Geothermal Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

Geothermal Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Geothermal Energy.

 

Summary – Geothermal Energy Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Renewable, unlike fossil fuels which are finite
  • Green energy – doesn’t produce emissions while in operation
  • Large potential for worldwide power capacity
  • Is reliable and not intermittent compared to solar and wind
  • Doesn’t need refuelling like coal for example
  • Is flexible – can be used for either small/household level power supply, or on bigger scales
  • Doesn’t take up a lot of space or land
  • Is progressing well from a technological perspective
  • Good for heating and cooling

Cons

  • High set up costs
  • Not cost effective everywhere
  • Not practical everywhere
  • Some environmental impacts to consider (some risks can be quite large and can also impact humans locally)
  • Can be one cause of natural events like earthquakes

 

Geothermal has good long term potential as a sustainable, renewable energy source. But, it is costly upfront, location dependent, and also depends on technological advancements, energy prices and politics (subsidies). These limitations mean renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydro are probably better sustainable energy sources long term at the moment.

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

  • The World Bank currently estimates that around forty countries could meet most of their power demands using geothermal power [which illustrates the potential in geothermal energy]

– renewableresourcescoalition.org

 

What Is Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is obtained from the ground around us.

Because the earth has a fairly constant temperature within the upper 10 feet of the Earth’s surface (between 50 and 60°F or 10 and 16°C), one can create a water pump system that pushes colder water down into the earth to return warmer in the winter months, or the opposite during the summer months.

The use of a heat exchanger will convert the temperature change into the air, similar to a air conditioner or a heater. On a larger scale, the drilling is done much deeper, or over a geothermal field.

Geothermal energy can be produced in larger amounts with geothermal power plants, and in smaller household applications with ground source heat pumps.

– efficientgreenpower.com

 

Geothermal Energy Pros

  • Green Energy – geothermal energy does not produce greenhouse gases during energy generation
  • Renewable – Geothermal reservoirs are naturally replenished and not finite like fossil fuels. But, they do have to be managed properly to stay sustainable and renewable.
  • Large Potential For Power Capacity – upper estimates show a worldwide potential of 2 terawatts (TW). But, other estimates of geothermal power plants vary between 0.035 to 2 TW. Worldwide energy consumption – about 15 terawatts (TW) – is not anywhere near the amount of energy stored in earth.
  • Is Reliable & Not Intermittent – can meet the base load energy demand unlike wind and solar.
  • Flexibility & Versatility – can be used for larger and smaller scale energy generation. Can be used for small households and residential purposes. Is generally available in most places.
  • Doesn’t Involves Fuels – means less cost fluctuations and stable electricity prices. Also means you don’t have to re-stock a power plant like you do with coal power plants.
  • Doesn’t Take Up Lots Of Space – can be partially built underground and doesn’t require as much above ground real estate as solar and wind farms.
  • Technological Advancements Are Progressing The Energy Source – recent technological advancements (e.g. enhanced geothermal systems) have made more resources exploitable and lowered costs.
  • Good For Heating & Cooling – We need water temperatures of more than 150°C (about 300°F) or greater in order to effectively turn turbines and generate electricity with geothermal energy. Another approach is to use the (relatively small) temperature difference between the surface and a ground source. The earth is generally more resistant to seasonal temperature changes than air. Consequently, the ground only a couple of meters below the surface can act as a heat sink/source with a geothermal heat pump (much in the same way an electrical heat pump works). Geothermal is good for heating and cooling for homes.

– energyinformative.org

 

Geothermal Energy Cons

  • High Set Up Costs – heavy upfront costs associated with both geothermal power plants and geothermal heating/cooling systems. Total costs usually end up somewhere between $2 – 7 million for a geothermal power plant with a capacity of 1 megawatt (MW).
  • Not Cost Effective Everywhere – some resources are profitably exploitable, and some aren’t. This limits practically where you can install geothermal plants. Current technology, level of subsidies and energy prices are issues. Geothermal power plants across the world currently deliver about 10,715 megawatts (MW) of electricity – far less than installed geothermal heating capacity (about 28,000 MW). For residential ground thermal pumps, ground source heat pumps typically costs $3,000 – $10,000 and have a payback time of 10 – 20 years.
  • Not Practical Everywhere – Some countries have been blessed with great resources – Iceland and Philippines meets nearly one third of their electricity demand with geothermal energy. If geothermal energy is transported long distances by the means of hot water (not electricity), significant energy losses has to be taken into account.
  • Minor Environmental Impact – there is some environmental impact with some land use, but nothing major. Also, they are associated with sulfur dioxide and silica emissions, and the reservoirs can contain traces of toxic heavy metals including mercury, arsenic and boron. But, this is nothing compared to fossil fuels.
  • Can Cause Natural Events – in some very rare cases, they can cause earthquakes because they affect the stability of the land. Germany and New Zealand are examples where this has happened. Earthquakes can be triggered due to hydraulic fracturing, which is an intrinsic part of developing enhanced geothermal system (EGS) power plants.

– energyinformative.org

 

Sources

1. http://efficientgreenpower.com/geothermal-energy

2. http://energyinformative.org/geothermal-energy-pros-and-cons/

3. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

Biomass & Biofuel Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

Biomass Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Biomass & Biofuel Energy.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Biomass & Biofuel Energy 

Pros

  • Renewable, unlike fossil fuels which are finite
  • Can be carbon neutral
  • Can be cost effective compared to coal and oil
  • Biomass can be available in large quantities in some areas
  • A range of biofuels can be produced

Cons

  • Not ideal as a renewable energy source compared to solar, wind and other renewable sources
  • Can be a huge waste of resources (water, land, fertilizer etc.)
  • Can unnecessarily be the cause of deforestation and land clearing
  • Can cause habitat loss, and negatively impact local species
  • Can cause other environmental problems like land degradation
  • Some biomass is highly polluting to the air
  • Maintenance can sometimes be time and cost intensive
  • Extraction of biomass may not be cost effective
  • Can need a lot of land and storage space
  • Can contribute to water scarcity and water depletion
  • Can be inefficient
  • Is still an energy source that is being developed in some places

Biomass and biofuel is certainly low cost if we are just using biomass waste. However, biomass and biofuels have many cons like efficiency, how much development still needs to be done, and the resources that are required to to produce biomass (water, land etc.). Growing trees and crops just for biofuel is perhaps worse from a sustainability and environmental perspective than fossil fuel usage. Overall, biofuels have potential (such as algal and new types of biofuel production), but at the moment, they are perhaps too resource intensive, inefficient and sometimes expensive to be a significant energy source. Solar, wind and water energy sources are better renewable energy options for the medium to long term – at least for electricity production.

 

  • The main contributors of waste energy are municipal solid waste, manufacturing waste, and landfill gas.
  • The future is moving towards algal, or algae-derived biomass because of it’s speed of growth and production rate without compromising food production.
  • Produced at rates five to ten times faster than other types of land-based agriculture, such as corn and soy, and it can be fermented to produce biofuels such as ethanol, butanol, and methane, as well as biodiesel and hydrogen.
  • As of 2015, a new bioenergy sewage treatment process aimed at developing countries is under trial; the Omni Processor is a self-sustaining process which uses sewerage solids as fuel in a process to convert waste water into drinking water, with surplus electrical energy being generated for export.

– efficientgreenpower.com

 

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

What Is Biomass & Biofuel Energy

Biomass is organic matter from plants and animals (microorganisms). Photosynthesis is the name of the process that stores the energy from sunlight in plants. Animals get this energy through eating the plants.

Waste such as crops, manure and garbage are all forms of biomass.

Biomass has a wide array of uses such as directly as heat or to generate electricity with a steam turbine.

Biomass can also be used to make methane gas, biodiesel and other biofuels.

Conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods can be categorized into: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods.

The source of biomass, biofuels can be generally classified into two major categories. First-generation biofuels, sourced from plants such as sugarcane and corn starch, are ferrmented to produce bioethanol. The sugars present are turned into an alcohol fuel which can be used directly in a fuel cell to produce electricity or serve as an additive to gasoline (ethane). Second-generation biofuels utilize non-food-based biomass sources such as agriculture and municipal waste. This low-value industry waste is a favored alternative, although economical production of second-generation biofuel is not yet achieved due to technological limitations with chemical inertness and structural rigidity of lignocellulosic biomass

– energyinformative.org, and efficientgreenpower.com

 

There are five general categories of biomass: industrial waste and co-products, food waste, agricultural residues, energy crops, and virgin lumber

– wikipedia.org

 

Biomass fuels provided about 5% of total primary energy use in the United States in 2017. Of that 5%, about 47% was from biofuels (mainly ethanol), 44% was from wood and wood-derived biomass, and 10% was from the biomass in municipal waste.

