Renewable Energy Sources are Becoming Increasingly Viable
Although there are many sources of energy, modern society relies predominantly on non-renewable fuel sources to power itself. Fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources are cheap and easy to use, but the long-term consequences of fossil-fuel use are devastating. With consequences ranging from geopolitical instability to climate change, the continued use of non-renewable energy sources may threaten the future of modern society. Fortunately, renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly viable.
What are Renewable Energy Sources?
Renewable energy sources, as the name suggests, are energy sources that don't run out. Common renewable energy sources include solar power, wind power and biomass. These energy sources take advantage of natural phenomena to extract energy for human use. Wind turbines take advantage of high winds to spin a turbine and create electricity. Hydroelectric generators use the power of rivers to achieve the same effect. Solar cells take advantage of quantum mechanics to create electricity from sunlight.
Although renewable energy sources typically require a high initial investment, over time the ability to create energy without fuel can help recover that initial investment. Solar cells, for example, typically cost thousands of dollars to install, but they allow homeowners to generate their own electricity. Over the lifetime of the panels, the homeowners can expect to earn back their initial investment in the form of reduced or eliminated electric bills. Additionally, continued research into the renewable-energy field is constantly reducing the cost of renewable technologies.
However, in spite of the long-term benefits of renewable energy sources, most countries rely on non-renewable sources, such as coal or oil, to provide the bulk of their energy. Although these fossil fuels are relatively cheap, the use of these non-renewable energy sources carries some drastic hidden costs.
Why Not Use Fossil Fuels?
There are many reasons to limit the use of fossil fuels. First, fossil fuels are inherently limited; the Earth only contains so many deposits of these energy-dense fuels. Over time, known deposits become depleted, forcing energy companies to continually search for new fuel sources. This can lead to price volatility, causing wild swings in the final cost of these energy sources. Furthermore, all of these deposits will eventually be consumed. Even nuclear energy, which relies on uranium, is not infinite; eventually, all of the usable uranium will be spent as well.
Many of the world's fossil-fuel deposits lie underneath some of the most volatile regions in the world. For example, the Middle East is home to a significant percentage of the world's crude oil deposits. Any instability in that part of the world affects the price of crude oil; during the Arab Spring, crude oil prices spiked as investors worried about the impact of popular uprisings in that region. The leaders of these nations are willing to use their power to manipulate the price of crude oil, as shown during the embargo of the 1970s.
Non-renewable energy sources tend to leave behind a large amount of pollution and waste. The burning of fossil fuel has been strongly implicated as the leading cause of global warming and climate change. When these fuels are burned, they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide; sustained use of these fossil fuels has led to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels higher than at any point in the last several hundred years. In addition to warming the planet, these high levels of carbon dioxide have started a process known as ocean acidification. This acidification interferes with the ability of aquatic organisms to grow shells; it has already led to the near-collapse of several shellfish populations in some parts of the world.
Renewable energy is critical for the future of humanity. Fossil fuels will only last for so long, and the use of fossil fuels has already caused several dire problems. Renewable power promises to maintain the modern standard of living while reducing humanity's impact on the world's ecosystem.