Green Energy VS fossil fuels
There is a great deal of information and enthusiasm today about the development and increased production of our global energy needs from alternative energy sources. Solar energy, wind power and moving water are all traditional sources of alternative energy that are making progress. The enthusiasm everyone shares for these developments has in many ways created a sense of complacency that our future energy demands will easily be met.
Alternative energy is an interesting concept when you think about it. In our global society, it simply means energy that is produced from sources other than our primary energy supply: fossil fuels. Coal, oil and natural gas are the three kinds of fossil fuels that we have mostly depended on for our energy needs, from home heating and electricity to fuel for our automobiles and mass transportation.
The problem is fossil fuels are non-renewable. They are limited in supply and will one day be depleted. There is no escaping this conclusion. Fossil fuels formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and became buried way underneath the Earth’s surface where their remains collectively transformed into the combustible materials we use for fuel.
In fact, the earliest known fossil fuel deposits are from the Cambrian Period about 500 million years ago, way before the dinosaurs emerged onto the scene. This is when most of the major groups of animals first appeared on Earth. The later fossil fuels — which provide more substandard fuels like peat or lignite coal (soft coal) — began forming as late as five million years ago in the Pliocene Period. At our rate of consumption, these fuels cannot occur fast enough to meet our current or future energy demands.
Despite the promise of alternative energy sources — more appropriately called renewable energy, collectively they provide only about 7 percent of the world’s energy needs (Source: Energy Information Agency). This means that fossil fuels, along with nuclear energy — a controversial, non-renewable energy source — are supplying 93 percent of the world’s energy resources.
Nuclear energy, which is primarily generated by splitting atoms, only provides 6 percent of the world’s energy supplies. Still, nuclear energy is not likely to be a major source of world energy consumption because of public pressure and the relative dangers associated with unleashing the power of the atom. Yet, governments such as the United States see its vast potential and are placing pressure on the further exploitation of nuclear energy.
The total world energy demand is for about 400 quadrillion British Thermal Units — or BTUs — each year (Source: US Department of Energy). That’s 400, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 BTUs! A BTU is roughly equal to the energy and heat generated by a match. Oil, coal and natural gas supply nearly 88 percent of the world’s energy needs, or about 350 quadrillion BTUs. Of this amount, oil is king, providing about 41 percent of the world’s total energy supplies, or about 164 quadrillion BTUs. Coal provides 24 percent of the world’s energy, or 96 quadrillion BTUs, and natural gas provides the remaining 22 percent, or 88 quadrillion BTUs.
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