Category Alternative Energy


There is no single best form of alternative energy technology. Each technol­ogy has advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it is likely that the United States will pursue most, if not all, of these technologies. Regardless of which combination of technologies is used, it is nearly certain that energy prices will continue to rise in the long term, with many roller-coaster dips and peaks along the way. The major issues that will need to be confronted along the way will include the following: providing a drastically updated national electrical grid, reducing CO2 emissions in the face of global climate change, easing the environmental and health impacts of atmospheric pollutants, and society’s acceptance—or not—of nuclear fission.

The role of consumers is critical...

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Oil Sands

Oil sands represent an oil resource of about 3—4 trillion barrels of oil worldwide, with about half of that found in Alberta, Canada and another very large deposit in Venezuela. However, extracting oil from oil sands is far more complicated, expensive, and energy-intensive than just pumping it from the deserts of the Middle East. The oil sands of Canada were formed when petroleum created millions of years ago migrated thousands of miles underground and became trapped in the shallow sand deposits of Athabasca and other nearby deposits. Once trapped in the sand, the originally high – grade crude oil began to break down into a low-grade heavy and viscous crude oil, bitumen, which exists today.

There are two methods to exploit oil sands...

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Oil Shale

Oil shale, sometimes called coal shale, is not coal at all, but rather kero – gen. Kerogen has a slightly different molecular structure than petroleum, but when heated, kerogen transforms into petroleum. There is an estimated re­source of 1,500 billion barrels of oil shale in the Green River formation of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. However, only about 600 billion barrels of that is considered practical for exploiting. Worldwide, there is about double this amount of oil shale.

To exploit oil shale as a fuel today, it must be mined and then distilled into petroleum. Although no commercial processing plants exist today, mod­ern experimental processing dates back to the 1970s. Current techniques are problematic for two reasons...

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In most conversations, when the phrase “alternative energy” is used, it is in the context that there is a source of energy that is somehow better than that which is currently used. This may be due to less pollution harming the envi­ronment and human health, less CO2 emissions leading to climate change, less need for fresh water, less impact on land usage, and/or a new resource of energy that will not run out for at several centuries. However, there are two energy resources that are sometimes referred to as alternative, even though they don’t meet the requirements above.

These two resources are oil shale and oil sands. As discussed below, both of these result in greater amounts of pollution, CO2, and fresh water use than does the current use of petroleum...

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Safety of Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has already been shown to be very safe, and it is responsible for far fewer deaths and illnesses than either coal or natural gas. No deaths or injuries have ever been attributed to the nuclear aspects of a commercial nu­clear plant in the United States. The worst U. S. commercial nuclear accident occurred at Three-Mile Island in 1979, and did not cause a single physical ill­ness or death. Even worldwide, in over 50 years of commercial nuclear power generation, there has been only one fatal power plant accident at Chernobyl, which caused 31 immediate deaths and about 20,000 cancer deaths.

Nuclear power suffers from a skewed perception about its risk...

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Nuclear power, although not quite renewable, is often categorized as renew­able energy. This is because nuclear power does not emit any air or water pol­lution, and most importantly, it is carbon-free. Nuclear power plants can also be built in any region of the country and provide power 24/7—independent of weather conditions. Nuclear power plants can be used to satisfy peak power demands, although they are not currently utilized in that manner.

A nuclear power plant is much like a coal-fired power plant. Water is heated to steam, steam turns a turbine, and electricity is generated. The used-up steam must then be converted back into water so the process can start all over again. Water-cooling towers are used in both nuclear and coal-fired power plants...

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Not all appliances use the same amount of energy. Major appliances are required to have an energy efficiency label that gives the average amount of energy consumed each year by the appliance. Thus, when shopping for a new appliance, it is easy to make comparisons and purchase the appliance that consumes the least amount of energy. Appliances that use the least amount of energy are given the government’s Energy Star rating. It may be necessary to pay more money for an Energy Star appliance, but the more efficient appli­ance will usually pay for itself within a few years. It is even possible to replace a perfectly working old appliance with an energy-efficient new appliance and have the new appliance pay for itself with the energy savings achieved.

In today’s world, the biggest energy-con...

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Hot-Water Savings

The best way to conserve energy for water heating is simply to use less hot water. This can be done with low-flow showerheads, using a front-loading clothes washer instead of a top-loading washer, and by using a dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand. Further reductions can be achieved by insu­lating hot water pipes, using energy-recovery drains, and switching to more ef­ficient water heaters, such as on-demand heaters that have no standby losses.

Modern showerheads have aerators in them that reduce the rate of water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less without sacrificing showering comfort. Many showerheads sold before 1992 will consume two to four times as much water as the most recent low-flow designs. Replacing an old show – erhead with a flow rate of 5.2 gpm with a 2...

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