The harnessing of electricity is among one of the greatest feats mankind has ever done. Without electricity you wouldn’t be able to take hot/cold showers, update your status on Facebook, go to the movie theater, listen to music, the possibilities are endless. Have you ever thought about where this energy comes from?
The world gets its energy from various sources. The main sources of power are oil, coal, natural gas, renewable, and nuclear energy. In 1990 the world used 83,374 terawatt-hours (1 terrawatt-hour(TWh) = 1 billion kilowatt-hours) through the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), nuclear energy produced 6,113 TWh, and renewable resources (wind, solar, geothermal, water, etc) produced 13,082 TWh. With the growth in population this has increased to 117,076 TWh for fossil fuels, 8,283 for nuclear, and 18,492 for renewable.
There is speculation that fossil fuels are low and the need to switch to alternatives is a high priority. Let’s be clear that we are most definitely not running short of fossil fuels due to the fact of offshore drilling opens up a great amount of resources. However, the dangers of this process do pose a risk to the technicians and engineers on the rig. The idea of moving away from fossil fuels is a great idea, however policies (such as the united states energy policy) mean that fossil fuels will never go away. As stated above, renewable resources produce the 2nd most amount of energy for the world and are estimated to be a top contender with fossil fuels in our lifetime.
Nuclear energy has one of the highest supply-to-usage energy ratios in the world. Also, nuclear energy is a renewable resource where fossil fuels are not. Nuclear energy gets a bad reputation in the accidents we have seen in the past (Japan and Chernobyl) which is why there are not many plants in the world today. Nuclear power plants actually have a significant amount of safety features today and it costs over a billion dollars to make a plant due to the huge amounts of safety features associated with it. For example, France produces 80% of its electricity through nuclear power. Due to the high supply-to-usage ratio, they have unused power which they ultimately sell to different nations. If the United States took this route we could maybe not be in debt anymore (maybe). The reason why we have many different sources of power is to provide a system of checks and balances. If one source of power suddenly becomes empty and scarce then we have other sources to come up to the plate and cover that spot. Also, it’s so we don’t have one Monopoly of a source.
Some people may have seen pictures of the white smoke coming out of nuclear cooling towers (pictured above). Some believe it is combustion gases or emissions much like a car and it is damaging the environment. Well the truth is that the “smoke” is just water! It is actually water vapor being released that was used for cooling. Fun fact of the day!