10 Alternatives To Solar Power That Everyone Should Know

Tim Hamlin
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Hydroelectric Energy

(How Does Hydroelectric Energy Work?)

Hydropower is the energy that is produced from the natural flow of water. The flow of a river can crush rocks and turn turbines to produce electricity. Most hydroelectric plants are equipped with a dam so water can’t flow freely and the river stays in a constant state. They require a large amount of land to build, and can disrupt ecosystem balances.

However, there are many new design ideas in which small plants are attached to waterfalls turning them into a natural power source. This involves building the dam a bit higher allowing water not to flow all of the time, but only when needed. They are cheaper to build, and take up less room than hydroelectric dams. Also, they don’t use a lot of energy to run them. They don’t produce the most amount of energy, but they are great for limited spaces.

A lot more water power is still untapped, and do to new smaller designs, there are many great projects that will make hydroelectric power the clean energy we need.

Another perk of hydroelectric power is it uses no radiation, chemicals or anything else harmful to the environment. Hydroelectric power is clean and efficient, and once it’s running costs are very low.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is so misunderstood that it makes us afraid of something that’s really a very important part of our existence. First of all, nuclear power plants are heavily regulated so any damaging impacts are controlled. Furthermore, if there is an accident, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be affected at all. It’s only around a 0.0001% chance of danger with the plant residing in the US.

Also, this is a dream for those of us who’ve always wanted to be on a Mad Men episode. After all, nuclear power plants operate much in the same way as the one featured on the show.

If you’re interested in nuclear power, here’s a list of some of the brightest minds of the companies that chose to run them.

Biofuels

Biofuels, also known as green fuels, are the future of energy. They are clean and renewable and don’t cause the same harm to the environment that fossil fuels do. People are currently researching many different ways to create biofuels and are trying to make biofuels more efficient.

There are several types of biofuels, which are:

Ethanol

This is a liquid derived from plant and vegetable matter and is refined in order to make it usable. Ethanol can be produced in a lab and used in a car with special engines or it can be produced from corn in a farm.

Ethanol is being investigated by many vehicle producers and is expected to be the future of fuel as the current technology develops.

Bio-diesel

This is another form of fuel that can be produced in a lab or from biodiesel crops, such as soy or palm oil. This type of fuel can be used in cars but it needs conversion to be done. The conversion can be done at home or by a certified tech and then the car can run on the converted fuel.

Wood pellets

This type of fuel is derived from wood waste. It is created by heating organic matter and briquettes of the wood are produced, which can then be burned to create energy. Wood pellets are both renewable and a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Two Common Types of Biofuel

Microbial Biofuel Cells are devices that use biotechnology to convert biomass into electricity.

As plants and other microorganisms grow, they take in nutrients and sunlight and convert it into energy (a process called photosynthesis). By isolating the metabolic pathway the microorganisms use to produce energy, we can take the biological energy and convert it into electricity.

Solar Biofuel Cells use the same general principle, but they use an artificial photosynthesis pathway that utilizes sunlight to produce energy.

There are two types of solar biofuel cells:

  • Organic Solar Cells
  • Synthetic Solar Cells

Organic solar cells are based on natural biological material and can be more cost effective to produce. They are more abundant, so they have a lower impact on the environment, and they can secrete corrosive waste.

Synthetic biofuel cells are based on biological waste and are much more expensive and climate dependent. They have a higher energy production and a cleaner bi-product.

This concept isn’t new, people have been using biomass to create energy for a long time. In fact, almost every civilization that has existed before us has utilized some kind of biofuel cell and in a very simplistic way, all of them function on the same principles as the newer biofuel cells.

Natural Gas

(Natural Gas)

Natural gas is discovered in underground natural gas fields by drilling a deep hole in the ground and extending it horizontally at various distances.

Natural gas is mostly methane, which burns clean and is an efficient way to generate power. Natural gas provides energy for heating, cooking, and heating.

