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Research Essay: Alternative Sources of Energy
The United States is the world’s second-largest consumer of energy next to China. In a report, it has been found that the United States consumes almost 17% of the world’s energy even though they only make up 5% of the world’s total population. Virtually every sector in the economy relies on energy for its activities; the industrial sector, the transport and communication sector, the agricultural sector, the service sector, the business sector, and the household sector, among others. This forces the U.S. to import much of its energy supply because it lacks large energy reserves. The topic of this research paper will focus on the current sources and alternative sources of energy in the United States.
The United States used to be the largest consumer of energy in the whole world. However, America’s consumption gradually decreased over the years because they have learned to stabilize their usage and have invested in alternative energy-efficient means of sourcing energy. In the past, the United States dominantly used fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas as their primary source of energy. But due to the fact that fossil fuels are exhaustible and are known to be one of the effects of global warming, experts have decided to use renewable sources instead.
The effects of producing and consuming exhaustible energy like those coming from fossil fuels are acid rain, air pollution, radioactive waste, destruction of the environment, and global climate change. When scientists noticed that this source of energy is slowly destroying the Earth, they started to work on finding alternative ways to produce energy. So far, industries in the United States are still using the three major fossil fuels as their source of energy while households mainly use electricity, gasoline, and natural gas.
Currently, the energy consumption of the United States makes up of almost 32% natural gas, 28% of petroleum, almost 18% of coal, almost 13% of renewable energy, and 9% of electric nuclear power. To help save the environment, current US President Joe Biden plans to reduce the country’s carbon footprint which involves the entirety of the United States switching to 100% renewable energy by the year 2035.
Energy Consumption by Sector
The US President’s plan to completely shift the United States' main sources of energy is nothing short of arduous. It would require a lot of effort from virtually everyone because the change has to happen right from the ones in charge of managing and producing the country’s sources of energy so that it can eventually be adapted by each household in all 50 states.
And because the United States is a highly developed country, it is only natural that America is also an industrialized society that greatly depends on vast amounts of energy. What some people do not realize is, energy is involved in one’s day-to-day life. It is used to power up appliances, cook food, for transportation, and for producing materials and goods.
There are five main sectors that can be identified when it comes to energy consumption in the United States. The main one is the electricity or power sector. They are the ones who consume primary energy in order to generate energy that will be used by the other sectors. Basically, they only consume energy in order to provide energy.
The sector taking up most of the energy consumption in the United States is the industrial sector. The industrial sector is made up of all kinds of industries and the factories and facilities they use in their everyday operations. These makeup of those in the manufacturing industry, construction industry, agricultural industry, mining industry, and a part of the food industry.
Coming close to the industrial sector is the transportation sector which consumes about 29% of energy each year. The energy consumed by the transportation sector reached such a high number mainly because of aircraft, barges, and ships that are used to transport materials and other goods from country to country. Of course, the gas or energy consumed by vehicles a person encounters on a daily basis like cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, and trains are also included in that number.
Consuming 20% of the United States' energy consumption is the country’s residential sector. This sector is made up of residential structures like houses, apartments, condominiums, and encampments or buildings where homeless people spend the night.
It is surprising that the commercial sector came in last in the order of energy consumption in the United States. The commercial sector involves areas of work, entertainment, recreation, and healthcare. Under the commercial sector are establishments like warehouses, offices, schools, restaurants, malls, cinemas, hotels, resorts, and places of worship among other things.
What are renewable or alternative sources of energy?
Renewable energy, also known as alternative energy, is booming because humans are now working on reducing production costs and saving the environment. Aside from helping the environment, alternative sources of energy do not deplete unlike fossil fuels and the like. In addition, alternative sources of energy are mostly cost-efficient in the long run. Because of that, the government, and those who produce energy aim to switch to alternative sources of energy.
These alternative sources of energy come solely from inexhaustible natural resources like the wind and sunlight. Although, these alternative sources do have drawbacks because some sources, such as sunlight, are not accessible the whole day. Contrary to popular belief, technology such as this has existed for a long time now. For instance, nature’s energy like the sunlight has long helped humans light fires and the wind has the ability to push boats over rough seas.
Nowadays, it can be easily observed how some people utilize these alternative sources of energy. Some establishments, industries, and households already started trying out and completely switching to these innovative sources of energy. Solar rooftop panels are being manufactured and sold in many places and windmills are once again on the rise.
Alternative Sources of Energy
1. Hydroelectric Power
Hydroelectric power is the largest alternative source of energy in the United States. This alternative energy is gathered from bodies of water with fast-moving currents or bodies of water like waterfalls where the water rapidly descends to the bottom. The force of the water is then converted into electricity by turning a generator’s blades. Dams and underwater turbines are the main things most people think of when hydroelectric power is mentioned.