– eia.gov

 

In lesser developed countries and regions, they have never had access to fossil fuels, and have been burning mainly wood, and other biomass for centuries.

 

Biomass & Biofuel Energy Pros

  • Renewable – there will always be crops, manure and garbage. Renewal takes as long as those biomasses take to accumulate.
  • Harnessing Energy From Biomass Is Cost Effective – Energy harnessed from biomass is inexpensive compared to coal and oil (where you have to drill for oil or create gas pipelines for gas). Typically they cost about 1/3 less than fossil fuels doing the same job. This means you can spend 1/3 less every year on heating your home and after 10 or 15 years that adds up to a considerable saving
  • Abundant – Biomass is available in large quantities all over the world
  • Biomass Can Be Carbon Neutral – plants absorb C02 from the atmosphere, and when they decay or are burnt for energy, C02 is released back into the atmosphere. So, the only C02 that is released, is what was absorbed in the first place.
  • Can Be Used For A Range Of Biofuels – biomass can be processed to create biodiesel for vehicles, but it can also be used to farm methane gas and a range of other biofuels. Wood can be used to generate heat, while the steam produced by some forms of biomass (like from landfill) can also power turbines to create energy

– energyinformative.org,

 

Biomass & Biofuel Energy Cons

  • Growing Trees Or Crops Just For Biomass Is A Big Problem – can contribute to deforestation and destroy wildlife and land/soil. Growing biofuel crops also takes land, water, and fertiliser, and produces carbon emissions (with the off site production of fertiliser itself)
  • Some Biomass Is Highly Polluting – Biomass fuels such as ethanol are no less a pollutant than fossil fuels. Combustion of ethanol is incomplete and this produces the black carbon which is known to increase global warming. Also, if wood is not burned completely, it emits carbon monoxide and particulate matter, which are common air pollutants. There is also machinery that is used to extract and transport biomass that emits C02 and GHGs.
  • There Is Maintenance Sometimes – crops and trees (for the wood) need to be re-grown and tended to.
  • Extraction Of Biomass May Not Make It Cost Effective – some biomasses are not commercially viable when taking into consideration what it takes to extract them. This is true for the harvesting and storing of some biomasses.
  • Can Need Large Physical Space For Storage & Growing – biomass storage can need large physical areas. Also, the growing of trees and crops takes space and soil/land.
  • Requires Water – for irrigation to grow crops and trees.
  • Has Inefficiencies – compared to fossil fuels, like petroleum and gasoline. Sometimes biofuels are combined
  • Is Still Being Developed – many of the cons of biomass and biofuels are still being worked on and developed
  • Not A Leader For Renewable Energy – compared to solar and water sources, biomass is inefficient and under-researched.

– renewableresourcescoalition.org

 

Sources

1. http://energyinformative.org/biomass-energy-pros-and-cons/

2. http://efficientgreenpower.com/biomass-energy

3. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/biomass-energy-advantages-disadvantages/

4. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

5. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_home

6. http://www.alternative-energy-geek.com/problems-with-biomass.shtml

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellet_fuel

Hydroelectric & Hydropower (Hydro Energy) Pros & Cons: Now, & Into The Future

Hydroelectric Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the pros and cons of hydro energy (also referred to as hydroelectric or hydropower energy).

Hydro energy appears to not only be a key part of our immediate energy future, but also of our long term energy future worldwide as renewable and clean energy becomes more important.

 

Summary – Hydroelectric & Hydropower (Hydro Energy) Pros & Cons

Some of the main pros and cons of hydro energy might be:

Pros

  • Is Currently The Leading Renewable Energy Source Of Electricity Supply & Consumption Worldwide
  • Is Currently The Leading Energy Storage Source Worldwide
  • Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Can Start Up Quickly
  • Pumped Hydro Energy Storage has a good lifetime
  • Pumped hydro energy storage has potential to power the world
  • Renewable, unlike fossil fuels which are finite
  • Green energy – zero emissions while in operation (however, pumped hydro can use fossil fuels for pumping)
  • Reliable – there’s little inconsistency and fluctuation in water energy compared to sun or wind energy
  • Flexible and adjustable when in use
  • No fuel required (like coal or nuclear for example)
  • Running costs are usually pretty low
  • Can be a cheap way to source renewable electricity
  • Hydropower built with dams provide multiple benefits
  • Can be made on both small and large scales
  • Can be a portable source of energy on a small scale
  • Can give individuals energy independence
  • Can supply energy off grid
  • Can be used rurally or remotely where there are running water sources
  • Pumped hydro be used as a renewable source of energy storage

Cons

  • Damming of water can be environmentally damaging
  • Large scale hydroelectric plants can be very costly to construct
  • The largest scale and highest producing hydroelectricity plants can be limited in terms of growth – there’s only a limited number of places in the world that are suitable
  • Can be sensitive to natural events

Hydropower is already well developed and is the leading renewable energy source worldwide (makes up about 50% of renewable energy at the moment).

It can be used on large scales like dams and major water diversion projects, or on smaller scales in rivers and streams with water wheels and portable water turbine energy generators.

Although it still has long term use because it is renewable and green energy, and it still has potential for expansion left, there are questions over the practical expansion of hydro power because of feasibility questions involved in locating and building new hydro sites (some places like the Grand Inga Dam in Africa for example have huge potential, but face feasibility challenges like being overpriced, funding issues, planning issues and corruption).

It could be used in the future as a complimentary energy source to solar and wind in a renewable energy future.

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

What Are Hydroelectricity, Hydro Power & Hydro Energy?

Hydro energy is the creation of energy with the use of water.

You can read about the three types of commercial/large scale hydro energy (run-of-river, storage and pumped) in this guide (note that each can often be combines – which is why you get pumped storage hydro power for example).

In reality, they could be separated into hydroelectric dams (that funnel water from a river into big tunnels), and pumped storage hydro projects (that have higher and lower water reservoirs where the water is pumped up and released down between the reservoirs).

However, there is also small scale hydro power and hydro energy systems that use water wheels for example to generate energy on small streams and rivers near farms and in remote areas. 

 

Hydro Energy Pros

  • Is Currently The Leading Renewable Energy Source Of Electricity Supply & Consumption Worldwideproducing and having a consumption share of about 50% compared to other renewable sources (bettermeetsreality.com)
  • Is Currently The Leading Energy Storage Source Worldwide – Pumped hydro accounts for 97 percent of energy storage worldwide (sciencealert.com)
  • Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Can Start Up Quickly – Pumped-hydro energy storage can go from zero to full power extremely quickly – it takes only a few minutes (sciencealert.com)
  • Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Has A Good Lifetime – has a typical lifetime of 50 years and is the lowest cost large-scale energy-storage technology available (sciencealert.com)
  • Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Has Potential To Power The World – new studies indicate that thousands of new pumped hydro energy storage sites have been located worldwide, and only a small % (around 1%) of these sites need to pass final approval factors in order to provide enough stored energy to power the world. Sites were assessed by the algorithm for space, suitable terrain, and the right variations in elevation. They can operate at maximum power for between 5 and 25 hours (sciencealert.com)
  • Renewable – unlike fossil fuels, hydroelectricity is renewable because of  water used from the natural water cycle.
  • Green Energy – hydro electricity does not produce greenhouse gases or pollution whilst in operation. However, the exception to this is pumped hydro which can use fossil fuels for energy for the pump.
  • Reliable – there’s very little fluctuation in terms of the output of hydro electric power plants. All they need is water and they can generate energy as a base load energy source running continuously. This is unlike wind power for example which can be intermittent.
  • Flexible & Adjustable When In Use – adjusting water flow and output of electricity is easy for hydro electric plants. At times where power consumption is low, water flow is reduced and the magazine levels are being conserved for times when the power consumption is high. Likewise with pumped hydro water storage, pumped-hydro energy storage, it can be adapted as electricity demands change.
  • No Fuel Required – unlike a coal power plant which needs to be refuelled with coal, water power plants don’t need to be fuelled. They have access to continuous water flow.
  • Running Costs Are Usually Quite Low – plants do not require a lot of workers and maintenance costs are usually low.
  • Can Be A Cheap Way To Source Renewable Electricity – Historically, hydropower has been the cheapest way to source renewable electricity (cnet.com)
  • Dams Provide Dual Benefits – for hydropower plants built on dams, the dams provide flood control and irrigation techniques, in addition to hydropower.
  • Micro/Small Hydropower Is Available – can be installed in small rivers or streams with little or no discernible environmental effect or disruption to fish migration. These are 10 megawatts, or projects of 30 megawatts in North America. A small hydro plant may be connected to a network or may only provide energy to an isolated community or a single house.
  • Pumped & Storage Hydro Can Store Energy – pumped hydropower has the ability to store energy when water is stored in the lower level, and pumped up to the higher level when needed for energy generation. In the future, pumped hydropower could run with renewable energy like solar and wind power for the pumping – making it cleaner and more sustainable. This also provides another alternative to having to store energy from solar and wind energy in huge and costly storage batteries (sciencealert.com)

