RENEWABLE ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES

 

 

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For Today and Tomorrow

Over the last hundred years or so the burning of coal, oil and gas has fuelled a revolution which has given warmth, comfort, light, communication, and mobility to millions of people.

Most western homes are crammed with labour saving devices to take the drudge from domestic chores.  Advances in micro-chip technology, satellite communication, super-conductors and lasers all hold the prospect of a gleaming technological future where life can be ordered at the flick of a switch ... or do they?  It is very easy to take energy for granted; we simply press a button and it's there.

But energy is provided at a cost ... not just in terms of money, but in terms of consumption of natural resources, environmental damage and pollution.

At present, most of the energy we use comes from deposits of fossil fuels.  Millions of years of heat and pressure have transformed the remains of prehistoric trees and plants into the coal, oil and gas which are our major sources of energy today.  Since the industrial revolution, our rate of consumption of these limited energy resources has increased dramatically and, sooner or later, they are going to run out.

Fossil fuels also release waste products when burnt and these can damage both human health and the environment.  Air pollution from coal and oil fired power stations and vehicle exhausts is known to contribute to the major problems of acid rain and the greenhouse effect.  There is now widespread and growing public concern over the undesirable effects of burning fossil fuels and alarm bells are ringing at the prospect of major climatic upheaval brought about by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Despite earlier hopes, nuclear power is still only producing a relatively small amount of energy worldwide.  The technology is vastly expensive and the problem of storage and disposal of highly radioactive spent fuel and other contaminated material is a major environmental issue.

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 confirmed the risk of nuclear power.  An explosion in the core of the reactor killed thirty one people and allowed radioactive material to escape into the atmosphere.  More than 200,000 people in Byelorussia, the Ukraine and the Russian Republic were evacuated from their homes and the total economic cost of the disaster is estimated at 200 billion. 

There is mounting pressure to develop safer and less polluting energy sources.  At the same time the demand for energy is increasing and the cost, both environmental and economic, of burning fossil fuels rises with it.

It has been estimated that renewable sources of energy have the potential to meet or exceed the current total world energy demand.  The sun offers us solar energy directly as light and heat and indirectly in the form of wind, waves and the products of photosynthesis by green plants.  Planetary motion gives us tidal power and we can tap geothermal energy from the earth itself.

 

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