An Analysis of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Carbon Fuels and Alternative Energy Sources
A. Topic Overview
Carbon-intensive sources of energy (i.e. fossil fuels) are among the most used sources of energy to date. In fact, “more than 85% of all primary energy on earth comes from fossil fuels” (McGuigan, 2003). The rest are initiatives to use alternative energy sources.
It is an alarming rate since fossil fuels are non-renewable and that using fossil fuels increases the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Increased concentration of carbon in the atmosphere then leads to the greenhouse effect which traps the heat within the Earth. Furthermore, the burning of coal, natural gas and other types of fossil fuels also contributes to the global air pollution. With these three-pronged problems stemming from the use of carbon fuels, this paper will assess how the use of non-renewable sources must be replaced by renewable sources of energy (i.e. solar and wind energy).
B. Purpose, Relevance
The purpose of this study is to present a cost-benefit analysis of using carbon fuels and alternative sources of energy. This is an important undertaking given the fact that the world is facing global warming and widespread pollution issues. At the end of this paper, the author hopes to convince its readers that renewable sources of energy
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The following questions are to be answered in this paper:
1. What resources are primarily used and why?
2. What problems result from nuclear and carbon based fuels?
3. What renewable energy sources can reduce dependency on coal and oil?
4. What countries currently use clean energy resources and with what results?
5. What forces slow down the development and implementation of renewable energy?
6. How urgent is the need to expand solar, wind and water power technologies?
7. How can public awareness and political action be promoted to solve this global problem?
D. Research Methods
The researcher will make a quantitative research to come up with a risk and benefits study of using non-renewable and alternative energy sources.
II. Resources Used/Carbon Based Fuels
Coal is among the worst pollutants when generating energy. According to Amalie Obusan of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, using coal not only leads to environmental destruction and health problems, the process of “burning coal also accelerates climate change” (Greenpeace Southeast Asia, 2010).
Natural oil also produces air pollution when being burned for energy production. There is also an inherent danger in polluting water bodies in case of oil spills such as the BP oil spill controversy earlier this year. In addition to this, the price of oil fluctuates every so often because of the decreased supply of oil.
To date, 31 countries are using nuclear power all over the world. Approximately 438 nuclear power plants in the world are fully operational and an additional 61 are currently under construction (Westinghouse Electric Company, 2010). This growing popularity of using nuclear energy is attributed to stability of energy production in nuclear power plants. A usual power plant runs for more than a year before it needs refueling. However, given the danger of handling nuclear elements and the problems in disposing radioactive materials, nuclear energy use is still being banned in a lot of countries.
A. Global Warming
As mentioned above, the increased concentration of carbon in the atmosphere contributes to greenhouse effect and thus the global warming phenomenon. Global warming can have a number of effects—particularly that of changes in the earth’s geomorphology. The higher temperatures will cause the glaciers in the northern and southern poles to melt. The erratic weather will also cause more violent tropical storms which “could increase flooding and exacerbate erosion of both inland and coastal areas” (Jones, 1993).
B. Environmental Pollution
Environment pollution is mostly attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gasses are released from burning these fossil fuels which then contribute to the occurrence of acid rain and air pollution.
C. Depletion of Non-renewable sources
Lastly, non-renewable resources are limited in number. Once the fossil fuel reserves are completely depleted, humanity can only wait for another batch of fossil fuels to be created under the earth’s crust. In fact, the carbonization process of fossil fuels take decades to complete.
IV. Types of Clean Energy
A. Solar Panels
Solar panels are among the most popular forms of alternative energy. They can be used anywhere that there is generous source of sunlight.
B. Wind Farms
Wind farms are quite expensive and needs very strong winds to be able to generate much energy. But the process of converting mechanical energy into electricity does not produce any pollution at all.
C. Dams, Tidal Generating Stations
The downside of building dams is that it can only operate when there is enough water within the dam. Otherwise, dams are deemed non-functional.
D. Biomass/ Algae Ponds
Algae fuel from algae ponds are very environment friendly. Furthermore, the operational cost of maintaining an algae pond is very low.
Another alternative energy source, geothermal power plants can be very efficient in places where there are active volcanoes. However, since volcanoes have the tendency of becoming dormant, this may not be the best and most reliable source of energy.
F. Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
Fuel cells use hydrogen as its fuel. Electricity is produced after oxygen reacts with hydrogen inside a fuel cell. It can be further developed to supply large scale power needs.
From these findings, the author concludes that it is best if countries will gradually shift to using renewable sources of energy. Not only will this save the remaining fossil fuels reserves, there will also be less or no pollution produced while generating electricity from renewable sources of energy.
While building solar panels or wind mills requires a high amount of investment, countries can expect a return of investment in a few decades. Afterwards, they can use the facilities with less operational expenses compared to continuously importing coal or natural gas.
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August 4,2010, from Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/en/news/asian-communities-say-no-to-co
Heiman, M. K., & Solomon, B. D. (2004). Power to the People: Electric Utility Restructuring
and the Commitment to Renewable Energy . Annals of the Association of American Geographers , 94-116.
Jones, D. K. (1993). Global Warming and Geomorphology . The Geographical Journal , 124-
McGuigan, B. (2003). What are Some of the Most Common Energy Sources? Retrieved August
4, 2010, from Wise Geek: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-some-of-the-most-common-energy-sources.htm
Westinghouse Electric Company. (2010). Reliability. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from