– energyinformative.org, efficientgreenpower.com, bettermeetsreality.com, sciencealert.com

 

Hydro Energy Cons

  • Newly Discovered Pumped Storage Hydro Energy Sites Still Need To Pass On-Site Research & Final Approval Tests – at the moment, potential new sites have only been identified by an algorithm, so further on-the-ground research needs to be done. Factors that need to be considered are the ownership of the land, any specific engineering or environmental challenges they might present, availability of upper and lower reservoir locations, potential route for a connecting tunnel, whether the land is located in a national park or urban area, and potential capacity to store energy (which is usually in the 2-150 GWh of energy range) (sciencealert.com).
  • Can Be Environmentally Damaging – damming of water, changed water flow and the construction of roads and power lines can all affect water environments and wildlife, such as fish. Dams or major water diversions with manipulation of water around the generator can negatively impact ecosystems for fish species who rely on certain water levels and other water environment characteristics.
  • Large Scale Hydroelectric Plants Can Be Very Costly To Construct – hydroelectric power plants can be expensive to construct and install.
  • The Largest Hydro Energy Plants Can Be Limited Physically In Terms Of Growth Potential – there’s only a limited number of suitable reservoirs where hydroelectric power plants can be built and even less places where such projects are profitable. As of 2014, there are currently about 30 major power plants that are expected to generate more than 2.000 MW under construction. Only one of these projects was started between 2012 and 2014 (energyinformative.org)
  • Can Be Sensitive To Natural Events – Electricity generation and energy prices are directly related to how much water is available. A drought could potentially affect this (energyinformative.org)

– energyinformative.org

 

Example Of Hydroelectric Energy Being Used In The World 

China is home to one of the largest hydroelectric projects in the world:

  • Hydroelectric power has become China’s main source of renewable energy production.
  • The … Three Gorges Dam [was] completed in 2012 at a cost of over $37 billion [and] is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world and boasts a generation capacity of 22,500 MW.
  • The dam generates 60 percent more electricity than the second-largest hydropower dam, the Itaipu dam in Brazil and Paraguay.
  • Including the Three Gorges Dam, China has constructed 4 of the top 10 largest energy-producing hydroelectric dams in the world.
  • From 2000 to 2015, China increased its hydroelectric energy-generation capacity by an impressive 408 percent. As a result of the Three Gorges Dam and other projects, China became the world leader in hydropower in 2014.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

The Potential Future Of Hydropower & Hydro Energy

Recent studies suggest hydro energy could be one of the keys for a 100% renewable energy future.

Sciencealert.com provides a summary of how thousands of new potential hydro energy sites have been located world wide (and how their potential for energy production and storage could power the world).

Also, various studies that investigate what a 100% renewable energy future might look like for various countries and worldwide, identify pumped storage hydro energy as one of the three main renewable energy sources to potentially make this happen in an energy mix, along with solar and wind energy.

Pumped and stored hydro energy in particular has the ability to compliment the often variable nature of solar and wind energy (whereby energy can be intermittent between times of more and less sunshine and wind).

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectricity

2. http://energyinformative.org/hydroelectric-energy-pros-and-cons/

3. http://efficientgreenpower.com/hydroelectric-energy

4. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

5. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/hydroadvantages.html

6. https://chinapower.csis.org/energy-footprint/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-renewable-energy-sources-with-examples/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/installed-capacity-production-consumption-of-renewable-energy-worldwide-by-country-by-source/

9. https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-spot-530-000-potential-pumped-hydro-sites-to-meet-all-our-renewable-energy-needs

10. https://www.cnet.com/news/if-renewable-energy-can-power-entire-countries-why-isnt-everyone-doing-it/

Wave Energy Pros And Cons Now & Into The Future

Wave Energy Pros And Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Wave Energy.

 

Summary – Wave Energy Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Is renewable energy – isn’t finite like fossil fuels
  • Is green energy – no emissions when in operation
  • Huge potential for large scale energy supply in the long term
  • Is generally more reliable than wind and solar (because of how wave patterns work)
  • Has a high power output and efficiency
  • Can utilise offshore wave farms as opposed to on-shore ones (which gives it more flexibility and potential)

Cons

  • Huge upfront costs
  • Maintenance could be difficult and costly
  • Needs more funding and research for technology and development
  • Although generally more reliable and consistent than wind and solar, waves can vary in their patterns and intensity year to year, and season to season
  • Onshore wave farms can be damaging 
  • Onshore wave farms can be limiting
  • Less spots overall to put onshore wave farms
  • Offshore wave farms can be costly to install

Wave energy is in a similar position to tidal energy. It is renewable, green, and like wave energy, it has big potential for future energy generation on large scales in the long term. However, at this stage, there needs to be further development and technological advances before it become competitive commercially, and before it becomes feasible and effective on a large scale. It’s more a prospective energy source at this stage (although it could join the likes of solar and wind energy in some countries in the long term with its potential for large scale green renewable energy).

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

What Is Wave Energy?

Uses wave energy converters in wave farms installed onshore or offshore in the ocean to create energy.

Wave farms have been created and are in use in Europe, using floating Pelamis Wave Energy converters. Most wave power systems include the use of a floating buoyed device and generate energy through a snaking motion, or by mechanical movement from the waves peaks and troughs.

– efficientgreenpower.com

 

Wave Energy Pros

  • Green Energy – like with tidal energy, there is no greenhouse gases produced from operation
  • Renewable – since waves are created from wind energy, and wind energy is created from the sun – wave energy is renewable. So, we’ve got at least another 5 billion years of wave energy left.
  • Potential For Energy Generation Is Massive – The worldwide potential of wave energy is estimated to be around 2 TW. The energy density is typically around 30-40 kW for every meter (2.2 feet) of wave along the shore. As we go further into the ocean 100kW for every meter is not uncommon. Ability to produce energy at scale is a possibility
  • Can Be Reliable – compared to wind and solar. Waves are hardly interrupted and almost always in motion. But, the amount of energy that is being transported through waves does vary every year and from season to season. On the northern hemisphere, the average value of November and May could be different with a factor of two or more. Winter is also usually a better season for waves.
  • High Power Output & Efficiency – A wave farm that is occupying less than a half square mile of an ocean would generate more than 30 MW of power…the equivalent of 20.000 British homes
  • Can Utilise Offshore As Opposed To Shore Based Wave Farms – there is larger potential in offshore waves.

– energyinformative.org

 

Wave Energy Cons

  • Huge Upfront Costs Expected – wave power is in the early stages of development, which makes speculating on costs harder. Wave resources, connections to the power grid and the lifespan of the technology are just a few factors that result in different costs for different projects. Power plants cannot be developed without sufficient funding from the governments.
  • Maintenance Could Be Difficult & Costly – many of the parts that are involved in wave power generation require regular maintenance.  The fact that some of these parts are under the water does not make it any easier – or cheaper
  • Needs More Funding & Research – to develop technology, push prices down and make it easier to use and get data back on.
  • Can Sometimes Be Unreliable – Some reports say that wave energy can be difficult to harness due to the unpredictability of the ocean and wave direction.
  • Onshore Farms Have Limitations – can cause conflicts with tourism and local acceptance. Due to this, coastal installations and facilities on land have to meet higher restrictions in terms of size and location.
  • Onshore Wave Farms Can Be Damaging – to the environment and ocean wildlife during construction and installation. But, more data is needed on this.
  • Offshore Wave Farms Are Expensive – as opposed to onshore.
  • Less Overall, & Less Suitable Places To Put Onshore Wave Farms – as opposed to offshore wave farms.

