Are alternative energy sources the answer to ending human dependence on oil?
For the past couple of decades, climate change has gradually changed the course of the globe and influenced the different patterns important for maintaining the ecosystem. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is fossil fuel, more commonly known as oil. Oil has been used since the Industrial Revolution as it powered up the machines, transportation and even gave electricity to homes around the globe. At present, oil is now being exported by oil-rich countries to developed countries, causes conflicts in these countries and even becomes the bane of most consumers due to its ridiculously high prices. With oil’s role in increasing the effects of climate change, experts are now slowly introducing alternative energy sources to reduce these harmful consequences of oil. However, some people question if these alternative energy sources could replace oil’s role in most daily activities. Given a few years, these alternative energy sources may reduce human dependence on oil as long as technologies and resources are allotted to enable each country to gain the benefits of these alternatives and reduce the disadvantages it has upon usage.
Alternative energy sources or simply alternative energy or alternative fuel is commonly known as another source of energy that can provide the same amount of power produced by traditional energy sources and reduces the consequences of its use. According to Simon (2007) alternative energy are classified by its renewability and availability. At present, these alternatives are becoming a modern trend in the twenty-first-century energy due to its capacity to reduce the effects of pollution and climate change. One example of alternative energy is hydrogen, a source coming from bodies of water. The research on hydrogen began when George W. Bush proposed the Hydrogen Economy which stated the use of hydrogen for energy production. To use hydrogen, fuel cell technology is required to convert it to electricity. Hydrogen is also flexible as it could be added into natural gas to create Hythane, which enables it to reduce the emissions of natural-gas-powered engines.
Solar and Wind energy are two of the best alternative energy sources given that it can easily be seen everywhere. According to Douglass (2005), solar power can be generate through photovoltaic and thermal power. Solar PV is proven to provide energy in small applications such as homes and businesses. For energy to be generated by these solar-powered machines, semiconductors convert sunlight which then creates electrons to provide electricity. This method is also cost-effective as seen in developing countries. Wind energy, on the other hand, uses wind towers to harness energy. These towers have wind turbines that would generate electricity capable of accumulating 2.5 megawatts of power. Europe and some parts of the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific are benefiting from this type of energy. Nuclear energy is also being tested today to replace oil especially in power generation due to the new technologies that would make it safer to use.
Electricity is also considered another alternative fuel source and is especially being considered today as one of the best alternatives to fuel today due to its availability. According to the US Department of Energy (2003), electricity-run automobiles or machinery can be recharged continuously to continue running as long as there is an electric plug or refilling station nearby to refuel. The energy is converted by power grids attached to the machine and then the power is stored in batteries. Hydrogen, when converted, is also turned as electricity from fuel cells. Depending on the vehicle or the machine, electric power cars can save a user a lot of money as charging the batteries would only require electricity plugs to have it done. The charging time would also vary depending on the battery type installed to the system .
Biofuel is another type of alternative energy currently being researched today. Mulvaney (2011) noted that biofuel can be in solid, liquid or gaseous form and can be produced through biomass. Out of all the types of biofuel, liquid biofuel is mostly being developed as the main substitute for gasoline. The reason to this is the ethanol content of biofuels which comes from oil-based crops and fermented plant starches. In the United States alone, ethanol production has increased as vehicles are now capable of using the ethanol blend E85, which contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Ethanol from corn is also more used in the United States because the country currently has a rich supply of corn and the federal subsidy it has. In other countries such as in Europe, biofuel comes from palm plantations. Some even use oil-based plants and used oil from restaurants and food processors .
Collectively, alternative energy sources are more preferred nowadays because unlike oil, they do not contribute to the growing effects of climate change. Goldemberg (2004) explained that these alternative energies produces less carbon dioxide emissions compared to its traditional counterparts. As of present time, fossil fuels or oil consumption counts at 80% and due to combustion, it increases carbon dioxide emissions up to 0.5% per year. If this continues, present levels of carbon emissions will be up to 340 ppmv, much higher to the emissions done in the Industrial Revolution. The continuous warming rates would serve as challenges for many countries should these emissions continue to run freely as it will hinder their sustainable development. Alternative energies come into the picture with this problem once more people realize the potential of these energy sources and create new mediums to harness these sources.
