In an increasingly environmentally sustainable world, there is a vast array of options for energy sources beyond traditional coal power. Solar energy and wind energy have proven to be viable alternatives, but each power source has its benefits and drawbacks.
For one, coal energy is incredibly reliable; it can produce electricity for 24 hours a day and its energy output is not affected by cloud cover. Though dependable, coal energy is quite detrimental for our environment. Coal emits harmful particulates when burned, including soot and smoke, that accumulate and remain lodged in the lungs.
Coal energy also emits harmful greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change. In addition, the combustion of coal emits sulfur dioxide, which causes respiratory illness and leads to acid rain. Sulfur dioxide rises up in the atmosphere, mixes with water, and then falls down to earth as rain containing sulfuric acid. Acid rain’s adverse effects can dissolve nutrients in forests, worsening the overall soil quality.
Wind energy has served as an efficient alternative to coal power and has significantly grown in popularity in large scale operations and commercial use. Unlike coal energy, wind power emits no harmful particles to the environment. This clean energy source can generate a constant output of power for 24 hours a day without polluting the air. It is one of the most cost effective alternatives, priced between four and six cents per kilowatt-hour.
Wind turbines are consistently effective and can be installed in different environments for use. However, wind energy is extremely location sensitive, meaning it can only be used to its full potential in certain environments. Remote locations have been proven to be most suited for wind energy, but these sites are far from the city where electricity is in high demand.
Furthermore, wind energy requires a incredibly smooth airflow as it is very susceptible to turbulence. This turbulent air, where the wind is continuously switching directions, leaves the turbines chasing the wind energy rather than harnessing its power. Smaller turbines are especially susceptible to turbulence, making areas near a busy road or trees not suitable.
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On the other hand, solar energy is entirely dependent on clean, renewable energy from the sun. It produces no greenhouse gases, effectively mitigating the extent of climate change. As the demand for electricity is projected to rise through 2040 and beyond, solar panels remain a very suitable option for homeowners.
This environmentally friendly option does not produce any thermal pollution. Many traditional power plants must be cooled by water from nearby lakes, but when returned, this heated water often disrupts aquatic ecosystems. However, sunlight is free and easily accessible, which frees the need for environmentally abrasive techniques for extracting coal or oil energy sources.
Unlike wind energy, solar panels are not location specific; they can be installed on nearly any roof.
Ultimately, each of these energy sources have their strengths and weaknesses. Cost, influence on the surrounding environment, efficiency, and reliability are all factors one must consider when assessing each energy source.
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