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Nine Ways to Generate Electricity from Renewable Sources

The ideas for powering our future are endless.But, when will we take action and make these ideas a reality?
The ideas for powering our future are endless.But, when will we take action and make these ideas a reality? | Source

Over 86 percent of the energy consumed in the United States comes from petroleum, natural gas, or coal. Unfortunately, our dependence on these nonrenewable resources could someday lead us straight to our demise. Without change, society as whole would be immobilized. But why wait for the inevitable when we can enact change now? Here are 9 sources of renewable energy that could potentially change how we power our future.

Hydroelectric Energy

Currently, hydroelectric power plants provide only about five percent of the energy used in the United States. This type of power is more than a few centuries old as it has been used to power grain mills and other farm machinery. Unlike the water wheels of the past, modern hydroelectric power plants start with water stored in a reservoir behind a dam. The dam operators release water in a controlled manner through a spillway and over a turbine to generate electricity.

However, these types of power plants are not the panacea for our energy needs. In general, these structures have a relatively short lifespan and are prone to catastrophic failures. Another downside to hydroelectric power plants is their sometimes negative impacts on the environment. For example, in some areas whole populations of salmon have become eradicated because of their inability to swim upstream due to the presence of a dam. Downstream sediment transport is also blocked. This causes a severe reduction of nutrients in the water as well as excessive downstream river erosion. And finally, another problem with dams is finding an appropriate location to build them. There must be enough depth and space behind the dam to create a man-made lake, without destroying cities and natural life.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy works similar to a large heat exchanger. Deep in the earth's crust, heat from magma chambers and volcanic activity can be utilized to generate steam which can turn turbines. Alternatively, natural steam rising from crustal vents in the ground can be captured and directed into a power generation facility. The hot water vapor is directed towards turbines, which generate the electric power.

Geothermal power plants can also have very a short lifespan. Sometimes, the hot spots near the earth's surface can become inactive or run out of steam. The best geothermic sites have a magma chamber neither too shallow nor too deep from the surface. Ideally, a good geothermal site would also need to have natural channels or inlets, to constantly supply the hot magma with water.

Wind energy has a somewhat promising future. These devices are green, however they are highly unreliable and inefficient.
Wind energy has a somewhat promising future. These devices are green, however they are highly unreliable and inefficient. | Source

Wind Energy

One study indicated that if all the winds of North and South Dakota could be harness, it would provide 80% of the electrical energy used in the United States. Similar to hydroelectric power, wind power has been used for centuries. In the days of the old, it was used to turn grain mills or pump water. Nowadays these devices are very simplified. Basically, wind flows over a huge propeller that turns a turbine and generates electricity. Wind power stations provide a good amount of power in relation to the cost it requires to build them. They are inexpensive to build and are generally safe to use.

However, this technology does have a few downsides. Wind power farms usually create a lot of noise pollution. They could pose a problem if built near homes or in cities. Spinning propellers also pose a signicant problem to our bird populations. Additional, wind power is not completely reliable nor is it very efficient compared to other sources of energy. Despite these challenges, wind power is one of the most promising sources of alternative energy that scientists are considering today.

Tidal Energy

To harness the power of the tides you have to construct a dam or gate structure near the mouth of an ocean bay that has a large tidal range. The in and out flow of the oceans water is then used to move paddles which turn turbines to generate electricity.

Although this is a really great idea, it is not very practical. Most of the world’s coast does not have a tidal rise and fall large enough to create any usable amount of power. Current research suggests that the range must be at least 25 feet or more for sufficient power to be generated. It is also very hard to find suitable locations to build this kind of power plant.

Ocean Current Energy

Harnessing the power of the currents of the ocean is not a new idea. In the vast oceans of earth, there are currents that constantly travel the globe. The currents churn the sea in a never-ending underwater ‘river.’ This untapped source of energy may provide the electricity of the future. The concept is simple. A stationary set of turbines would rest in the ocean and would be turned by the natural movement of the water. This power generation facility essentially acts like a wind power plant except that it is constructed underwater. Challenges with this proposition include find a suitable location with enough water movement, constructing a machine that can survive the ocean, and preventing environmental damage.

