3.5.7.5 Available Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

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.

●  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 a stable resource for electricity generation or for heating.

Some further alternatives to fossil fuels, which are not yet fully developed, are described below (3.5.7.6).

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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/edition04/3575.htm