The first natural gas power plant was built in New York City in 1910, and it was one of the most advanced electrical suppliers in the nation.

Today, natural gas is also used to generate electricity, and several power plants with turbo generators specifically burn natural gas for the electrical generation.

The natural gas power is one of the least expensive forms of electrical generation. Natural gas has a few downsides, such as being vulnerable to interruptions in supply and being a fossil fuel.

Wind Energy

Since 1997, according to Department of Energy statistics, wind energy in the U.S. has grown by 866 percent. According to the latest statistics available from the American Wind Energy Association, wind is now the largest source of alternative energy in the U.S., generating 3 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2003. This is only expected to rise as wind energy becomes more efficient.

Wind energy, however, is only ideal in very specific areas. Despite its popularity, it is still not cost-effective for most of the country. However, growing numbers of people are investing in wind turbines for energy.

Wind energy is the work of nature. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind is now the largest source of alternative energy in the U.S., generating 3 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2003. This is only expected to rise as wind energy becomes more efficient.

Wind turbines come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 300 watts to 10,000 watts, and can be either used for home electricity or, because they spin fast enough to generate significant amounts of power, as large generators.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal will provide an efficient and renewable source of energy for many years. It is an ideal power source for remote areas without the availability of power lines, or with no financial interest to build lines.

Geothermal power is harnessed by taking advantage of the natural heat of the Earth. The best places are areas where you’ll find hot springs.

The idea is really quite simple, for a geothermal power plant, water is pushed down into the Earth where it is heated by hot rock, and the hot water is pumped back to the surface to produce steam used to drive turbines and generators.

Geothermal plants are environmentally friendly as there is little, if any, waste product, and the only by-product is hot water, which is then used for things like heating.

Hydrogen Gas

This is probably the most widely known alternative energy source, but the most widely used.

Hydrogen is simple. To release its power, it only takes water and a catalyst.

Unfortunately, the simple formula to generate Hydrogen entails a complex set of processes and steps.

These steps usually involve the finishing of a necessary companion Gas, with the aid of a Bio Mass.

Gas, otherwise known as Methane, is taken from the digestion of organic matter, acting as a bio-recyclable catalyst.

This system is used in all countries already, and although it has its benefits, it also comes with some major issues.

First of all is the fact that Hydrogen produces a greenhouse gas (water vapor) when used initially to produce it in the first place.

This means that producing solar powered hydrogen, still produces greenhouse gases.

More concerning is the fact that it takes 15 to 17 percent of the total energy to create a fuel.

This means that only 8 to 12 percent of the total energy is delivered to the end user.

Also, the process itself can be dangerous for people working it and living near it, because of the explosive contents involved.

This is the main reason why big countries like Germany and France struggle to find a way to make it totally safe and profitable.

Hydrogen is great, but it has some big issues to be solved.

Problem with Hydrogen Gas Electricity

Hybrid solar hydrogen systems are “clean” power generators that store hydrogen in a tank with a combination of solar panels and batteries. When the tank fills, start the generator and drive your car for up to four hours on the sun and a tank of hydrogen.

The problem with hydrogen gas is it has to be produced in a huge plant that releases greenhouse gas.

The sun shines almost every day, so why store the sun as hydrogen to drive a car later?

The beautiful thing about a hybrid solar hydrogen system is that it turns a 100% renewable, non-polluting power source into a huge, dirty power plant and permits.

Tidal Energy

Tidal energy is the kinetic energy of the tides of the sea. The relative locations of the orbiting Earth and Moon cause a transfer of momentum, resulting in tides which are an oscillation of sea level.

Tidal comes from the word tide which has long referred to the periodic changes in sea level and the corresponding changes in coastal features. Tides are the result of the forces arising from the relative positions of the Moon and Earth, Earth and moon act upon the oceans and cause a transfer of water mass between the solid earth and the ocean and ground water from the ground to the oceans.