Oceanic Thermal Energy

Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn exists a portion of the ocean that experiences significant thermal stratification. These relatively shallow layers of water with varying temperatures have the potential to create electricity. To harness this energy, you would need to use a heat exchanging device to turn a turbine. However, in the case liquid ammonia would need to be piped through the system instead of water because of its low boiling point. Cold water from the lower layers of the ocean would be pumped into the system to cause the ammonia to condense. Then when it warms up in the hot layer of the ocean, it would turn back into a gas creating enough pressure to rotate a turbine.

Although a unique idea, current research shows that it is not likely to be very efficient. In addition to this, it would be difficult to transmit or store the energy generated from this to use where it is needed. Even so, this idea is not completely of off the table.

Nuclear energy was once touted as the cure for our thirst for energy.  Now with the recent disasters in Japan, the future of nuclear power is uncertain.
Nuclear energy was once touted as the cure for our thirst for energy. Now with the recent disasters in Japan, the future of nuclear power is uncertain. | Source

Nuclear Power

About seven percent of the energy consumed in the United States comes form nuclear energy. In this type of power plant, radioactive materials release energy by a process of nuclear fission. This energy is used to heat water that turn turbines to create electricity.

While this type of power plant can generate immense amounts of energy, many significant challenges and roadblocks exist for nuclear energy. These power plants are also very expensive to build and require a feasible way to dispose of the toxic waste. The perceived fear of terrorism and nuclear disasters is another roadblock for these clean and efficient power plants.

More recently though, there has been extensive research into the viability of Thorium as a greener and safer alternative to traditional uranium nuclear power plants. Thorium is much easier to find in nature and produces less waste. The process by which energy is extracted from this material is also different from that traditional uranium reactors. Expect to see more about this form of nuclear fuel in the future.

Lightning Energy

Have you ever thought about harnessing the immense energy located in lightning? The concept is simple. Large tesla-coil like devices would sit atop mountains and beckon the lightning to strike them. Lightning would strike metal rod in the device and electricity would be directed to large capacitors for storage. Then, the stored energy could be released slowly as it's needed to power homes and businesses. However this power source is not without its problems either. Energy from lightning is not very reliable and would never become a main source of power. Lightning and the high voltages associated with it are also very dangerous.

Final Thoughts

In consideration for the future, we as a race will find it necessary to reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources such as petroleum. As with anything else in this world, nothing comes without a downside. For petroleum it was obvious. The future lies not with just one type of power plant, but with a variety of renewable energy sources, including some lesser known sources of energy such as biomass, used wisely in conjunction with the smart use and transmission of the electricity they generate.

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Comments 19 comments

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

I have a few comments about wind energy. First, an innovative design, called the Mamikon Spinner, may be prove to be superior to the convention propeller models. Future research will determine which is the more efficient design. However birds and bats will be less tempted to fly into Mamikon Spinners. That's the good news.

Now for the bad news. Winds turbines don't do squat for peak loads, because they're not dispatchable. Except in a few windy areas, wind turbines are not sufficiently reliable to contribute much to base loads either.

Except in areas with abundant hydro, wind turbines increase the need for natural gas turbines, which are dispatchable. The upshot: When you introduce wind power into the mix, you burn more natural gas, but less coal. Is that a good thing, or is it a bad thing? My unequivocal answer: Yes.

The Brits have already reached the point of diminishing returns with wind power. At times, they're actually paying windfarms to turn off their bloody turbines, because the beasts introduce too much instability into the system.

In most places, it is not realistic to get more than 10% of your electric power from wind turbines. Moreover even that small 'green' portion of electricity generation can greatly inflate electric bills. Ask the shivering British retirees, who must choose between good nutrition and adequate heat during their increasingly cold Winters.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Well said Larry. I agree that wind power is overrated and unreliable. Personally I believe that the future is with Concentrated Solar Power and possibly Thorium. None of the other sources of energy are very reliable or practicle on a large scale. I still have much to learn about thorium though. As far as I can tell, its future is uncertain.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois

These are all very interesting ideas. I have read about harnessing the power of the ocean before and found it intriguing. I had not heard of the lightening idea up to this point, but it has some value too. I just think all of this shows that there are other methods than what we have traditionally relied upon and diversification maybe is what is needed to provide people with power.


Rock_nj profile image

Rock_nj 5 years ago from New Jersey

There are limitless way to generate electricity from renewable sources. Many doable today or within reach within a few decades, and some that will require technological advancements far in the future.

