Dec 17, 2009

Fossil Fuels & Alternative Energy: the Difference & Advantages

The difference between fossil fuels and renewable sources of energy is pretty big. Here are a few defining factors:

Supply Problem

Since it took millions of years to make fuels, it naturally follows that they won’t last forever if we continue to use them at the rates we do, which are pretty high. In other words, the supply of non-renewable energy sources (fossil fuels) is diminishing.

  • Alternative Energy Solution

A majority of alternative energy sources have unlimited supply. The wind will never cease to stir, and the sun will never cease to shine. Similarly, the supply of water on earth is abundant to say the least. But the supply for other sources such as biomass (used to make biofuel) needs to be replenished by replanting maize.
I might add here that just because something is renewable, it’s not green. For instance, trees aren’t considered sources of alternate energy, even though their supply can be increased by man. You can read more about this here.
Environmental Problem

Burning fossil fuels emits carbon into the atmosphere. Now the Earth’s ecology is designed to handle a certain amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), but man’s uncontrollable consumption of oil and coal has led to an environmental problem. Excessive pollution and CO2 are creating a greenhouse effect where the earth traps a lot of heat and then, global warming begins.

  • Alternative Energy Solution

Typically, alternate energy sources do not deplete the environment because their energy is harnessed as a natural process. For instance, if a hydro-power plant is located across a flowing river, the natural movement of the water will generate electricity.
You may have already thought about an anti-thesis. What if a dam is created first? Wouldn’t that damage the ecosystem? You’re right. It all depends on how the alternate energy is generated. That’s why alternate energy isn't always clean energy.
Higher prices

The limited supply of fossil fuels has made them rather precious. The scarcity of oil, for instance, means the countries that own oil fields, (consider OPEC) can easily control the price of crude oil for their political interests. These countries also have the power to alter the supply of oil and use it as a political/strategic weapon. I dare say a few theories say certain wars were initiated because of this vital fossil fuel.

Even if such drastic events do not take place, the price of fossil fuels is so volatile and artificially controlled, it is often difficult for the common man to access them. It was only last year, when the prices of oil shot up to $126 a barrel, forcing economies to either foot high energy import bills, or switch to alternative sources of energy, such as natural gas. The common motorist could not afford petroleum any longer and the automobile industry almost collapsed.

All this mayhem was a result of an oil bubble.

  • Alternative Energy Solution

It’s not possible for a few countries or individuals to control the prices of alternate energy sources because they’re available everywhere! One cannot say, ‘I shall sell the wind at $100 a gallon’. It’s bizarre. What can, however, be said is, ‘I shall sell you this wind turbine at $100 a piece’. But it’s a one-time expense and after a while, the cost-savings begin to emerge.
The story is a little different when it comes to hybrid cars. But that’s a topic for another post!
Some references: Save Energy:, iStockPhoto
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