Another advantage noted with the use of alternative energy sources is the fact it creates more job opportunities, breakthroughs and even a new market to import these alternative energies and the technologies to get it working. Due to the nature of these alternative energies and the necessity to promote and develop new technologies for these sources, new jobs can be created to match the specific opening required to harness these alternative sources. Developing countries can benefit from alternative energies as it can improve their daily activities and use the newly found alternative energy for productive use. Some examples to this development are the African countries and Brazil which now utilizes alternative sources of energy for a particular use. For the Africans, they use improved wood and charcoal cooking stoves for most of their daily activity while Brazil produces ethanol that can be used in Otto-cycle engines. Local employment and income generation can also benefit from alternative energy sources as they will no longer use oil in powering most of their machinery and generate electricity. Some jobs can even be open in biomass production and distribution.
A notable advantage of alternative energy sources in comparison with oil is the conflicts that spring to acquire these sources. It has been recorded in many news articles and researches that oil consumption has led oil-free and oil-importing countries to monopolize the few remaining oil refineries and stocks in the world. Some notable examples to this are Iraq’s Desert Storm wherein it tried to blame Iran and Kuwait for violations in the OPEC and conquered both countries to dictate the price of oil in the region. The United States is another prime example of an oil-importing country which invaded Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries in the guise they are hiding terrorists. The rapidly increasing price of oil also causes problems to some countries especially due to their reliance on oil to stabilize their political and economic sectors. There are also cases that too much oil dependences causes many countries to be vulnerable in draining out their oil supplies and add in the problem of paying these imports. In terms of alternative energies, energy supplies can both increase energy security and even open up new alternatives in acquiring energy. It increases economic benefits as businesses would no longer keep importing oil to generate energy and use the money they save for more developments in their products or services. Energy trading markets can also be opened which would benefit developing countries and aid them to produce alternative energies and not rely too much with fossil fuels. This also allows fossil fuels to continuously be available in some degree to maintain balance in the energy needs of the country.
With the reduced conflicts caused by oil wars and trading, alternative energies can also allow developing countries to reduce their poverty sectors and even eliminate them completely. With the use of alternative energies, governments can improve their access to drinking water and cooking heat, reduce the time spent by some families in getting wood and water for most activities, provide lighting that induces children to study and increases security and finally, it reduces deforestation as wood is usually used as firewood to produce light. Considering the state of the developing countries, at least two billion people do not have access to cheap energy sources thus they resort in using fuel wood and would have to exert twice the effort to do daily activities such as cooking and making light. This alone lessens the chances of these people to look for jobs to improve their living standards. Giving them access to electricity through the use of alternative energy, this would introduce development. All the income that comes from exported alternative energy sources can also be used to alleviate poverty.
But the biggest advantage alternative energy sources have with oil is the health impacts it can reduce. With the use too much oil, the smoke it produces contains toxins that attack the body once it is inhaled. Smoke produced by oil contains sulphur, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and even particular matter. Some of the complications that can be contracted with oil-based air pollution are respiratory complications such as asthma, allergies and even tuberculosis. Aside from the complications it brings the body, the pollutants from oil affect even the ozone layer. High level of pollution from oil combustion would cause ecosystems to fall and even air pollution to escalate. In a regional aspect, these emissions are produced mostly by the transportation sector. Acid is also produced by oil use and can cause damages to crops and infrastructure. With the use of alternative energy sources, emissions will decrease each year and lives can be saved .
