Available Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

Currently available alternatives to fossil fuels include nuclear power and renewable sources: hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are mined from huge resources beneath the earth’s surface.  The use of these fuels depletes the earth’s resources, converting carbon that was stored in prehistoric times into carbon dioxide – which has turned the Earth’s atmosphere into a giant greenhouse and warmed up the climate.  There are now several sources of energy which don’t use carbon, or which capture as much of it from the atmosphere as they use.  A National Geographic article, Renewable energy, explained, lists several available alternatives to fossil fuels and contains links to further information on them:

●  Hydropower, as generated by large dams, is currently the world’s largest source of renewable energy.  Tidal and wave projects are being developed – and have huge potential.  These all give a fairly constant supply of electricity, irrespective of the weather.

●  Wind turbine numbers are rapidly increasing, both onshore and offshore.  Their output is weather-dependent, and they are a danger to birds and bats, but they are cost-effective.

●  Solar energy is also weather-dependent but cost-effective.  Electricity output from solar panels (photovoltaic, known as Solar PV) is rapidly increasing and the sun’s thermal energy is also used directly for heating.

●  Biomass energy can take the form of fuel, heating or electricity generation.  It uses waste products or crops grown specifically to make fuel (and the growing of crops captures carbon from the atmosphere).  An Economist article, Grow your own, listed several promising biofuels but criticised corn-based ethanol for competing with the production of food, harmful agricultural practices, and for not being very cost-effective.

●  Geothermal energy, tapping the earth’s heat, is another stable resource for electricity generation or for heating.

It should not be forgotten that nuclear energy is also a reliable source of power and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.  There have been concerns about safety, and the disposal of nuclear waste, but innovations in the industry can overcome these, as described below (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3575a.htm