Earth. The planet we call our home in the solar system. This home is blessed with plenty of natural resources, but most of these are limited. And our need to create energy by burning fossil fuels is leading us down a dangerous path. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change and it won’t be long till we start exhausting our last reserve of fossil fuels.
Which is why there is a dire need to find alternative solutions. And even though the likes of Elon Musk and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are betting big on Solar Energy, there are other alternatives being left out. Solar energy is clean and with improving tech, it will get better. But is it really the best solution?
The Facts Against Solar
This is one of the primary causes of concern while moving to solar power. Solar panels can convert roughly 15-40% of the sun’s energy into electricity. That’s very inefficient at first glance, but pretty similar to any other alternative form of power production. Except a few, which we’ll talk about later.
There are a few practical disadvantages to solar power too. The first being that it can’t be generated at night. Moreover, if there is a greater cloud cover than usual, it gets increasingly difficult to generate solar power. Sure, there are sun-tracking panels with motors and sensors that can move themselves to a position where sunlight is abundant, but these add to the overall cost.
If costs cannot be controlled, even the most ‘clean’ source of energy will be rejected.
Which is another practical point to cover. Research and development of solar energy isn’t exactly cheap, plus the installation and production costs of solar farms is massive too.
3. Environmental Impact
Even though solar power is considered as clean (and for most part, it is), there are still some concerns over these claims. Firstly is the case for producing solar panels which lead to harmful emissions. Secondly, and more gravely, is the use of Cadmium in the process.
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal which has a tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. Even though current techniques to control the level of Cadmium emission is effective, there is still a 5–10 g/m² usage of it.
Approximately 2/3rds of our planet is water. These water bodies are a great source that can be utilized to generate power. Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy.
Hydroplants range in size from “micro-hydros” that power only a few homes to giant dams like Hoover Dam that provide electricity for millions of people. Since there is no burning of fuel at any stage, this is quite a clean and robust method of generating power. It’s also very efficient with older hydroplants being able to achieve 60% efficiency, while newer ones can hit up to 90%.
The major disadvantage of this method is the consequence to the environment, since damming of water bodies can lead to changed water flows. Also, in areas affected by drought, this method will be unavailable and we will need to explore other alternatives.
Geothermal energy is a clean form of energy that uses the heat generated from Earth to power its plants. This heat energy is known as geothermal energy and can be found almost anywhere on the planet. Power plants are set up in areas with high heat emissions from volcanic or seismic activities.
If the full economic potential of geothermal resources can be realized, they would represent an enormous source of electricity production capacity. In 2012, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that conventional geothermal sources (hydrothermal) in 13 states have a potential capacity of 38,000 MW, which could produce 308 million MWh of electricity annually.
It is one of the few renewable energy technologies that can supply continuous, baseload power. Additionally, unlike coal and nuclear plants, binary geothermal plants can be used a flexible source of energy to balance the variable supply of renewable resources such as wind and solar. Binary plants have the capability to ramp production up and down multiple times each day, from 100 percent of nominal power down to a minimum of 10 percent.
The costs for electricity from geothermal facilities are also becoming increasingly competitive. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for new geothermal plants (coming online in 2019) will be less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), as opposed to more than 6 cents for new natural gas plants and more than 9 cents for new conventional coal.
There are some other sources that can be spoken of too, like Wind and Bio energy, but they aren’t nearly as feasible as Hydro or Geothermal. Wind energy needs a constant supply of wind and that can’t be accurately predicted for any given region. Bio energy on the other hand, relies largely on bio diesel and its availability isn’t uniform across the planet.