– energyinformative.org, and efficientgreenpower.com

 

Sources

1. http://energyinformative.org/wave-energy-pros-and-cons/

2. http://efficientgreenpower.com/wave-energy

3. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

Tidal Energy Pros And Cons Now & Into The Future

Tidal Energy Pros And Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Tidal Energy.

 

Summary – Tidal Energy Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Is renewable and sustainable (unlike fossil fuels which are finite)
  • Is clean energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases during operation
  • There is no re-fuelling that needs to take place once tidal energy technology is set up (unlike coal plants for example)
  • Huge potential worldwide for large scale power generation/supply
  • Tides are a reliable and predictable source of power (more so than wind or the sun)
  • Effective at low water speeds
  • Life span is relatively long – meaning the return on the initial investment increase with each year of operation
  • Doesn’t take up land space

Cons

  • In early development – technology needs more research and development
  • Final impact on the environment in unclear
  • Limited by how close it needs to be constructed to shore
  • Not an energy source right now for individuals 
  • Not a portable energy source 
  • Currently an expensive energy source for suppliers and consumers – is not yet profitable commercially without larger scales and better technology
  • More of a supplementary power source at this stage

Tidal energy is another green, renewable energy source. Like wave energy, it has big potential for future energy generation on large scales in the long term. However, at this stage, there needs to be further development and technological advances before it become competitive commercially, and before it becomes feasible and effective on a large scale. It’s more a prospective energy source at this stage

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

What Is Tidal Energy

The most common form of tidal energy generation is the use of Tidal Stream Generators. These use the kinetic energy of the ocean to power turbine – underwater turbines that look and act much like wind turbines.

Tidal barrages or more the more recent technology, dynamic tidal power (DTP) are also used.

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, and energyinformative.org

 

Tidal Energy Pros

  • Is Renewable – relies on ocean undercurrent and tides for power, and not finite fossil fuels (such as coal). High and low tides are a result of the gravitational fields from both the sun and the moon, combined with the earth’s rotation around its axis
  • Is Green Energy – doesn’t produce any waste or greenhouse emissions
  • Big Potential – A report produced in the United Kingdom estimated that tidal energy could meet as much as 20% of the UK’s current electricity demands. The worldwide potential for tidal power is estimated to be 700 TWh a year
  • Reliable and Predictable – Tidal currents are highly predictable. High and low tide develop with well-known cycles, making it easier to construct the system with right dimensions, since we already know what kind of powers the equipment will be exposed to.
  • Effective At Low Water Speeds – Water has 1000 times higher density than air, which makes it possible to generate electricity at low speeds. Calculations show that power can be generated even at 1m/s (equivalent to a little over 3ft/s).
  • Lifespan Seems Long – The tidal barrage power plant La Rance was opened already in 1966 and still generates large amounts of electricity. A long lifespan means the cost these power plants can sell their electricity at is ultimately reduced, making tidal energy more cost-competitive.

– energyinformative.org, and renewableresourcescoalition.org

 

Tidal Energy Cons

  • In Early Development, & Needs More Research & Development – tidal power is early in the development stages and not able to compete with fossil fuels. It needs more development to realise how effective it can be.
  • Environmental Impact Is Uncertain – Because tidal energy generators rely on ocean levels and current, there’s a possibility they may have similar effects to hydro-electric generators which can impact the ecosystem around them.  Technological solutions that will resolve some of these issues are currently being developed.
  • Currently Need To Be Constructed Closer To Shore – which is a limitation. In the future we’d like to exploit weaker tidal currents, at locations further out in the sea. Technological advancements are being worked on in this regard.
  • Currently Expensive For Suppliers & Consumers – It is projected that tidal power will be commercially profitable by 2020 with better technology and larger scales.

 

Sources

1. http://energyinformative.org/tidal-energy-pros-and-cons/

2. http://efficientgreenpower.com/tidal-energy

3. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms Now & In The Future

Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms Now & In The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Wind Turbines & Wind Farms

Pros

  • Is renewable and sustainable (unlike fossil fuels)
  • Is clean energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases during operation
  • There is no re-fuelling that needs to take place once wind farms are set up (unlike coal plants for example)
  • Wind farms are generally simpler and less costly to maintain once in operation compared to coal plants and nuclear plants
  • Wind energy is getting cheaper for consumers in some countries (as the technology and cost to produce wind farms gets cheaper)
  • Wind electricity prices for consumers can be more stable than fossil fuel electricity prices which can fluctuate
  • Doesn’t take up as much space and land as solar panels
  • Allows energy independence for individuals
  • Allows people to disconnect from the energy grid
  • Power output is OK
  • Good to use on homes
  • Good to use rurally
  • Wind farms can be set up with as many or as few wind turbines as desired, and the projects can be run in stages, unlike coal plants or nuclear plants that have to be built all at once
  • Wind energy is showing rapid growth in some parts of the world (like the MidWest in the US)
  • Large scale wind is usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual panel or panel farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot

Cons

  • Power density and power per unit is not as good as coal or nuclear in a lot of instances
  • More of a supplementary power source for many cities as this stage – not yet suitable for largest scale power production
  • Not yet as cost efficient as solar (there’s more investment in development of solar at the moment)
  • Can be intermittent and an unpredictable energy sources (as it requires consistent wind to produce energy)
  • Not good in places with little wind
  • Not as portable as solar energy
  • Can have heavy upfront cost for larger scale wind farms
  • Time to break even from upfront costs can be 10, 20 or more years
  • Can be noisy if you live near a wind farm
  • Wind farms can sometimes be a hazard for flying wildlife
  • Aesthetics – wind farms tend not to look great
  • Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices
  • Demand for wind energy may decrease when tax credits stop in some countries or regions
  • Wind requires more construction materials than nuclear

Wind energy probably sits just behind solar as one of our best options as a long-term energy sources that is clean and renewable. It’s a smaller scale or supplementary energy source at this stage in most cases. With more development in technology, the potential can keep growing. One drawback is that it relies on wind – and not every location is as windy as others.

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

What Is Wind Energy/Power?

Wind power is the generation of electricity by using air flow to spin wind turbines, then converting the mechanical energy into electrical.

– renewableresourcescoalition.org

 

Pros Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms

  • Is Renewable & Sustainable – wind is actually a form of solar energy. Winds are created by a combination of uneven surfaces of the Earth, the Earth’s rotation on its axis, and imbalanced heating of the sun across our atmosphere. This means that for at least the next 5 billion years, we won’t run out of it.
  • Is Clean Energy – does not produce Greenhouse Gases while in use unlike coal, gas, and oil. Manufacture and installation of wind turbines does, but this is minimal compared to other energy sources. These set up GHGs are expected to be recouped within 9 months of clean operation in most cases. Wind energy produces about the same greenhouse gas emissions as nuclear (dailymaverick.co.za)
  • Fuel Is Free – once a wind turbine is set up, there is no fueling or refueling process that needs to take place unlike a coal power plant for example.
  • Running Costs Of Wind Turbines Are Relatively Low– after manufacture and install, a wind turbine requires little to maintain unlike a coal or nuclear plant.
  • Wind Energy Is Getting Cheaper For Consumers – cost to produce is gradually decreasing as demand increases and technology gets better. Since 1980, wind energy prices have decreased more than 80%. This is due to the vast amounts of research paying dividends as new and improved technology, in addition to demand for wind power consistently increasing. Future trends are expected to be the same.
  • Electricity Price Stability – fossil fuel prices can fluctuate heavily in response to world fossil fuel events and the market. Renewable energy can be much more stable because of stable operating costs. (ucsusa.org)
  • Doesn’t Take Up Heaps Of Space Or Land – whilst wind turbines and farms do take up land, they don’t take up as much land or real estate as solar panels. The space in between wind turbines can be used for other things.
  • Energy Independent – wind energy can be produced most places in the world. It doesn’t have to be connected to a power grid. You also don’t have to rely on utility companies for electricity.
  • Decent Power Output – one large wind turbine, on average, has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 600 U.S. homes.
  • Good Potential For Homes – In addition to be an independent energy source, wind energy gives individuals access to net metering which basically provides credit to electricity bills for any excess power generated in a given month. You actually get paid for extra energy production
  • Can Be Used Rurally – like solar energy, because wind energy is an independent energy source and doesn’t rely on a power grid, it has good rural use application.
  • Wind Energy Is Showing Rapid Growth In Some Regions – the Midwest that are moving away from heavy reliance on coal and have seen rapid growth in wind energy (insideclimatenews.org)
  • Distribution & Modular Set Up – Wind generators are usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual wind generators or wind farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot. Hurricane Sandy has this impact (power loss and damage) on fossil fuel plants in New York and New Jersey, but not as much on renewable energy projects (ucsusa.org)

