Dec 16, 2009

Alternative Energy: Definition, Types & Benefits

Defining alternative energy is a little tricky with all the new types and different consequence of using them and what not. But the simplest definition is this: alternative energy is anything other than the traditional form of energy. So let’s start with that and then move to the definition of alternative energy, the various types and their advantages.

Defining Traditional energy

Traditional energy, sometimes called non-renewable energy, comes from burning fossil fuels, which are carbon-based substances made from compressed dead organic matter. Trees, dead organisms and other biological matter get crushed between different layers of the earth over millions of years to form various types of fossil fuels:

  • Crude oil
  • Kerosene
  • Petroleum and diesel
  • Coal
  • Natural Gas

We burn these fuels to generate electricity, a by-product of which is the harmful gas called carbon dioxide. Energy derived from fossil fuels is called traditional energy because it refers to a majority of the energy produced in the world today and it’s called non-renewable because it’s supply is limited.

Defining Alternative Energy

According to our previous definition, alternative energy is anything other than carbon-based fossil fuels, so the following general definitions also apply:

  • Alternative energy is renewable energy (i.e. it can be made from sources that do not have a limited supply, so we can make this form of energy over and over again)
  • Alternative energy is clean / non-polluting (as in, it doesn’t harm the environment by emitting carbon dioxide), or
  • Alternative energy does very little damage to the environment (this is because not every type of alternate energy is green energy)
  • Alternative energy does not deplete our natural resources (well, this is almost like the first point)

In short, alternative energy is green energy which is clean energy and sustainable energy. But this isn't always the case and you can read about it here. And if you want to know more about the differences between fossil fuels and alternative energy sources, you can click here.

There are plenty of energy sources that fulfill these criteria, but we’ll just mention a few broad categories:

  • Wind power
  • Hydro power
  • Tidal power
  • Solar power
  • Biomass energy
  • Hydrogen power

Some liberal definitions of alternative energy also include nuclear energy because it’s renewable, but nuclear power plants are potentially deadly and that has naturally created opposite opinions.

Advantages of Alternative Energy

You may be wondering why alternative energy is so important. Why so much emphasis on non-traditional energy sources when traditional energy sources have been working so well for centuries? Here are a few answers:

  • Alternate energy will help you save money (sometimes over the long run and sometimes over the short)
  • The use of alternative energy improves the conservation of fossil fuels
  • With alternative energy, you’ll never have a problem of limited supply
  • Alternative energy sources protect the environment because they do not lead to harmful by-products such as carbon dioxide.

Over the last few decades, the need for alternative energy has made itself felt owing to the stark increase in pollution and depletion in various ecosystems. So the next question that arises is this…

What is the world is doing about this?

Well, our leaders are slowly trying to take remedial and preventive measures by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable or alternative energy. Many countries signed the Kyoto Treaty a few years ago and this year’s Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen is another attempt in the same direction. Maybe they’ll all reach a politically binding deal if not an economically binding one. We can keep our fingers cross.

Some References: Alternative Energy Primer, Article Base, Wiki, iStockPhoto
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