Considering the advantages of using alternative fuel sources like the ones mentioned above, there is still the case of its disadvantages and its capacity to change human conception of alternatives. From the article written by Millikin (2011), the issue of demand for these alternative fuel sources for machinery and transportation mediums would have to be answered by manufacturers and governments as more people are already pressed for cash just because of high oil costs. Policies regarding alternative fuel sources are also needed to allow mass production of these new technologies and the certain specifications these machineries would have to follow to maintain their eco-friendly purpose. There is also a problem on which type of car and sector would use this type of alternative fuel and fit these vehicles. According to the findings, each car would need an alternative fuel that fits their capacity and its usage. The transport sector would require fuels with higher energy density and capable in long distance and time usage. The change should be done gradually and in time, alternative fuel sources would be available for all. One should also consider that these fuel sources are still being tested so it would take a couple of years for it to be perfected and introduced fully to the public thus the reason why vehicles with alternative fuel sources are not that common. Today, hybrid cars and test vehicles are only available in selected developed nations .
Each alternative also comes with its specific drawback and disadvantage which would make people think twice on purchasing these energies. For hydrogen, the biggest disadvantage for this source is the impact it has over wildlife and agriculture. Dams or reservoirs can also produce carbon dioxide and methane gas because of decaying plants. For wind energy, the main disadvantage would be the wind itself as there are cases that wind doesn’t blow in a given day or month. For turbines to produce energy, a significant amount of wind must be present. Each year, only 40% can guarantee the use of wind energy while 90% can guarantee other energy sources. There is also the problem of creating a system to hook wind energy in the market. The system must be capable of receiving energy on high wind output and low wind output and interchange once output is recorded. With nuclear energy, the biggest disadvantage is the toxic waste it produces and the capacity of nuclear power to result in massive deaths should it be attacked by terrorist organizations. Constructing nuclear plants are also hard due to the numerous security and containment features to contain any possible leak. For electricity, the problem of producing the electricity itself and the creation of recharging plant in key locations each country. Only solar and biomass are considered to be reasonably safe to use given that their capacity to produce energy can done without harming the environment and reducing any resources. Biofuel is considered a great alternative for oil in most machines and even in transport .
The reactions of the public to alternative energies have varied given the studies that have been done to identify their opinion. The result of the studies have indicated that people are open to the concept of using alternative energy and there is a decline for support in using coal to replace foreign oil consumption. Out of the study, solar energy is identified to be the most popular form to replace oil as a means to secure energy. It is followed by nuclear power and off-shore oil. The public does know the costs that entail alternative energy; however, they agree that the wait is worth it as this would secure energy for the country. Many have rallied for support of the government to fund alternative energy developments and solve the problem of energy deficiency. The research was repeated after 9/11 which now indicates that the public now understands the consequences of using oil and the fact that oil prices have continuously raised. Many have also noted that these energies would be important to improve the long-term health of the climate .
The debate on the capacity of these alternative energy sources to replace oil completely continues to move towards a possible outcome. On the one hand, oil will still exist as an energy source and at the same time, a bane on the environment as people would still use it if they cannot have access to alternative energy. On the other hand, given the possibilities that these alternative energy sources can reduce the effects felt today though oil consumption, there is a possibility that the world can still recover from the effects of global warming. Human dependence on oil will gradually reduce over time, but, oil will still be an energy source that can be used as back up. For alternative energies to fully reduce the number of oil usage, governments must enact and allot money to develop them and ensure that energy produced through these methods will be safe and earth-friendly. The public must also be aware on how to use these alternative energies, and introduce them to those who do not have access to normal means of education so that they can also feel the benefits of using alternative energy.
Douglass, S. (2005). Identifying the Opportunities in Alternative Energy. New York: Wells-Fargo Bank.
Goldemberg, J. (2004). The Case for Renewable Energies. Bonn: International Conference for Renewable Energies.
Milliken, M. (2011, January 31). Expert group report finds alternative fuels could replace fossil fuels in Europe by 2050. Retrieved August 23, 2011, from Green Car Congress: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/01/fuels-20110131.html
Mulvaney, D. (2011). Green Energy: An A-to-Z Guide. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Simon, C. (2007). Alternative energy: political, economic and social feasibility. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield.
US Department of Energy. (2003). Alternative Fuel Vehicles. Washington D.C: US Department of Energy.