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, ucsusa.org

 

Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms

  • Loses To Solar In Some Aspects – loses to solar for cost and aesthetic purposes. Also, companies like Tesla are pouring a lot of time and money into developing solar technology, and countries like Germany (a solar leader) are too.
  • Can Be Intermittent, & Unpredictable – Wind energy can be unpredictable, as wind and wind speeds often rise and fall in general and in different locations. This is unlike solar where at least you know where the sun rises and falls. Although wind can produce energy at night (unlike solar), it isn’t enough to offset it’s unpredictability.
  • Heavy Upfront Costs – Larger-scale wind farms and residential turbines are very costly, and fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, currently produce electricity at a rather low rate, which makes it hard for wind to compete in the short term.
  • Take Time To Break Even In Terms Of Cost – it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years before a wind turbine breaks even.
  • Noise Pollution – turbines and farms create noise pollution that other energy sources, such as solar, don’t. But some technology is making noise less of an issue as time goes on.
  • Difficult To Live Near Large Scale Wind Farms – because of the noise pollution.
  • Biological/Environmental Impact – once installed, wind turbines present a safety hazard to flying creatures such as birds that might fly into them. There isn’t this problem with solar.
  • Aesthetics – especially in residential cases, there seems to be more people who prefer the look of solar panels in and around their homes than windmills and wind turbines.
  • Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices – wind energy outlook is highly sensitive to natural gas prices, with wind becoming less competitive when gas prices are low [in the US] (insideclimatenews.org)
  • Demand for wind energy might decrease when there are is no tax credit support – some experts support this view, whilst others don’t (insideclimatenews.org)
  • Wind requires more construction material than nuclear – Solar requires 18 times, and wind 11 times, the construction materials of nuclear.

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, dailymaverick.co.za

 

Sources

1. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/wind-energy-pros-cons/

2. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28012019/eia-annual-energy-outlook-coal-renewable-wind-utility-analyst-projections-impact

3. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/public-benefits-of-renewable-power

4. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-13-mantashe-is-right-south-africa-must-build-more-nuclear-energy/

Solar Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

Solar Energy Pros & Cons Now & Into The Future

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on Solar Energy Pros and Cons.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Solar Energy

Pros

  • Solar is renewable and sustainable (not finite like fossil fuels or potentially uranium)
  • Produces no emissions while in operation
  • Is a portable form of energy
  • Can be used for small applications as well as larger applications
  • Can be used off grid
  • Can give people energy independence
  • Technology is always improving to increase capability
  • Demand is increasing, which is dropping prices to manufacture and also buy in some places
  • Solar electricity prices for consumers can be more stable than fossil fuel electricity prices which can fluctuate
  • Solar requires fairly simple maintenance once up and running compared to nuclear for example (generally cleaning of the panel is all that is required for most smaller units)
  • Setup costs can generally be recovered over the life of solar panels
  • The typical solar panel has a decent lifespan of around 20 to 25 years
  • Solar has the benefit of setting up as many or as little panels as you like – it’s easy to set up in stages or in increments to your liking or needs … compared to a nuclear plant or a coal plant, where you have to set up a whole plant over say 6 to 8 years
  • Large scale solar is usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual panel or panel farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot

Cons

  • Low power output per unit (low power density) compared to nuclear, oil, gas
  • Not suited at the moment to large scale (large city size) power supply due to various reasons
  • Price per kilowatt can be expensive in some countries, and a setup of many panels can be expensive (but prices are dropping with tech advancements and economies of scale)
  • Return on investment can take time
  • Needs lots of space/land the more panels you add, unless you are installing them on buildings
  • Depends on the sun and can be intermittent
  • Not suited to places with little sun
  • Solar panels can require scarce materials to make

Solar is a pretty good option for individuals and households at the moment as long as it makes sense financially for them. But, with current solar technology, solar isn’t as suited to large scale power supply for cities as say coal, natural gas and nuclear. Technological advances will hopefully change that in the future, as well as our ability to integrate solar power better into a city’s power supply. At the moment, solar is more of a supplementary power source for the cities that use it, and isn’t as much of a primary source. As long as costs are competitive, and technology keeps advancing to increase power density/power output per unit, solar probably has one of the best long term futures as a power supply a long with wind power.

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

Pros Of Solar Energy

  • Is Renewable & Sustainable – not finite like fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. Even nuclear may run out in the next 80 years when uranium is in low supplies. Solar energy is expected to be available for the next 5 billion years.
  • Is Clean & Carbon Emission Free While In Operation – produces no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases while in use, unlike fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. GHGs are produced in manufacturing solar panels, but these are seen to be negligible when compared to the GHGs emitted by other energy sources.  Solar power produces four times more GHGs than nuclear in total (dailymaverick.co.za)
  • Can Be Used Off The Grid, & Gives Energy Independence – solar power doesn’t require access to a power grid, so it can generate electricity anywhere panels can be installed, even poorer or less developed countries. It can be used by people free of utility companies.
  • Technology Is Improving – better technology means more efficiency. Companies and countries (like Tesla, and Germany who are the world’s solar leaders) are also working on storing excess solar energy in a cheaper way. Quantum physics research and advancements in nanotech also have the potential to greatly increase the power output of solar panels, which could lead to wider-scale use of them across the globe
  • Demand Is Increasing, & Prices Are Dropping In Some Places – companies are working to make it more affordable, and higher demand means prices come down to both produce solar energy equipment, and purchase solar power naturally.
  • Electricity Price Stability – fossil fuel prices can fluctuate heavily in response to world fossil fuel events and the market. Renewable energy can be much more stable because of stable operating costs. (ucsusa.org)
  • Portable, Versatile & Can Be Used For Unique Application – can be used to power street lights, homes, cars, and even small electronic devices, such as your phone. You can get portable solar power panels and chargers. More solar energy uses are coming out as time progresses – making solar very versatile.
  • Low Maintenance – compared to energy like nuclear for example. Residential solar panels for example require cleaning once, maybe twice per year. The typical manufacturer’s warranty lasts anywhere from 20 to 25 years. Even though they might have higher upfront costs, you can see how easily recouped they can be over their lifespan.
  • Good Life Span – the typical solar panel set up lifespan residentially is around 20-25 years.
  • Distribution & Modular Set Up – Solar is usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual panels or panel farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot. Hurricane Sandy has this impact (power loss and damage) on fossil fuel plants in New York and New Jersey, but not as much on renewable energy projects (ucsusa.org)

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, ucsusa.org

 

Cons Of Solar Energy

  • Low Power Output – compared to nuclear, oil, and gas, solar has a much lower power output per unit. Solar is unable right now to provide sufficient energy to power something like a large manufacturing plant with lots of big machinery
  • Can Be Expensive – compared to other alternative energies, the price per kilowatt can be expensive, and upfront costs can be expensive (household panels can be $1000’s of dollars). But, costs are gradually dropping.
  • Return On Investment Can Take Time – residentially, if you purchase a solar panel set up, it can take years to recoup your cost investment compared to using a utility company for use of their grid-supplied energy.
  • Needs A lot Of Space – solar panels that catch solar energy need a lot of space and land to be laid out compared to other forms of energy. The mean power density for solar is about 170 W/m2, much more than other renewable energy sources, but nowhere near the amounts of energy sources such as nuclear. It struggles to compete against alternative energy sources based on its low power density (space to power output ratio). As technology gets better, smaller panels may produce more power per square metre.
  • Depends On The Sun & Can Be Intermittent – relies on exposure to and the intensity of the sun. If the sun is not out like at night time or on overcast days or in colder climates, you’re limited in the energy you can catch. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if there was a cheaper way to store excess solar energy. Intermittent energy isn’t a problem for nuclear or fossil fuels.
  • Right Now, It’s Not As Good For Huge Scale Energy Provision – solar isn’t as good to scale for large cities and countries right now as other energy sources. The power output is not there, and existing infrastructure isn’t built around it – meaning you lose captured solar energy that could get fed into the grid (like in countries such as China).
  • Solar Panel Cells Require Rarer Materials – Cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide are examples that are not as easily found on earth as coal and fossil fuels.
  • Solar requires more construction material than nuclear – Solar requires 18 times, and wind 11 times, the construction materials of nuclear.

