Electricity in the 21st century.
Do you know how your electricity is generated? For a long time I kind of knew, but was too lazy to actually ask my father, who is a physicist, what exactly is going on in the power plant. Now it boggles my mind to live with the fact that in our modern time when an all-inclusive communication and Internet devices (iPhone, BlackBerry, etc.) is smaller than a deck of cards, we still use 19th century technology and basic principles to generate our electricity. Once you actually give this idea a thought, it becomes a shocking notion that our best minds have not been able to design a better way to generate electrical power than to burn coal and natural gas – two most commonly used sources of energy to create electricity.
Just in case you were wondering, coal or gas is BURNED to heat up water, which then becomes hot steam and drives the turbines. This is a basic principle and the actual process is more complicated, but even the “sophisticated” nuclear power plants work in a similar manner.
Note: I did know that electricity can be generated in the old fashioned way, but I actually thought that there was some kind of a mechanism to directly convert energy stored in gas / coal / oil directly “into” electricity, instead of emulating the old steam-engine – oops… It is a shame that our 21st century society is still burning fossil fuels to make the turbine spin.
Aside from the fact that we get our electricity the same way as before WW I, natural gas, oil and especially coal are extremely dirty fuels, emitting dangerous pollutants, which affect our environment in such a drastic way that just a couple of generations from today, our children may not be able to enjoy the outdoors the same way we can today. I won’t even start talking about climate change and global warming. On top of everything mentioned above, humanity is quickly approaching a worldwide energy crisis. Our oil reserves are getting depleted, and if you believe in “Peak Oil” theory, we are about to approach the peak of the curve, which means that oil will continue to become more scarce and prices will keep on rising.
Although coal is very abundant, it is also becoming more expensive to mine, and delivery once again involves burning petroleum based fuels, creating more and more pollution. It is obvious to most intelligent people (except those heavily invested in oil, coal, cars, etc.) that we need a clean, renewable source of energy. Despite what may seem like rhetoric about renewables, I do honestly believe that this is the way we will power our world in the future. However, the renewable energy must be affordable and/or competitive with current sources of energy.
So what is the answer – what is a modern and clean way to generate electricity? Well, there are a few, and the most popular ones are Wind and Solar. My personal favorite is Solar, and here is why.
Wind Turbines require lots of open space and lots of (you guessed it) wind to work effectively. Although wind is a great source of renewable energy, and unlike solar can work at night, it is not “customizable” or adaptable for the urban environment. There is just not enough space or wind in the city.
Solar, on the other hand, works just as well in city as in the countryside. All you need is southern exposure with none or minimal shading. Solar can be installed on a roof of a skyscraper, on the ground or even on a roof of a car. Solar is also a scalable system, and you can add or remove PV panels and/or inverters at any time. The bottom line is that solar photovoltaic power generation is much more practical, and can be implemented almost anywhere that power is needed. Besides that, both ways of getting “free” electric power from renewable sources are great.