Technology has allowed us to advance the world in many ways, whether it's in new forms of travel, medical discoveries, running the electricity in our homes, or almost anything else. The common trend between all these advancements is that most of them require an energy source as power, from our phone batteries to our cars and beyond.

With the changing climate of the planet, it's become a great concern to know the types of energy available and the impact they can have on our world. Since information is the first step, we've compiled a guide to the different energy sources available.

Nonrenewable vs. Renewable Energy Sources

power stations

While there are various individual kinds of energy, most types of energy sources fall into two categories: nonrenewable and renewable. As the name suggests, these two broader categories indicate whether an energy source is available for ongoing use or if we will run out of available resources over time, without a replenishable cause.

Nonrenewable sources include:

  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Petroleum
  • Crude oil

These kinds are nonrenewable because the time it takes for these resources to replenish is very long; most of the coal, gas, and oil we use today formed from plants and other resources that are millions of years old. Though they will likely develop again in our planet's future, it will not be at a rate that is sustainable to our consumption; current resources like won't last more than one-hundred years.

Most renewable resources are those that not only occur naturally, but also replenish over a short period, such as solar power, wind energy, geothermal power, hydropower, and biomass, to name a few. While not suitable for all power needs, these energy sources are far more accessible and provide less waste than their nonrenewable counterparts.

So what does each of these energy resources look like up close?

Solar Power

When considering alternative energy sources, solar power is one of the first to come to mind. Through the use of collector panels, it's possible to convert the power of the sun's rays and convert them into electricity. While not every place on the planet gets enough sunlight to use this resource, it's still possible to use solar power to heat water, cool buildings, and overall power electrical systems.

Wind Power

Harnessing the wind to generate power is another one of the types of energy available. The strategy for power generation is to have windmills that generate electricity by letting the wind turn turbines, which then help a generator produce energy. Again, the right environmental conditions need to be in place for this method to be useful, but innovations are developing, making this approach more common.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power relies on the energy produced from both fission and fusion—the processes of combining or separating atoms on the molecular level. In many ways, nuclear power is incredibly efficient as it does produce many emissions, and it can also bolster an economy by creating jobs. However, this source has many risks when it comes to nuclear meltdowns, which can damage people and the surrounding environment.

Geothermal Energy

This power resource relies on the natural heat produced within the earth. By using the heat to increase the temperature water, the result is steam, which can then rotate turbines to power generators. This method has the potential to work on both smaller, residential homes and industrial scales. However, it is only useful in areas that have access to this latent heat, such as geysers.

Biomass Sources

Biomass energy refers to any source that derives power from plants. A common form of biomass fuel is burning wood for heat and cooking, which can be detrimental to the environment. However, using biomass to produce methane and alcohol as a source of automobile fuel or electricity (sometimes known as biofuels) are more sustainable approaches that take advantage of otherwise unused biomass waste.

Hydroelectric Energy

Dams are often in place for protecting areas from flooding, but they can also produce hydroelectric energy. This method relies on the natural rising and falling of gravity and its effect on the water. When released, the water turns turbines, producing energy for the generator. Again, only areas with available water resources can use this method, but a large dam can provide enough electricity for eight-thousand homes.

Hydrogen Energy

Another one of the types of energy sources that involves water is hydrogen. Hydrogen is one of the elements that make up water (and numerous other compounds on earth). In its pure form, hydrogen can serve as a fuel for many vehicles and buildings. Unlike fossil fuels, which are much more common, hydrogen does not produce any harmful emissions into the atmosphere. However, this method does require significant amounts of power from other sources to provide the hydrogen in the first place.

Wave and Tidal Energy

Much like how wind energy uses the natural currents in the air to spin turbines to produce power, wave and tidal energy sources do the same but by harnessing the movement of the ocean, whether it be from the tides or waves. These systems don't produce waste when in use, but it's possible they may impact ecosystems upon implementation. Many countries are researching this method to test its effectiveness.

Fossil Fuels

We mentioned coal, oil, and natural gas earlier as part of the nonrenewable resources group. These methods are the most common energy source used in many countries, and they involve burning these resources to produce energy or converting them into gasoline for vehicles. While capable of producing large amounts of power, they release many pollutants during both use and excavation.

How Do These Sources Fit into the Future?

Dam at colorado

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With the pressing issue of climate change, the need to change how we fuel our industries and daily lives has become more critical than ever. However, while knowing the available sources to us gives us the building blocks for change, it doesn't provide an obvious solution to how to best move forward and protect the environment.

And things stand, there is no one best solution available to us. As mentioned, not all environments are suitable for taking advantage of a source of energy, even with something as plentiful as solar power. Trying to implement one source of alternative energy will ultimately alienate different parts of the planet. 

Part of the draw of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources is that we've built systems that work on these sources of energy around the globe. Though it may be easier to continue to use these resources, it will come at a cost to our climate and environment that we likely won't be able to reverse—let alone maintain into the future.

Utilizing Alternative Energy In The Right Places

Understanding The Cost

Continuing To Search For Solutions