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, bettermeetsreality.com, dailymaverick.co.za

 

Sources

1. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/solar-energy-pros-cons/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-challenges-with-chinas-transition-from-coal-to-natural-gas-renewable-energy/

3. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/public-benefits-of-renewable-power

4. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-13-mantashe-is-right-south-africa-must-build-more-nuclear-energy/

Pros & Cons Of Nuclear Energy (Benefits & Disadvantages)

Pros & Cons Of Nuclear Energy

As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.

This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Nuclear Energy.

 

Summary – Nuclear Energy Pros & Cons

Pros

Cons

  • It’s expensive to setup and build a nuclear plant, especially in Western countries
  • Nuclear waste is very hazardous and radioactive
  • Nuclear waste must be managed and disposed of properly – this can be costly as it can’t go to a regular landfill (long lived and high level radioactive waste can be buried deep underground)
  • Nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel can take hundreds of years to decompose – where in the meantime it can be a threat to the safety and health of humans, wild life and plant life
  • Uranium and nuclear are not renewable like solar or wind power for example
  • It can be expensive to decommission and handle fuel at the end of a nuclear plant’s lifetime
  • Significant nuclear accidents have happened in the past
  • Nuclear plants are a potential terrorism or security risk
  • Not a portable or small use energy source like solar panels for example – more for large scale energy generation
  • Old nuclear reactors are not as capable of ramping up fast

We probably don’t have any better overall options right now for short to medium term mass energy production than nuclear. Renewables don’t provide the level of mass energy production nuclear does right now with the technology they have and the challenges they pose in transitioning to them, and fossil fuels such as coal are high GHG emission energy sources (natural gas is better than coal and oil though in this regard).

*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.

 

Pros Of Nuclear Energy

  • Low Greenhouse Gases During Operation – Compared to coal, gas, and other electric-generating plants. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), nuclear energy produces more clean-air energy than any other source. It produces 62 percent of all emission-free electricity in the United States. The large clouds you see leaving the smoke stacks are nothing more than vaporized water. Wind energy produces about the same greenhouse gas emissions as nuclear (dailymaverick.co.za)
  • Incredibly High Fuel To Power Output Ratio – It has the capacity to meet city and industrial needs with just one reactor. A relatively small amount of uranium can be used to fuel a 1000 Megawatts electric plant, providing enough electricity to power a city of about half a million people. Renewable sources, such as solar and wind, provide only enough power to meet residential or office needs. They don’t yet have the capacity of nuclear to handle large-scale power needs, especially in the manufacturing world
  • Produces Inexpensive Electricity When Operational In Some Countries– cheaper than gas, coal, or any other fossil fuel plants. Uranium is also a fairly cheap fuel source
  • Over Lifetime, Nuclear Recoups Costs – the costs to make a nuclear plant can be high, but over the lifetime of a plant, costs are almost always recouped back
  • Decent Lifecycle – average lifecycle of a nuclear power plant is around 40-60 years – around the same as a coal plant (54 years average)
  • Doesn’t Rely On Fossil Fuels – so it’s not affected by the unpredictability of oil and gas costs. We won’t be depleting the Earth’s supply of resources nearly as quickly. Nuclear power requires much less fuel to produce a higher amount of energy.
  • Current Supply Of Uranium – With the current supply of uranium, it is estimated that we have at least another 80 years before supply becomes an issue. There are also other forms of uranium that can be used if needed, extending that timeline even further. This is plenty of time to find alternative sources (such as nuclear fusion, the holy grail of energy), if need be.
  • Positive Economic Impact – nuclear plants bring jobs and prosperity to local communities. According to the NEI, one new nuclear plant creates 400 to 700 permanent jobs, not to mention thousands of others during its construction. Most nuclear sites have at least 2 plants. This is comparable to just 90 jobs for a coal plant, and 50 for a natural gas plant. Each facility generates close to $500 million annually in sales of goods and services. More workers at plants means more people who need lunches and more people with money to spend.
  • Low Level & Short Lived Radioactive Waste Can Be Stored On-Site – this is a relatively straightforward process. Intermediate waste can also be stored on-site. (world-nuclear.org)
  • Nuclear requires less construction materials than solar and wind – Solar requires 18 times, and wind 11 times, the construction materials of nuclear.
  • One Of The Safest Energy Sources Availablewhen considering Deaths per 1000 TWh (tera watt hours) generated (bettermeetsreality.com)
  • New Nuclear Reactors Are More Capable Of Ramping Up Fast – many designs of Generation 4 molten fuel nuclear reactors will be capable of fast ramping (wikipedia.org)

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, world-nuclear.org, dailymaverick.co.za, bettermeetsreality.com and trimediaee.com

 

Cons Of Nuclear Energy

  • Not Renewable – Uranium is in limited (although currently abundant) supply. Typical renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are in infinite supply.
  • Uranium Mining & Activation Process Can Be Expensive – Uranium has to be mined, synthesized, then activated to produce energy, and it’s very expensive to go through this process.
  • Environmental Impact Of Uranium As A Fuel Source – A typical nuclear power plant generates about 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel per year. The problem is that this spent fuel is highly radioactive and potentially dangerous.
  • Disposal of Radioactive Waste – You can’t take it to a normal landfill. It has to be carefully handled and stored (which costs a lot of money), and it requires a hefty amount of specially designed storage space. High level and long lived waste can sometimes have to be stored deep underground (world-nuclear.org)
  • High Up-Front Construction Costs For Nuclear Plants – Construction of a new plant can take anywhere from 5-10 years to build, costing billions of dollars. In the East—in Korea, in China and the UAE, which is being built by the Koreans—the cost is $3,000-$4,000 per kilowatt, whereas in the West the cost is north of $8,000 per kilowatt [due to design, construction management and supply chain and workforce] (forbes.com). In Australia, nuclear is currently priced out of the energy mix compared to renewables. (reneweconomy.com.au)
  • Back End Costs Aren’t Cheap – high fuel handling and decommissioning costs.
  • Public Safety – Spent nuclear fuel takes hundreds of years to decompose before it reaches adequate levels of safety.
  • Accidents – significant accidents are actually incredibly rare, but have happened throughout history (such as the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1978, and the Chernobyl explosion in 1986). When accidents happen – they are a major problem. Casualties may not be high from nuclear accidents, but the environmental and social issues can have an impact decades later. Whilst wildlife has returned to the Chernobyl area, the area won’t be safe for human habitation for at least 20,000 years.
  • Potential Terrorism & Security Threat – with fossil fuel plants, you don’t have to worry about them being targeted by terrorists and vigilantes. Uranium used to power nuclear plants is of a different grade than weapons-grade uranium; however, it can be synthesized from it. This makes it a threat if it gets in the hands on dangerous people. Security is tight and the probability of an event is low though.
  • Not Portable Or For Small Use Applications – can only be used for powering a large grid or in special applications such as a submarine.
  • Existing & Old Nuclear Reactors Are Not As Capable Of Fast Ramping – Thermally lethargic technologies like coal and solid-fuel nuclear are physically incapable of fast ramping (wikipedia.org)

– renewableresourcescoalition.org, livescience.com, forbes.com, world-nuclear.org reneweconomy.com.au

 

Sources

1. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/nuclear-energy-pros-cons/

2. https://trimediaee.com/blog/environmental/power-plant-past-prime/

3. https://www.livescience.com/39961-chernobyl.html

4. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/solar-energy-pros-cons/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-much-uranium-is-left-in-the-world-on-land-in-oceans-when-will-we-run-out/

6. https://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-priced-out-of-australias-future-energy-equation-in-new-report-67465/

7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2018/10/01/3-reasons-nuclear-reactors-are-more-expensive-in-the-west-hint-its-not-regulation/#57bad5155d1a

8. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-waste/storage-and-disposal-of-radioactive-waste.aspx

9. https://www.nei.org/fundamentals/nuclear-waste

10. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-13-mantashe-is-right-south-africa-must-build-more-nuclear-energy/

11. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/which-energy-source-is-the-most-dangerous-harmful-which-is-safest/

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source#Levelized_cost_of_electricity

Which Fossil Fuel Emits The Most C02 & Greenhouse Gases?

