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Energy means the ability to do work. Work means a change in position, speed, state, or form of matter. Therefore, energy is the capacity to change matter. We derive the energy to generate electricity from two sources: renewable and non-renewable resources. The electricity that we are able to generate from two of these resources in turn help power everything from heavy machinery to our cellphone battery. Before we delve into the types of both renewable and non-renewable resources and its definitions respectively, we must elaborate on the concept of net energy. Net energy basically is amount of high-quality energy that’s left available after subtracting the energy that is used to make the energy resource available to consumers. For example, when conventional oil—a non-renewable resource—has a high net energy. When oil was first discovered and used, there were large deposits of oil discovered around the world. As the world started to rely on oil for their energy, the global demand for oil increased. Due the rapid depletion of oil deposits, it is becoming much more energy inefficient for oil companies to drill deeper to extract oil resources. Thus making it less energy and economical efficient.
Non-renewable resources are unsustainable energy sources of economic value that have a finite supply of stock. Fossil fuels—coal, gas, and natural gas—take thousands of years to form. The use of fossil fuels generate huge amounts of energy but it high environmental impacts outweigh the benefits in its long term use. The advantages of using conventional oil to meet our energy demands tend to look positive. There are ample supplies of oil that could last for decades. According to worldometers.info, the global supply of oil is estimated to run out in 14,113 days (~39 years). Oil drilling has low land disruption, and because its efficient distribution system, it can be easily allocated to where it is demanded. On the flipside, there are huge risks for water pollution when there are oil spills and leaks in containment vessels. It is also difficult to assess the environmental costs of extracting oil. Naturally, the biggest disadvantage of using oil is its huge amounts of carbon emissions and air pollutants into the atmosphere when burned. Similarly to oil, coal has the same advantages dealing with its ample supply, high energy yield, and low extraction costs. However, coal extraction causes severe land disturbance and water pollution. Coal miners and nearby communities are exposed to human health threats when coal dust particles pollute the air due to the results of the mining process and coal burning process. Out of all three fossil fuels, natural gas emits less carbon emissions when burned. At the current aggregate supply of fossil fuels, the world can meet all its energy demands for the next century; although, doing so would be at the environment’s greatest expense.
There are many forms of renewable energy. Most of these renewable energies depend in one way or another on sunlight. Wind and hydroelectric power are the direct result of differential heating of the Earth’s surface which leads to air moving about (wind) and precipitation forming as the air is lifted. Solar energy is the direct conversion of sunlight using panels or collectors. Biomass energy is stored sunlight contained in plants. Other renewable energies that do not depend on sunlight are geothermal energy, which is a result of radioactive decay in the crust combined with the heat of the Earth.
Solar energy has multiple advantages as an energy source. We have an indefinite supply of solar rays from the sun, does not cause pollution, is available all over the world, and is low maintenance. Despite these advantages, the cost of solar panels alone inhibit everyone from making the switch. Also the biggest problem with solar energy is the lack of a battery efficient enough to store large amounts of electricity for extended periods of time. Solar panel technology has yet to improve to become efficient and cheap enough for consumers to make the complete switch to solar power. Another type of renewable resource is geothermal energy. It has massive potential to be the sole energy source to meet all our energy demand. It has a relatively small environmental footprint and demands no other inputs other than the mechanical, heating, and cooling systems. However, geothermal plants pose high land disturbance and are prone to causing earthquakes. The geothermal plants can only be built in certain areas as well.
These tools and more can help make the transition from non-renewable to renewable and environmentally friendly energy. However, none of these is sufficiently developed or abundant enough to substitute for fossil fuels use. Every one of these power sources–with the exception of hydroelectric– has low environmental costs, and combined have the potential to be important in avoiding a monumental crisis when the fossil fuel supply is completely used. These energy sources are often non-centralized, leading to greater consumer control and involvement.
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