Energy or power is necessary for everything we do – from breathing in and out to building the most impressive of structures and running massive operations all over the world. However, the earth is quickly running out of such sources of power. Others are particularly harmful to the environment, threatening it in many ways.
Some very sobering facts about our current energy resources are:
Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel available on earth today. In fact, there is enough coal in reserve to last the world another 1 000 years! However, coal is also the most carbon-intensive fuel, releasing 80% more carbon per unit of energy than any natural gas. Coal is responsible for almost half of the global carbon emissions every year, and is very harmful for the humans and animals that inhale these emissions.
Oil supplies are only expected to last the human race for another 35 years if the demand stays consistent. However, this is hardly the case, as the demand for oil continues to sky-rocket every year. Another problem lies in the fact that, once a supply of oil is half-finished, production diminishes very quickly. This results in drastically fluctuating oil prices; which, in turn, leads to problems with transportation, economic chaos, transporting food and even war.
This is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, but there is no clear idea of how much of this valuable resource the earth possesses. Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is harmful in its own rights. Methane traps heat more than 20 times more effectively than Carbon Dioxide.
Nuclear power is still being used around the world for its energy, despite the many potentially disastrous risks involved. With the recent natural disasters experienced, the dangers of nuclear power have come to the fore. Still, many of the world’s population depend on this energy resource for electricity.
New developments in the field of energy production are opening up the potential to use resources that are more efficient, accessible and safe. These include:
High-tech windmills can generate renewable energy for millions of people. This energy is safe and does not pollute or threaten the environment. Germany, Spain, India, the United States of America and Denmark already make extensive use of wind power for the production of their energy, with impressive results.
The value of solar power has long been recognised, and communities and countries are slowly beginning to implement it in their homes and businesses. In South Africa, the informal settlements (which are usually located just outside busy cities) are being given solar panels for their electricity, granting them the comforts of warm water and power within the household. There are still many areas within this industry that need to be refined for it to be efficient and cost-effective within large-scale industry.
The hot water produced by the earth’s crust, manifesting itself in the forms of hot springs and volcanic fissures, is used to heat homes and generate electricity in approximately 60 countries around the world. Iceland is one of the countries that make extensive use of this resource.
Hydroelectricity is a very important source of energy. However, there are a few challenges to be met before this becomes a viable, sustainable resource in many lands.
This is the most plentiful element in the universe. It is colourless and odourless and forms an important part of human, plant and animal tissue. It burns more cleanly and efficiently than any other fossil fuel. At the moment, though, Hydrogen is produced in a process that gives off poisonous gases.
Fuel-cell power refers to a process in which Hydrogen is combined with Oxygen in a controlled chemical reaction to produce electricity. This is what spacecrafts use for their on-board electricity. This is expensive and is still in the process of ongoing research and refinement.