Which Fossil Fuel Emits The Most C02 & Greenhouse Gases?

Some fossil fuels are cleaner than others when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

In this guide, we look at which fossil fuels emit the most C02 globally, and in the two biggest emitting countries – China, and the United States.

 

Summary – Fossil Fuel That Emits The Most CO2 & Greenhouse Gases

  • In simplistic terms, coal is the least favorable fossil fuel to burn if you want to minimise emissions
  • For electricity production – coal releases the most CO2 at 2.2 pounds, followed by petroleum releasing 2.0 pounds, and natural gas behind that at 0.9 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour
  • For transport – considering only tailpipe emissions, natural gas also emits 15 to 20 percent less heat-trapping gases than gasoline when burned in today’s typical vehicle
  • Having said that, you have to consider the total life cycle value of greenhouse gases for a fossil fuel, including extraction. For example, natural gas involves the leakage of methane at the drilling and extraction stage.
  • And, there are other factors to take into consideration too with each fossil fuel – whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors.
  • So, there are general assumptions that might be made about each type of fossil fuel, but there are specific situations that can produce different emission results.

 

Most Global C02 Emissions By Fuel Source

Globally, annual per year C02 emissions by fuel source, measured in billions of tonnes per year, in 2013, were:

  • Solid Fuel (Coal) – 15.15 (Bt)
  • Liquid (Oil) – 11.79
  • Gas (Natural Gas) – 6.62
  • Cement Production – 2.03
  • Gas Flaring – 249.36 (Millions of tonnes)

– ourworldindata.org

 

C02 Emissions In China By Fuel Source

China, has had the world’s largest carbon footprint since 2004 and was responsible for 27.6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017.

China had 10.2 Gigatonnes of C02 Emissions in 2016 (29.2% of global C02 emissions). The breakdown by fuel source was:

  • Coal – 7.17Gt C02
  • Oil – 1.38Gt C02
  • Gas – 0.395Gt C02
  • Cement – 1.2Gt C02
  • Gas Flaring – 0Gt C02

Roughly 70 percent of China’s CO2 emissions – which is more than those from all European, African, and Latin American countries combined – results from this heavy dependence on coal. An additional 14 percent of its CO2 emissions come from oil.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

C02 Emissions In The United States By Fuel Source

The United states had of 5.31 Gt of C02 Emissions in 2016 (15.3% of global C02 emissions). The breakdown by fuel source was:

  • Coal – 1.38Gt C02
  • Oil – 2.31Gt C02
  • Gas – 1.53Gt C02
  • Cement – 0.0407Gt C02
  • Gas Flaring – 0.0459Gt C02

In the US, oil is the main source of CO2 emissions (43.5 percent), followed by natural gas (28.7 percent).

– chinapower.csis.org

 

C02 Emissions In Japan By Fuel Source

  • Japan leans on coal for a quarter of its generated electricity, it only constitutes 38.2 percent of Japan’s CO2emissions – an almost even split with oil, which accounts for 37.3 percent

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Coal vs Natural Gas vs Oil – Emissions From Combustion, & Total Life Cycle Of Greenhouse Gases

  • Natural gas is a fossil fuel, though the global warming emissions from its combustion are much lower than those from coal or oil
  • Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted in a new, efficient natural gas power plant compared with emissions from a typical new coal plant.
  • Considering only tailpipe emissions, natural gas also emits 15 to 20 percent less heat-trapping gases than gasoline when burned in today’s typical vehicle
  • Having said this, with natural gas, the drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines results in the leakage of methane, primary component of natural gas that is 34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat over a 100-year period and 86 times stronger over 20 years. Preliminary studies and field measurements show that these so-called “fugitive” methane emissions range from 1 to 9 percent of total life cycle emissions
  • Whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors

– ucsusa.org

 

Sources

1. https://chinapower.csis.org/china-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

2. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/environmental-impacts-of-natural-gas#.W9AW9BMzbR1

3. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/carbon-footprint-of-common-everyday-things-products-foods/

The Challenges With China’s Transition From Coal, To Natural Gas & Renewable Energy

The Challenges With China's Transition From Coal, To Natural Gas & Renewable Energy

China is going through, and will continue to go through a transition period over the next few decades.

It currently relies on coal for a large % of it’s energy needs, but coal is also responsible for heavy greenhouse gas emissions.

China has shown interest in beginning a switch to natural gas, and renewables, both of which are cleaner/greener energy than coal.

In this guide, we look at how that transition is happening, and the challenges, complexities and difficulties in making that happen.

 

Summary – China’s Challenges In Transitioning Away From Coal As An Energy Source

  • China currently relies heavily on coal for energy, and will continue to do so into the short term future
  • About 70% of China’s CO2 emissions come from coal, and about 14% from oil
  • It’s desirable for countries to switch at least from coal to natural gas because natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon during the combustion process. Switching to renewable energy is even better (from an emissions standpoint)
  • China leads the world in renewable energy investment, and installed wind and solar power capacity
  • But, China already has a significant investment in coal power plants, and their installed capacity for coal isn’t expected to peak before 2025
  • Along with a power grid that is currently set up for coal power plants (and now renewables for example), the Chinese transition to natural gas and certainly renewables is made difficult by the profits in coal power, subsidies and protection of coal power, lax regulations on coal power, penalties that aren’t harsh enough for businesses using coal power, technology to give renewable energy a performance and cost advantage over coal, infrastructure and investment to properly integrate renewables to the Chinese power grid, the social and economic impact of closing down coal power plants, the impact of renewables on disposable income of citizens, geographic locations of solar farms and other renewable setups, and renewable energy making some environmental issues worse when concentrated in a particular area. There are other challenges which you can read in the article below.
  • Some sources also point out the logistical challenge in switching from gasoline and diesel powered cars to hybrid and electric cars when done at scale. The lithium batteries in particular can require a lot of resources to produce, can be hard to recycle (due to a range of reasons), and require the mining of metals which may face scarcity issues in the future
  • So, overall, there are many challenges in transitioning to cleaner electricity production and cleaner transport not only for China, but the world (but obviously some are specific to China with the way their power mix, governments, energy sector, transport sector, and country is set up)

 

China’s Reliance On Coal, & Subsequent C02 Emissions

In the year 2000, China had:

  • 3.4 Giga tonnes of C02 emissions – which was 13.9% of global C02 emissions
  • 2.4 Gt came from coal, 0.649 from oil, 0.0598 from gas, 0.297 from cement, and 0 from gas flaring

In the year 2016, China had:

  • 10.2 Gigatonnes of C02 Emissions – which was 29.2% of global C02 emissions
  • Coal was responsible for 7.17Gt, Oil 1.38Gt, Gas 0.395Gt, Cement 1.2Gt and 0 from Gas Flaring

Coal has constituted an average of 69.9 percent of China’s energy consumption between 1985 and 2016.

As of 2016, China still consumes more coals that the rest of the world combined.

Roughly 70 percent of China’s CO2 emissions – which is more than those from all European, African, and Latin American countries combined – results from coal consumption. An additional 14 percent of its CO2 emissions come from oil

– chinapower.csis.org

 

China’s reliance on coal for it’s economic development in the recent past is evident here. But, there is a tradeoff – in the significant C02 emissions.

