As global warming becomes more of a concern, the country is focusing on ways to meet our energy needs in an environmentally friendly way. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) separates energy production into two major classes. The first is Conventional Power, which includes the combustion of fossil fuels (such as coal and natural gas) as well as nuclear power. The second class is Renewable Energy which involves fuel sources that restore themselves and do not diminish, sources such as the sun, wind and water.
It seems like it would be an easy process to simply convert from conventional energy sources to renewable ones. However, alternative energy sources face many challenges that make the conversion process a lengthy and expensive one. Some have suggested that the biggest challenge facing renewable energy today is not one of generation or cost, but one of energy storage. Essentially, we want energy available at any time and place that it is needed.
Energy storage problems are of two major types. The first is portable energy of the kind used to power mobile devices and vehicles. While there have been significant improvements in the rechargeable battery sector, there is still a lack of development in vehicle power production that is economical for the average consumer.
The second type of storage is grid scale power storage. The most efficient and inexpensive way to store massive amounts of energy is through the use of hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, this method of renewable energy is limited by geographic location. Research is being done in the arena of grid scale storage for wind and solar power systems, but it is still not economically on par with hydroelectric, fossil fuel or nuclear power storage options.
Until systems are developed to economically store the energy produced by wind and solar generation sources, it will be difficult for them to be used in large scale energy production throughout the country.
In contrast to renewable energy storage, the other area of energy research that can help the environment is the reduction of the pollution caused by our current fossil fuel systems. This will allow them to be used more effectively in areas where renewable sources aren’t yet feasible. The main problem with energy produced from coal is the carbon emissions generated during the process.
Recent advances in carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) technology seem to be the way ahead for the use of coal. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is currently developing a whole portfolio of cost effective, large-scale CSS technologies that they expect will be ready for commercial deployment by the year 2020.
Another often overlooked fossil fuel is natural gas. It produces less carbon emissions than other fossil fuels, and there has been a new supply discovered in the United States’ shale deposits. While it’s not a renewable source and the drilling of gas from shale presents other long-term environmental concerns in the field of geology, it is clear that natural gas as a fuel source may be able to bridge the gap between conventional energy and completely renewable sources.
With the many obstacles confronting a complete conversion to renewable energy, it seems that the most realistic future for providing power to our cities will be a progressive one. There must be a steady shift from current fossil fuels to cleaner fossil fuels and finally to geographically suitable renewable sources.
This article was provided by Anna Roberts, recent environmental studies graduate and earth-conscious consumer. If you’re a small business owner looking for alternative energy sources, Anna recommends checking into business electricity.