Some I have read about include wind mills floated up into the jet stream to harness the wind energy that is much stronger and more consistent at high altitudes. Floating wind and wave electrical generating ships that generate electrify from the wind and wave action on the oceans then unload their electrical cargo on land. Solar arrays in space that beam electricity down to earth.

Regarding Larry's concerns about wind not being available for base electricity needs. That is true today, but perhaps not much longer, as large utility scale batteries and electricity storage methods become technologically feasible.

Thanks for this excellent Hub!


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 4 years ago

Chris

What about solar energy? It's unfortunate that nuclear energy has massive downsides when it comes to destructive uses and other dangers of radiations. Classic example of its danger was seen during the Tsunami in Japan, like you've rightly pointed out. Interesting hub which gives an overview of the many available energy sources that mankind has not fully tapped. I'm sharing it with friends and followers.

Princesswithapen


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho

Excellent hub on a topic that deserves a great deal of attention. Voted Up!


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona Author

Princesswithapen - Hey, Thanks for sharing! I felt that solar energy deserved its own hub, which I will write sometime in the future. Traditional nuclear energy does have some major issues. However, if we used Thorium as a fuel instead of traditional Uranium-235/238 in reactors, most of the issues associated this type of energy would be eliminated. I wrote a hub about Thorium if you are interested. http://hubpages.com/technology/Powering-Our-Future...


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona Author

Jennifer Essary - Thanks for stopping by. Since this hub is pretty popular, I may write another one discussing additional sources of energy.


jerrysaliu profile image

jerrysaliu 4 years ago from Warri, Nigeria

Great Hub!


G.srikanth 4 years ago

Is there any chances other than this.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona Author

G.srikanth - Yes, there are plenty of other methods available that can be used to obtain renewable energy. If you are interested see my many other hubs on this subject. I have one called "Five Alternative Forms of Energy You Have Never Heard Of" that poses some unique solutions to our power problems. In addition to this, I have written about biomass energy and thorium power plants.


R.NAGENDRA 3 years ago

I have a new idea to generate power from running trains for better implementation how can i contact in with u


Anna Sternfeldt profile image

Anna Sternfeldt 3 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

Great with discussions on this matters as we urgently must find solutions to replace fossil sources. As you and participants in the discussion have pointed out, there is really no energy source that could itself replace fossil fuel or provide us with most of our needs or even be as you say stable and reliable. And that is likely the future we have to face and accept. We have to be flexible. We need to use different kinds of sources and technologies.

As you, I am also aware of the ecological difficulties with hydropower and dams, so I don't think we should develop this anymore, but use the facilities that are already in place. Wind has its issues as mentioned, but I also know that there are wind plants that are not so noisy and also have addressed the problem with birds, so I think there are things happening here that will give us better plants, but as mentioned earlier, it has to be combined with other sources. Sun of course, and the ocean is interesting, it is huge and powerful so it has a potential for delivering energy, but sure... the technology is not there yet.

Geothermal energy has a good potential in certain areas, for instance in Nicaragua, where there is pretty much thermal activities close to the surface. I have been there once and visited a power plant.

Nuclear energy is as I see it not an option. Too dangerous, no solution for the waste and it is not even economically viable when you calculate all costs included. The same with the usage of Thorium, not a sustainable economically viable option.


shit 3 years ago

Alternative methods of Generating Electricity research


coco-codi 3 years ago

what happens to the land that the wind turbines sit on does the land become solely wind turbine "turf" or is the land farmable if not how is it sufficient in renewable sources when our food is more vital to survive compared to a luxury of "clean energy"


Anna Sternfeldt profile image

Anna Sternfeldt 3 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

I can't see that clean energy is a luxury, it is a must. But cars and transports can be luxury and other stuff, we need energy to be able to produce food and to heat our houses, and these are the basics.


stephiene meyer 20 months ago

good,but its too much lengthy


Seshagopalan profile image

Seshagopalan 17 months ago from Chennai, Tamil Nadu

The hub is cool with detailed explanation. The most interesting fact is the lightening energy which was new to me.


adevwriting profile image

adevwriting 16 months ago from United Countries of the World

It is very necessary to save the planet Earth, which is the reason we could evolve and live. Renewable energy sources are some good options in this regard.

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