 

China’s Transition From Coal, To Natural Gas, & Renewable Energy

  • Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon during the combustion process – and China is increasing it’s use of that
  • As of 2017, China was the world’s third largest consumer of natural gas after the US and Russia. China is also the third largest purchaser of liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US
  • The Chinese government announced in March 2018 that it had achieved its Copenhagen emission reduction targets for 2020, which included reducing carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent and raising the share of non-fossil fuel energy sources to 15 percent
  • In order to boost alternative energy usage, Beijing pledged to install “340 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower capacity, 210 GW of wind and 110 GW of solar by 2020.”
  • China plans a 16.5 percent annual increase in nuclear power capacity between 2015 and 2020
  • China is expected to surpass the 15 percent target set in the Copenhagen Accord
  • It is estimated that China will need to increase its target for non-fossil fuel consumption from its current target of 15 percent to 26 percent by 2020 to meet Paris Agreement targets

– chinapower.csis.org

 

  • At present, China also leads the world in terms of wind and solar power capacity
  • As of 2017, renewables were generating 5.3% of China’s electricity supply

– weforum.org

 

  • China is already the leading investor in renewable energy in the world, planning to invest another $360 billion by 2020

– thediplomat.com

 

  • China says it will be the world’s biggest investor in renewables and has pledged $400 billion by 2030.

– abc.net.au

 

China’s Difficulties, Complexities & Challenges With Transition From Coal To Natural Gas & Renewables

There are several things which will slow the transition away from coal.

Some of these difficulties and challenges are:

 

  • Despite declining in relative terms, China’s coal installed capacity is not expected to peak before 2025
  • Despite China’s investment in renewable energy, China still consumes as much coal as the rest of the world combined
  • In 2016, the bulk of Chinese electricity was produced by thermal power plants, mainly coal, which accounted for 65 percent (or 3,906 terawatt hours) of the country’s total power generation
  • The industry still represented 71 percent of energy consumption in 2016, which translated into a structural hurdle to the advancement of reforms in China’s energy mix. Renewable energies, on the other hand, accounted for 25 percent of total power generation, with hydropower at 20 percent, wind power 4 percent, and solar power 1 percent.
  • Forecasts from the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) and the Energy Development Strategy Action Plan (2014-2020) say renewable energies to compose 34 percent of installed generating capacity in China’s power sector.
  • Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that coal will lose its importance: in absolute terms, installed capacity for coal is supposed to increase almost 17 percent, from 942.6 GW in 2016 to 1,100 GW in 2020.
  • The current power system is still influenced by the last 15 years’ development strategies, which – successfully – aimed for security of electricity supply to power the rapidly expanding economy.
  • There is an over capacity of coal power plants – which are essentially stranded investments
  • Because of the huge investment by the Chinese government in renewables, it’s pushed the prices for them down
  • First difficulty (market forces) – But, the profit margin of coal-fire power increased in the last years, due to low prices of coal and to a relatively stable grid purchasing price – this is a market force which helps coal
  • Second difficulty (market forces) – Energy prices in China are probably lower than they should be due to subsidiation and protectionism. Industries are also heavily reliant on coal with the current infrastructure set up and it’s difficult for them to transition to new sources.
  • Third difficulty (market forces) – due to decentralisation of environmental impact assessments of new power plants, relaxation on regulations to prevent new investments in dirty energy has increased
  • Fourth difficulty (market forces) – it has been cheaper in many cases to pay extra fees due to pollution or breaking environmental regulations than to implement energy-efficient solutions
  • Fifth difficulty (tech breakthroughs) – Technology impacts these renewable sources’ efficiency, operation and maintenance costs, and eventually, market prices. Mainly it is the infrastructure to take on new equipment.  Electricity dispatching and absorption for example is an issue because current infrastructure for power transactions doesn’t take into account the variable nature of large scale power generation from wind and solar. Xinjiang, for instance, lost 38 percent of the energy produced by wind power in 2016. Nationally, 17 percent of all wind-power generation was curtailed in 2016 and has been increasing since 2014. Moreover, China’s energy transmission lines still do not support the transference of electricity without losing a considerable amount of energy, whereas industries rely on coal, rather than electricity, to maintain their daily operation. Finally, more technological improvements are urged for cleaner coal production
  • Sixth (social welfare) – any price reform for new energy sources would reduce disposable income. Further to that, closing down existing coal power plants contributes high unemployment through loss of jobs of those who work there, and deteriorating life quality through short term loss of ability to heat homes in winter. Second, governments lose revenue from industrial taxes from decreased use of coal power plants. A relatively rapid green transition, where there is a lack of infrastructure to support the smooth substitution of energy sources alongside an education gap that does not prepare the workforce with skills required in a green economy – has negative effects.
  • Seventh (environmental resilience) – positive outcomes of a green transition are reduced air pollution, rural lands will suffer less from water contamination, and natural landscapes can endure longer. Therefore, of the four main constraints to energy reform in China, environmental resilience poses weaker barriers to the deployment of renewable energies. However, there are two repercussions worth mentioning: geographical suitability and interrelationships among environmental issues. Renewable energies depend on good geographical positioning, where the potential to generate energy outpaces the costs for installation and operation. In China, this translated into a concentration of power plants in specific areas — wind and solar power, for instance, are more advantageous in grasslands and deserts, respectively — that already suffer from soil degradation, erosion, and water scarcity, such as Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. This leads to the second repercussion with respect to the interrelationships between environmental problems. Even though renewable energies have reversible impacts on the environment, their scale of production and installation in a concentrated area aggravates the above-mentioned problems. Consequently, because renewable sources of energy depend on bigger and bigger areas of already degraded lands to scale its production, there is a physical hazard to China’s green transition.
  • Investment in clean energy is still important, but the transition will be slower and more complex, and will take time

– thediplomat.com

 

  • Some coal fired boiler to gas conversion programs have been put off until 2020 – when additional gas import capacity from Russia will be ready
  • A large-scale transition needs adequate gas distribution capacity
  • Households plus a number of industrial businesses will need to switch from coal to gas for heating and electricity
  • If Beijing doesn’t take care to increase the supply of coal and put a lid on fast-rising prices – there will be more shortages
  • Hebei (where coal use was at 86.6 percent in 2015, versus a national average of 63 percent) has its problems with insufficient gas distribution infrastructure
  • Last year, the local authorities converted more than 2.5 million households to gas and electricity heating from coal
  • Lack of communication between the government and the industry in the transition can also be an issue

– oilprice.com

 

  • Nationally, solar only generates about 2 per cent of China’s electricity and wind power a little more than 3 per cent, but much more is planned
  • China says it will be the world’s biggest investor in renewables and has pledged $400 billion by 2030.
  • the problem is much of the electricity is not getting onto the grid. It is being squeezed out by coal, which provides three-quarters of the nation’s energy needs.
  • Coal is cheap, and China is self-sufficient. And that has created a dependency
  • Coal is firmly entrenched and much of China’s business and political elites are making billions from it
  • Some say the coal culture will be a challenge to change, and top decision-makers down do not regard solar as a viable alternative yet
  • A lot of employment, a lot of incomes, a lot of GDP growth is relying on the coal industry. In the provinces the local officials prefer coal
  • Many of the massive showcase renewable projects in the outer provinces are too far away from the energy-hungry cities and industrial centres of the east, and transmission lines and the grid haven’t been upgraded to utilise the power
  • the situation is improving, but 20 per cent of renewable power that is generated is being lost.
  • In western parts large amounts of energy produced by solar and wind is wasted and not integrated into the grid, that brings a lot of losses for the companies operating the renewables
  • The other issue is cost. Renewable energy is still expensive compared to coal
  • it is only a matter of time before technological breakthroughs bring lower prices perhaps in 5 years from 2018
  • Then it will be a low-cost, clean and stable fuel of the future. In the last decade it’s already dropped from $5.00 to 40 cents a watt.
  • How effective energy reforms are, and how fast the coal culture can change – will both affect the transition

– abc.net.au

 

  • China’s electricity grid runs mainly on coal – this is an issue for electric vehicles
  • When accounting for emissions from electrical consumption, Greenpeace notes that both electric cars and traditional cars in China have similar “CO2 emissions and PM2.5 levels per kilometer driven.”
  • Furthermore, the lithium-ion batteries used to power EVs require enormous amounts of energy to produce, up to twice as much as is needed for manufacturing a standard combustion vehicle.

– chinapower.csis.org

 

Sources

1. https://chinapower.csis.org/china-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

2. https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Chinas-Coal-To-Gas-Transition-Sputters.html

3. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/china-is-a-renewable-energy-champion-but-its-time-for-a-new-approach/

4. https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/the-stumbling-blocks-to-chinas-green-transition/

5. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-25/china-pledges-to-drastically-cut-fossil-fuels/9500228