Energy is an important part of everyday life, it’s also one of 21st century’s biggest problem; obtaining energy to support various business operations like heating, lighting, transportation, production and delivery of goods and services. Currently, 78.4% of the world’s energy (70% in Nigeria) consumption is supplied by fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are currently the largest source of energy on earth, they’ve also been the cheapest source of energy over the last 50 years. All this is changing due to the continual use and rising popularity of renewable energy.
It’s reported that by 2020, renewable energy would be cheaper than fossil fuel. According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the cost of renewable energy is falling so fast that it should be a consistently cheaper source of electricity generation than fossil fuels. The organization – which has more than 150 member countries – says the cost of generating power from onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) has fallen by 23% and 73% respectively since 2010. IRENA says there’ll be further price falls for these (onshore wind & solar PV) and other green energy options.
The difference between fossil fuel & renewable energy…
Fossil fuel is a general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals. The process takes hundreds of millions of years as these materials are exposed to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust. Fossil fuel is continually being formed but is considered as non-renewable because it can’t be formed in the span of an average human life. Fossil fuels include natural gas, coal and oil.
Renewable energy comes from natural resources and can be replenished multiple times during an average human life. It includes power from the sun (solar), wind, water (hydro), the earth’s crust (geothermal) and living/recently living things (biomass).
The difference may seem clear-cut but there’s a grey area with respect to burning wood to produce energy. Burning wood emits more CO2 than burning coal and is thought to be a renewable source of energy because it can be replenished.
Fuelling the world…
Fossil fuel is of great importance because they produce significant amounts of energy when burned. Fossil fuel power plants collect various fossil fuels (as mentioned above) to generate steam that drives large turbines to produce electricity. These plants generate electricity reliably over long periods of time and are reliable. They don’t come without their disadvantages; these include,
- Continuous contribution to global warming due to their high amounts of carbon.
- They are non-renewable which means there is a finite amount of fossil fuels, this is a problem as the reserves are not replenished until after a very long time.
- Fossil fuels are unsustainable because we can’t make more of them as fast as we want.
- The accidents from fossil fuels can be disastrous when they occur. For example, oil spills lead to pollution of water bodies and death of aquatic animals.
- Emissions of greenhouse gases and other toxic elements as a result of fossil fuel combustion can cause serious health complications like asthma, low lung functioning and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Fossil fuels are highly susceptible to price fluctuations and market manipulation. This is greatly felt by developing countries (like Nigeria) which rely on importation of fossil fuels.
As the world population grows to 9 billion people over the next few years, the world’s energy demand will increase proportionately. With its finite amount, fossil fuel (non-renewable energy) can’t be the sole source of power, there’s also the environmental hazard accompanying its use. So, welcome renewable energy.
While it hasn’t been in the industry for too long, it’s a steadily developing science. Scientists from all over the world are developing new ways to produce sustainable energy from substances that are safe for the environment. The common sources of renewable energy come from natural sources like sunlight wind, rain, tides, geothermal heat and biomass. All these materials are continually replenished and are safe to use as energy sources.
Advantages and disadvantages of each renewable source
- Solar Energy
Solar energy us the most abundant and renewable form of energy. It’s cheap and you can find it anywhere during the day. It can also be used for a variety of purposes including heating and lighting homes for generating electricity and more.
The main disadvantage of solar energy is its limitation to just a few hours each day. This issue is being addressed by scientists who are continuously developing ways of storing solar energy so it can be used later. Currently, there aren’t enough solar-powered devices that could power an entire society but a number of solar-powered inventions are popping up. Soon enough, solar energy will be the world’s leading source of energy.
- Wind Power
Wind power is one of the fastest growing energy sources and it can be used for a number of things including pumping water, generating electricity and power up turbines. Its major disadvantage is that it requires a huge operating area to produce large amounts of energy. Also, windmills take up lots of space, this limits its use of wind power on a global scale.
This is energy produced from organic materials like plants & animals. When these organic substances are burned, they give off energy as heat and can, in turn, be used to produce fuel, generate electricity and heating.
An unfortunate disadvantage that comes with biomass is that some biomass energy conversion projects are from animal wastes which can be relatively small and are limited. Also, further research is needed to reduce the cost of production for biomass-based fuel.
- Geothermal Power
Geothermal energy comes from the heat generated in the earth’s crust. Hot springs and geysers are the most common examples of geothermal energy. They’ve been used in times past from bathing and heating homes, however, modern technology has created ways to generate electricity through the heat they give off. It’s estimated that the potential of geothermal power plants varies between 0.035 to 2 TW.
Geothermal power isn’t without its disadvantages, there are potential emissions of greenhouse gases which are below earth’s surface. There’s also the issue of its high cost for electricity and the fact that it can affect the stability of the land.
- Hydroelectric energy
Hydroelectric energy comes from the movement of water. It’s one of the oldest & cheapest ways of generating power and is a well-known competitive source of energy. A major advantage of hydroelectric energy is that it doesn’t use fuel. It also has the lowest life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for power generation.
A major disadvantage of hydroelectric power is related to interventions in nature due to damming of water, changed water flow and the construction of roads and power lines.
Which is better?
Fossil fuels have always been the main source of energy for a long time now (not to mention being a source of income for Nigeria) but since they can’t be replenished and do major harm to the environment, renewable source energy is slowly taking their place.
Renewable energy is paving the way for an environmentally safer means of producing power. While the two types of energy have their advantages and disadvantages, one source stands out.
Given the state of Nigeria’s power sector and the high amount of pollution, I believe renewable energy is the best choice for powering the nation. It’s cheaper, does less harm to the environment and we have the needed resources in abundance.
What do you think?