Energy Production in the Next Century
Over the past two or three hundred years humans have come to depend more and more on fossil fuels – so far they’ve powered the industrial and digital revolutions – but with increasing worry about global warming and pollution it’s time to start taking a look at the future of energy production.
The Main Alternatives to Fossil Fuels
Nuclear Power – this method uses nuclear fission to generate mass amounts of heat and electricity. Currently it accounts for around 13% of the world’s energy in total. The main downsides of nuclear energy are the highly poisonous radioactive waste that is produced and the risk of nuclear disasters such as the collapse of the reactor at the Chernobyl Station in Russia in 1986. This disaster left the local community devastated and the area is now uninhabitable – and may be for many hundreds of years to come.
Solar Power – this method uses photovoltaic cells to capture sunlight and then transform it into electricity – this is based on the system plants use for photosynthesis. In terms of pollution this is one of the best systems currently in use. The two main drawbacks are efficiency levels which are currently quite low, the space required (to power a small house all year round takes roughly 16m2 of modern solar cells!) and finally the lack of sunlight in certain regions in the world i.e. Great Britain who are one of the largest consumers of electricity per capita.
Wind Power – this method uses windmills to catch the wind and turn the movement it causes into electricity. In terms of pollution and efficiency this is a great source of power as even slow winds are enough to turn modern mill blades. An odd problem faced by this method is local residents complaining of having their views ruined by wind farms. Although this is understandable it seems extremely stupid of these people not to think of their children’s futures… currently only around 3% of the world’s electricity is produced by wind power but it is hoped that this will improve in the near future.
Hydro Power – this energy source is actually fairly strong at the moment and accounts for around 20% of all electricity generated worldwide. This is particularly pleasing as hydro power is one of the cleanest and most renewable sources of energy. There is only really one downside with hydro power but it has a severe impact – in order to produce it you nearly always have to dam off a river which leads to sometimes catastrophic effects for the local wildlife and ecology.
The Future of Energy
There are several ideas being discussed for energy in the future. Sci-Fi books and films have been positing anti-matter engines as the future of energy generation for years, sadly although this is theoretically plausible our current level of technology is far from close to achieving this – a main factor here is that if you mix matter (that is any material in the known world) with anti-matter, the results are explosive – on a nuclear scale.
Another option which is closer to realisation is hydrogen cell power – this system produces no waste product other than water, making it the cleanest known energy source. The only problem is splitting off hydrogen particles to create cells with in the first place is a very energy intensive affair, for which we currently rely on fossil fuels to provide that initial energy – until we can find an alternative source this hydrogen cell power will likely remain mostly unrealised.
The best option we’ve looked at so far appears to be ocean thermal technology conversion – this system uses the heat from the sun which is naturally stored in the water of the earth’s great oceans. This heat may be able to be harnessed to produce a low but extremely steady flow of energy.
Our search for cheap electricity has also led us to one more interesting invention – from the past! There are many conspiracy theories circulated about Nikola Tesla’s inventions but what cannot be denied is that he came very close to generating perhaps the cheapest electricity known to man. In fact it’s not just cheap electricity but smart energy – gained simply from tapping into the raw electricity which runs through the earth at any given moment. Sadly it’s impossible to find the information now as many of Tesla’s papers were confiscated by government agencies so we’ll never know if his inventions were really viable.
There may not be a perfect solution to the world’s energy situation but what we do know is that we need to keep looking forward – because fossil fuels aren’t just bad for the environment, they’re also running out fast. Fingers crossed people – let’s hope we find a clean sustainable solution soon – if you know any budding scientists make sure you encourage them as best you can!
I am a copywriter and poet with a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Creative Writing. I have worked in various marketing & creative roles since 2001. My aim is to publish at least one novel before I die - so far I have had 2 poems published internationally in print as well as some online. In my professional capacity I currently work for an advertising agency in London.