward in developing modern energy policies.

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What Is Alternative Energy?