While the production of this alternative source of energy does not do harm to the environment when natural bodies of water are used, mega-dams or large hydroelectric plants are often built to restrict the natural flow of the body of water which is highly disadvantageous and confusing for the animals who rely on the body of water. Furthermore, some hydroelectric plants actually use fossil fuels to produce hydroelectric power which defeats the purpose of the whole thing in a sense.
2. Wind Energy
Windmills are no longer just found in farms. Today, windmills are known to be one of the cleanest and cheapest energy sources in the United States. The wind energy that makes the turbine’s blades turn is detected by an electric generator which is then turned into electricity. Windmills can be placed anywhere but it is recommended that it be placed on hilltops, meadows, open plains, and even on water because those are places with high wind speeds.
The cons of this alternative energy is that it has to be placed somewhere with high wind speeds and those locations happen to be too far from the cities where electricity is needed the most. Additionally, the production and consumption of wind energy is costly as it needs expensive transition lines which need maintenance too.
3. Solar Energy
Solar energy has been used by humans for various tasks for thousands of years. Harnessing solar energy is nothing new, but seeing the way it is being used now is definitely one for the books because solar energy is now being collected via technology such as solar panels. The gathered energy is then transformed into electricity and is now being widely used in homes, businesses, and other establishments. Solar energy is pretty much unlimited which means that this alternative energy source can render fossil fuels obsolete.
Most solar energy gathering devices now have a technology wherein they can store up the solar energy for later use. However, this is much more expensive. Another downside is that solar panels can only store energy when the sun is shining and is most efficient if it is placed where sunlight can directly shine on them. Households may not have the budget to make the switch to using this alternative source of energy and other sectors may not have roofs facing the direction where the device can be exposed to ample sunlight.
4. Biomass Energy
Bioenergy has long been in use as an alternative energy source by burning logs in the fireplace. Biomass is simply an organic matter that comes from plants and animals. Biomass can be used in liquid or solid form and energy can be extracted from it by burning it or harnessing the methane gas which is a result of the natural decomposition of the biomass.
While this is largely seen as an advantageous alternative energy source at first, it has recently been found that this source of energy produces higher carbon emissions than fossil fuels. Additionally, the main source of biomass is plants, and plants need time to regrow and flourish. Obviously, biomass energy does not have the capacity to fully replace fossil fuels as it is not a significantly better alternative than the latter.
5. Geothermal Energy
This alternative source of energy is something that humans encountered thousands of years ago in the form of hot springs and geysers. The energy used for this came from the heat trapped underneath the Earth’s surface which is captured using a turbine. An advantage of using this natural resource of energy is that it replenishes on its own and will not occupy that much space aboveground.
However, it has been found that geothermal plants, if built in geological hotspots, especially in the Ring of Fire , may increase the risk of a more destructive earthquake. Aside from that, building an underground facility for harvesting geothermal energy is quite costly.
6. Marine, Tidal, or Wave Energy
The largest body of water is found to be able to produce both thermal and mechanical energy. Mechanical energy relies heavily on the pull of the moon and the earth’s rotation because it uses the tides created by the water to generate energy. Marine thermal energy on the other hand is reliant on the temperature of the water’s surface. Structures are often built anchored on the ocean’s floor to gather this energy.
A limitation of this renewable source of energy is that it cannot serve locations that are too far from the ocean or sea. Structures built for this can also be heavily damaging to the ocean’s ecosystem and can be a cause of accidents for marine wildlife. Lastly, the weather conditions also affect the amount of energy produced by marine energy plants.
Alternative sources of energy are really not a new concept. In fact, it has been heard of by virtually everyone as the topic has been discussed in science classes. From what was stated above, alternative sources of energy have advantages and disadvantages, with one clearly outweighing the other in some cases. As soon as possible, everyone should be encouraged to just switch to using alternative sources of energy – especially if they are financially capable of doing so.
Clean, alternative sources of energy are now available to almost everyone in the United States. And with President Joe Biden’s energy plan, the shift from using fossil fuels to generating most of the needed energy in America is now in sight. This move is well thought out and is planned to be brought to fruition not just for the sake of politics, but also in an effort to save the environment in the ways that are still possible.
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Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. (2020). U.S. Energy System Factsheet (No. CSS03-11). https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/us-energy-system-factsheet
Inspire Energy. (2020, June 10). Types of Alternative Energy Sources You Can Use Today . Inspire Clean Energy. https://www.inspirecleanenergy.com/blog/clean-energy-101/types-of-alternative-energy
Shinn, L. (2018, June 15). Renewable Energy: The Clean Facts . Natural Resources Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/renewable-energy-clean-facts
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