OPINION: Earth, Wind, Fire, Sun, Wood, Nuclear?

What is the best clean energy source? There are a few of them: solar, geothermal, wind, and water. But we all hear that some have major issues that are destroying the planet. So which one is the best? Or least destructive . In general I will use the website energyinformative.org, which uses sources like the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as well as National Geographic and the U.S. Department of Energy.  

Solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

First off is Solar. The picture to the right is of the solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The pros of solar are somewhat obvious. It’s renewable, abundant, sustainable, environmentally friendly, silent, low maintenance and the technology is improving every few months.  Solar, as appealing as it seems, still has some cons to go with it. It is intermittent, the storage for it is expensive and the process of making panels is also associated with greenhouse gas emissions as well as using materials (such as silicon, which takes a lot of energy to process as well as indium and gallium which are limited on earth. ) that are rather limited on Earth. Oh, it also needs sun to work, which could be a pro or a con depending on where you live.

Geothermal energy. It is a bit more complicated but the idea is pretty simple. By using the heat inside the Earth you can harvest it and then make energy. Some of the pros are it is “generally considered environmentally friendly,” it’s naturally replenished(making it renewable), it is estimated that there are 2 terawatts of heat energy inside the Earth, the majority of the operations are underground and the technology to set up geothermal sites have gone down. Cons are rather obvious and are almost the same amount as the pros. They can cause earthquakes, have a large building cost, must be built in a specific place, emissions of greenhouse gases tend to be higher around geothermal sights due, payback time tends to be from 10-20 years. Payback time is the time it takes to make back the money spent.

Wind power. Most people have seen the giant turbines. The pros are amazing. This option doesn’t pollute, it has an enormous potential (400 terawatts of potential worldwide!), it can be done anywhere there is wind, its space efficient as well as renewable and the price has decreased 80% since 1980, it has low operation costs and there is net metering (basically money back but in the form of energy). The cons are as follows: wind is semi-unpredictable, you wouldn’t break even until after around 15 years, older models are loud, and some people hate that they stick up in the land. 

Biomass is a good idea but has giant ethical implications that make it less optimal. Something about burning all the trees down to create energy isn’t liked by some people.Common Sense

In 2006, 20% of the worlds electrical consumption was made with water. In general it is a pretty good idea. The pros are that it is renewable, green, reliable, has flexible locations (you can change the flow of water), and safe. The cons are kinda obvious. If there was a drought or a lack of places to put them, then there would be more issues. However a recent plant has been using waves to power their generators which would have to be either placed on the ocean or a place with lots of waves. They also have huge environmental consequences if built wrong or not on the ocean. Large dams change the migration patterns of fish as well as sometimes change water flows which can lead to unwanted flooding. Generally water powered plants cost a lot to build but then save money with minimal staff and low maintenance costs. Currently there are around 30 water power plants that are expected to generate more than 2,000 megawatts.

Technically nuclear energy isn’t a renewable energy source since there is a limited amount of fuel; however, one could also argue that nuclear energy can and will lead to nuclear and atomic fusion. The pros however are the smaller pollution output than other options, thorium to power them which is a greener option, and they provide a stable base load of energy which means a consistent output.   The cons are very obvious, being radioactive waste and well, Chernobyl… 

Hydroelectric pads in Brazil.

Hydroelectric pads in Brazil.

So which option is the best? Do you tell people to suck it up and stick turbines in fields or do you risk the death of a generation of fish who can’t jump a dam? When it comes to pros and cons the answer gets brought down to three options. Solar, Wind and Water. Geothermal has too much of a risk being placed next to thermal hot spots like volcanos and other unstable areas. Nuclear could be an option in the future if the technology allows us. And biomass is a good joke until burning trash and garbage becomes a viable option. So, solar. The Sonoran Desert has over 75,000 square miles in California and Arizona. The largest solar farm is 10 square miles and produces 648 megawatts and at max power it can power 150,000 homes. Now imagine this but 7 times that amount. You could power over 1 million homes! And it’s not like the desert is being used anyways. The animal population of the desert is next to none and it is one of the hottest deserts in North America. Wind is the next option. The largest output capacity of a wind farm is the Gansu Wind Farm in China. It is on a desert and is expected to produce around 20,000 MW by 2020.2, 3 The total cost? $17.5 billion. Eh, whatever. Seeing that that wind farm is a bit more than 10 square miles, we could do more than quintuple it! And finally we have water. The US alone has almost 100,000 miles of coast/shore-line. And since everybody loves to swim and that kinda stuff we’ll only use 50,000 miles of the water. You’re welcome. Now the option I’m looking at is the wave power. Each one would take up say, 200 feet. And well you do the math. According to Brazil, they are producing 2 terawatts using this idea with minimal operations in place. Pathetic. We could top that and produce well over 50 terawatts. So in my final opinion, the water pads are the best option because the waves will never stop, you can place them off land as well where nobody can see them and still produce an amazing amount of power.

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