Electrical energy plays a very important role in modern society. It can be said that electricity is a driving force in a country's development. Truly, the amount of access to electrical energy is a metric for measuring industrial potential and the quality of life within any given civilized society. It's always in high demand. One might be uncomfortable in considering everything we'd lose without a constant electrical supply.
Seeing how important electrical energy is to us, it isn't surprising to learn that people have found many ways to produce it. In meeting such a high demand, great lengths have gone into mass production. Some of these production methods come with efficiency and environmental concerns.
Coal-powered electric plants are one of the most common methods for producing electricity, worldwide. Coal is ground to powder, increasing its surface area and blown into the combustion chamber of a vast boiler. Steam is produced which spins turbines and generates power.
Coal electric has raised a lot of concerns in over its long history. Coal mining can be a very dangerous profession with a number of long-term side effects stemming from inhaling coal dust. Other concerns involve the manner in which it is mined. Strip mining can be extremely environmentally damaging and heavy metals from mining operations can damage water supplies if not handled properly.
Recently, people have been wary about the amount of pollutants released into the air by burning coal to power turbines. Coal is also not considered renewable. Electrical power suppliers will always need to find new supplies.
Green energies such as geothermal, wind-powered, hydroelectric, and solar energies are constantly rising in popularity. They are often hailed as renewable resources which, essentially, won't run out.
Geothermal energy is derived from heat produced in the earth. Geothermal wells harness energy from steam-fed turbines. In homes, air temperatures underground tend to remain at a constant temperature and that air is pumped into the home to raise or lower temperatures before heating and air conditioning systems are applied.
Wind power uses large fan-like blades to rotate and power generators while hydroelectric stations use moving water to turn turbines.
Solar panels use energy from the sun to excite electrons into producing more energy.
These green energies are great, but have some of their own drawbacks. Geothermal wells are dependent on areas with tectonic activity. Large-scale wind and solar power production requires a lot of land to be designated to panel and tower structures. Sizable wind and hydroelectric operations can harm or drive away wildlife and alter ecosystems.
The output of these sources isn't quite efficient enough to feed current consumption on a large scale, yet. However, it is worth mentioning, utilizing one or more of these sources to contribute to a microgrid within a building can have a profound effect and even make the building self-reliant.
Nuclear reactors offer some of the greatest output of any energy source. Heat energy from fission is used to create steam which turns several turbines, producing energy.
Nuclear energy also comes with risks, particularly with breeder reactors that rely heavily on water cooling. Several incidents worldwide have caused either great concern or devastation through the release of radiation. Nuclear energy offers great amounts of electricity but the risks that accompany it have led some to consider changing the approach in fourth generation reactors to those such as the liquid fluoride thorium or molten salt reactor.
Energy storage plays a role as a way to improve energy efficiency. Cooling units work a night to create ice when the temperatures necessary are easier to attain and this ice provides cool water for systems during the hot parts of the day.
Flywheels are an advanced energy storage method consisting of a spinning device sealed in a vacuum. Energy added causes it to spin faster. The rotational energy may be tapped into which causes the flywheel to slow. This machine allows unused energy to be stored rather than created and wasted.
Finding ways to create safe, efficient, and sustainable energy is a constant challenge. Innovators in the industry of producing energy are always looking to find the right balance. The ultimate goal is meeting energy needs in a manner that is safe for the environment, beneficial for the public, and that will not run out.