Renewable energy: Is it already too late?

A majority of the power currently used by humans comes from fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gases form underground over millions of years, and we are digging them up and using them at an alarming rate. This is leading us toward two major problems. One is that these limited energy sources are rapidly disappearing, increasing energy prices and reducing energy security for our future. The other issue is that as we burn through these fossil fuels (literally), we are producing copious amounts of greenhouse gases that have a massive impact on climate change. This is promoting an increase in global temperature that could lead to a whole new set of problems.

Fortunately, there is one solution that could solve both of these problems – renewable energy sources. We have the technology to harness the power of the sun, the seas, the wind and the trees for our daily use. These sources are not limited like fossil fuels, comparatively, they are infinite. So why hasn’t the world already made the change from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?

Fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables. A barrel of oil or a bucket of coal can produce a lot of power compared to a good gust of wind or a sunny afternoon. A 2008 paper by Layton calculated that oil contains twenty quadrillion times more energy than solar power, so as long as these energy-rich fossil fuels are abundant, people want to utilise that energy. Further research is required to increase the efficiency of renewable energies if we want to make them our main source of power.

Another problem is that even though renewable energy sources may be unlimited, they are not always reliable. You can’t harness the suns energy at night, and you can’t catch the wind on a still day. To solve this problem, researchers are currently developing more efficient methods of capturing and storing renewable energies when they are present so that there is a reliable and constant supply of power, regardless of the weather. The largest lithium-ion battery in the world in South Australia is a shining example of how energy can be collected, stored and utilised easily, and it is likely that we will see more of these batteries being introduced around the world in the coming years.

Besides these issues, renewable energy sources are much better, both for the environment and for ourselves, than the burning of fossil fuels. The pollution from coal, oil and natural gas is the biggest human contribution to climate change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have been increasing steadily since the industrial revolution, and in the last 70 years alone the average concentration has increased by 25% (300ppm to 400ppm). This carbon dioxide can linger in the atmosphere for thousands of years, absorbing heat and warming up our environment. Renewable energy sources, on the other hand, produce far fewer greenhouse gases, greatly reducing the human impact on climate change. By switching to renewable energy sources, we could stop this atmospheric pollution before it gets out of hand.

It is important to remember that fossil fuels are limited. They will run out one day soon, and when they do, we need to be prepared with alternative power sources. Furthermore, the pollution caused by fossil fuels is damaging our planet and everything living on it,
something needs to change. By shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in the near future, we will be reducing human impacts on climate change and setting ourselves up for a more sustainable future.

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