We’ve been using fossil fuels to run factories, heat homes and power vehicles since the early 19th century. While it’s brought us through various industrial revolutions, it is a finite resource, created over hundreds of millions of years from the decaying bodies of ancient organic life — and industries are burning through it faster than the planet can replenish itself.
If humanity continues using fossil fuels for power, it could use up Earth’s supply in a little over 50 years.
Thankfully, new alternatives to fossil fuels are hitting the market every year. Which of these are the most practical and which aren’t ready for wide-scale implementation just yet?
Solar energy is probably the most well-known form of alternative energy production, and the related industries are growing exponentially. This sector employs more than 240,000 workers in the United States alone, and the cost of installing solar panels on a home or business has dropped by 70% over the last decade.
Current solar adoption is reducing power generation-related carbon emissions by 73 million metric tons a year — equal to taking 15.6 million cars off the road.
The technology is there to adopt countrywide solar energy whenever consumers want, though areas that don’t get as many available sun hours during the year will need to supplement their power supplies with other green energy alternatives.
In spite of what our president believes, wind turbines for power generation do not cause cancer with the noise they create. Turbines use the planet’s natural air currents to spin massive windmills that generate electricity whenever the wind is blowing, and it could be a viable alternative to fossil fuels for energy generation.
Early in 2019, GE announced plans to build more than 700 onshore turbines to generate more than 2,000 megawatts of energy — enough to power 800,000 homes.
Massive fields of wind turbines aren’t the only option for generating green energy. New types of turbines don’t use windmill-style blades anymore. Instead, they utilize oscillating cylinders inside a vertical structure to capture the vibration caused by passing breezes and turn them into energy.
Humans generate millions of tons of organic waste every year. Instead of letting it rot in landfills, biofuel creates the option to turn it into the fuel of the future.
Most people are already probably familiar with a couple of common biofuel options — ethanol and biodiesel — but new technologies could take this infinitely renewable resource to a whole new level.
This works because biofuel contains similar hydrocarbons to the fossil fuels currently used in automotive and jet engines, to name a few.
They’re so similar that they’re compatible with the current internal combustion engine that exists today, so there’s no need to invent new ones or adaptive technology to utilize biofuels as a renewable energy source.
Most people love listening to the waves crash on the shore while at the beach, but coastal cities could potentially turn this relaxing sound into energy to power their homes and businesses.
Ocean waves contain massive amounts of potential energy. The trick is learning how to capture and convert it into something that can travel along our existing power grid.
While this sounds like an ideal solution for green energy, it’s not quite ready for widescale implementation. The potential is there, though, and consumers will likely be seeing more of this type of alternative energy in the future.
Humans have been using hydroelectric energy to power things like flour mills for centuries. This concept is paired with turbines to use the natural flow of water to generate electricity.
If someone is out camping near a river or other flowing water source, they can charge their phone and other devices with a portable turbine. Hydroelectric power just scales this up, creating enough energy to power homes and businesses.
The biggest restriction on this type of green energy is that users need to live near a flowing river to take advantage of hydroelectric power, but the potential is there. It wouldn’t take much to convert existing dams to use the water flowing through them to generate electricity.
The Future of Green Energy
The infrastructure for alternative energy is there, as soon as consumers are ready to make the switch. Humans as a species don’t have much time to make that decision, though, with fossil fuel resources dwindling and global temperatures climbing because of CO2 emissions.