When the tidal effects are superimposed on the se MHHW, spring, neaps and neaps tidal ranges differ from the MHHW by approximately 20 cm. The tide range is about 0.6 m (2 ft). Tidal power is often stated to be negligible in the generation of power relative to the large scale generation of power.

Biomass Energy

There are a number of different forms of biomass energy, that come from plant based materials that can be turned into liquid and gas fuels, and also to make solid fuels, such as wood pellets. Bioenergy, differs from traditional forms of energy, in that it can be large scale, reliable, and sustainable. It can be in the form of liquid biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, or gaseous fuels, such as biogas, methane and syngas, which can be used in power and heat generation.

There are a number of different opportunities for growers and processors to get involved in the biomass energy market, whether it’s required to use their crop residue, or if they are able to use agricultural crops, such as wheat or woodchips, that would otherwise go to waste.

Cofiring of Biomass

Co-firing with biomass materials is a process through which different forms of fuel and biomass are burned together. The organic material contributes heat, but also steam, which is analogous to the steam produced from fossil fuels. The burning of coal is still very much at a conventional level (with wood chips), and the coal industry is trying to build up production in this area. A recent evaluation shows that in terms of efficiency, cofiring is not significantly different from conventional firing.

Cofiring is a process where the biomass and coal are mixed together, then combusted. With co-firing, you can save the capital investment you’ve made in a plant that can only use biomass. While cofiring is not the best of our choices, it is better than not cofiring at all.

In some cases only a small percentage of biomass is added to the coal and there are different kinds of pressures involved. Six-percent biomass after combustion would block the flue channel and would mean that the boiler would have to be modified to handle it together with the coal. In fact, cofiring works better on smaller units.

Co-firing of biomass with coal is cheaper than using advanced biomass technology that only works for biomass. It is also better than not cofiring at all. However, it is not a good economic decision.

Kinds of Conversion Processes

Conversion processes have been used by the human race for thousands of years, though the power conversion process itself was not discovered until 1975. In the 1990s, the conversion process was discovered to operate by means of photovoltaic cells, which are the ubiquitous dark and light bands that one sees on solar panels.

The conversion process is essential the process by which sunlight entering a photovoltaic cell is converted to electricity. There are a variety of power conversion processes in use today, as anyone who has a solar panel on their home or business can attest.

Let’s get specific. Photovoltaic cells look like colored tiles when they are installed on the surface of a building. That’s partly because the solar panels were originally designed to stand on top of a roof where they would soak up sunlight.

In the case of the photovoltaic cells, electricity is generated when photons of light strike the panel. If the panel is constructed correctly, the conversion process is water and air resistant, as is true with the solar panels on homes and businesses.

Photovoltaic cells don’t move; the conversion process starts when the photons of light hit the surface of the cell. Almost at the velocity of light itself, electricity is generated and fed to your home.

A popular theory is that most people carry a Photovoltaic cell around with them every day.

Wave Energy

Wave power is a collection of various methods that all utilise the motion of waves to generate electricity.

Wave power is viable to power a desalination plant for potable water in arid locations or to power ships in areas of high tidal movement. A few wave power plants are in operation. The largest is Eneco Pampa, with a capacity of 180 MW in Punta Eugenia, near Río Gallegos in Argentina.

UC Berkeley's Wave Energy Project in the San Francisco Bay Area may soon power a California city. See also Wave farm: Ocean Power Technologies.

Final Thoughts

It’s possible that some of these alternatives may not be suitable for your individual needs and that’s okay. I’m sure that if you started to research and review your alternatives, you would have a hard time deciding which ones are the most suitable for you. Ultimately, you should take into account your budget, your utility company, and your own lifestyle and choose the alternative that is the best fit for you and your family.

It’s my hope that going over these alternatives has given you a lot of information that can clear up those questions about solar power, and has helped you to make an informed decision about other sources of renewable energy as well.