Monday, August 1, 2011

Ten Energy Sources – An Overview

Ten Energy Sources – An Overview

by: Clair Schwan

It seems that our lives have always been filled with discussions about energy crises and consequences of our energy hungry economy. It all started for me with the issue of smog when I was in middle school, then a high school science teacher told our class that we were running out of natural gas. Next it was an oil embargo that helped gasoline go from about 40 cents a gallon to over one dollar a gallon.

Not long after that, there was an accident at a nuclear generating station, and then along came acid rain, greenhouse gases, global warming, and a ban on burning wood in major metropolitan areas. Just when we thought it would quiet down, we’re re-examining hydrogen powered vehicles, talking about peak oil, expressing concern over wind turbines dotting the landscape, and watching the automobile morph from internal combustion to hybrid to electric.

It’s clear that a robust economy and an affluent lifestyle require a steady source of reliable energy. But what are the best sources of energy? The answer to that all depends on your perspective. And, your perspective is influenced by your knowledge of possible energy sources. So, whether you’re deciding to invest in the energy sector on the stock market or trying to select a source of power for your home, it’s important to know something about each.

Here’s an overview of 10 sources of energy in the United States and around the world. Some are suitable for large scale production, some suitable for home application, and some work well in both arenas. Let’s take a look at these to become acquainted with each. In no particular order, the 10 sources of energy I’ve selected for introduction are:

Oil  – a powerful and abundant energy source that is easily stored and transported. Many countries are rich with oil and there are many spin-off products from oil like propane, plastics, fertilizers and fabrics. It’s little wonder that we have an oil-based economy.

Coal  – an abundant energy source in the United States that was once used to heat homes and fuel rail transport. It’s well suited to electric power production simply because it’s a bit cumbersome for other applications that now use other fuels like fuel oil, electricity and natural gas.

Wind  – the fastest growing segment of the energy sector in the United States. It’s a way of harnessing a natural resource in areas that have frequent and steady winds. A popular source of home energy that works well in combination with photovoltaic systems.

Uranium  – the fuel for nuclear generating plants in the United States and elsewhere that was once described as being capable of providing electric power to homes that would be “too cheap to meter.” This type of magical energy source – splitting atoms to create energy – is one that is associated with high costs, radioactive contamination, and heavy regulation.

Hydro  – a renewable source of energy that utilizes rivers to turn turbine generators to create electricity. This technology is capable of using “pumped storage” techniques as well as constant flow sources of water. A less popular, but very reliable form of home energy when a source of running water is near a home site.

Wood  – perhaps the original renewable energy source, it’s most often used today for home heating in the country, but can also heat water, run a steam engine, and cook food.

Methane gas  – a source of energy from refuse and manure. It can be used on a large scale for generating electricity. On a smaller scale it’s most often used for cooking food.

Natural gas  – often touted as a very clean source of energy, it’s easy to extract, store, transport/deliver, and most often used for home heating, cooking and generating electricity.

Hydrogen  – rare to find in nature, but easy to create from water and direct current electricity. Many would like to see a hydrogen-based economy replace our oil-based economy, but technical and economic challenges persist.

Sunshine – a simple and renewable source of energy that is useful for water heating and home heating, using both passive and active methods. It’s one of the first forms of energy we learn about when we visit a greenhouse or find ourselves in a car with the windows rolled up on a sunny day. Photovoltaic cells make use of sunshine in a unique way by turning it directly into electricity with no moving parts.

So, there you have an overview of 10 sources of energy that are in use in the U.S. and around the world. There are others energy sources, so don’t consider this to be an exhaustive list. This is only some of the more common and well-known sources of energy.

In the interest of establishing your own small-scale energy policy at home, I would be happy to discuss the pros, cons and technical considerations associated with any of the above sources of energy. Perhaps reader interest might suggest appropriate topics for follow-on articles.

Clair Schwan has worked in the electric utility industry for more than 20 years and is familiar with both the power generation and power delivery side of the business. He’s also a homesteader who is creating his own sources of energy. When he’s not gathering sunshine or firewood, he works with his team of writers over at where the topics of home energy and energy conservation are often discussed.


cajunlicious said...

Great post Casey, we should all do all that we can!

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