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Energy, Its Usage and the Environment Essay

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Discuss some of the limitations of using PV to power a home. What are the benefits of home installation of solar vs. remote installation of solar farm systems? What governmental incentives could be employed to make the installation of PV systems more economical?

Photovoltaic panels have low levels of energy efficiency. They are not able to store energy for long periods of time which makes them ineffective. They also produce direct electric energy (DC) which has to be converted into alternating electric energy (AC) through inverters, before the produced electricity is used for its intended purpose. PV panels require a lot of sunshine for them to work effectively. This makes them unsuitable for areas that do not have adequate sunlight. PV powered energy systems have low output and are unable to operate heavy equipment that requires a lot of power to run.

Home solar installation minimizes costs for those consumers who live far from the main power supply grids. A home solar installation makes it possible for a power consumer to store solar energy in batteries. The stored power can be used to satisfy crucial energy needs when the electric supply reduces or gets disrupted due to low sunlight. A consumer can easily install back –up power systems to complement the solar-powered system at home when there is not enough sunlight to charge solar batteries. This makes a solar power consumer have a steady supply of power at all times.

The government needs to reduce taxes charged on solar equipment to ensure potential consumers are not discouraged to install these systems due to expensive costs. It also needs to train experts to enable them to manage solar power systems in different locations to encourage more people to use them. This will ensure that many people have the necessary skills to maintain solar power systems in different locations. The government should reduce taxes charged on large scale investors of solar projects that have the capacity to power many homes and industries. This will encourage more investors to invest their funds in the energy sector to offer innovative solar power services that are suitable for customers’ energy needs.

Discuss the use of hydropower, wind power, and geothermal power describing the benefits and problems associated with each energy source. Which source would you promote? Why?

Hydropower is electric energy captured from moving water in reservoirs which turn turbines. These turbines power generators which produce electricity. Hydropower is suitable for large scale power consumption because it allows many consumers to get connected to a large power grid. However, hydropower is not suitable for areas that do not have large reservoirs. A hydropower station requires a lot of funds to build a reservoir and its construction can cause many people to get displaced.

An illustration of how a hydropower station produces electric energy for different uses.
Diagram 1: An illustration of how a hydropower station produces electric energy for different uses. Source: nationalatlas.gov. “Renewable Energy Sources in the United States.”

Wind power is the energy captured from wind turbines which are used to generate electricity. Wind turbines are placed in areas that have high wind speeds to ensure they generate high amounts of electricity. Large-scale wind power projects on wind farms can serve the energy needs of many people in an area. However, the cost of setting up a wind farm is very high and requires a lot of funds. A wind power farm also needs proper maintenance to ensure a continuous power supply to end-users.

Geothermal power is energy captured from heat produced below the earth’s surface in form of hot magma. This heat is captured through fissures made into the earth’s crust. The heat is then directed through pipes that bring it onto the earth’s surface. The heat extracted is used to spin turbines which are used to generate electric power. Geothermal power plants have high output and have the capacity to serve the energy needs of many consumers on a single grid. However, geothermal power can only be tapped in areas that have a lot of heat underneath the earth’s surface.

Wind power is the most valuable renewable energy resource that can be utilized to power energy needs. Wind farms do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The production of wind power does not combust any fuels which makes it a suitable power resource. Wind power can be used to power a lot of homes and does not require a lot of capital investments compared to geothermal power and hydropower.

Country 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Canada 375.444 381.464 379.474 366.416 399.131
Mexico 37.041 48.590 36.512 47.327 44.286
United States 352.747 380.932 417.724 427.376 520.067
Total 765.232 810.986 833.710 841.119 963.484

Diagram 2: Total Renewable Electricity Generation in Billion Kilowatt Hours in North America from 2007 to 2011. Source: US Energy Information Administration. “Independent Energy Statistics.”

Outline and critically analyze the three arguments discussed in class to promote the use of nuclear power. Do you think that the use of nuclear power should be promoted? Support your position.

Nuclear energy is one of the most efficient forms of energy because a lot of power can be produced from low quantities of uranium. It is not affected by changing weather patterns because it is produced by heating uranium atoms in secure reactors. This ensures that the power supply to consumers is not interrupted. Nuclear power stations do not release a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They are well designed to ensure radioactive materials stay in specific containers.

Nuclear power should not be promoted. The main material for nuclear power production is uranium which is not a renewable source. It is estimated that uranium deposits across the world are getting depleted and this will make many nuclear power plants shut down in the next hundred years. Transportation of uranium also poses a lot of challenges to the environment. It is a radioactive material and its transportation can cause radiation which has negative consequences on human and plant life. Areas, where nuclear power plants are located, are not suitable for human settlements because people can get exposed to radioactive materials.

Disposal of nuclear waste creates a lot of challenges because these materials are highly toxic and they contaminate the environment. This waste is highly radioactive and its disposal endangers human, animal, and plant life. This fact does not attract people because it exposes current and future generations to contamination. The long-term effects of nuclear power production are severe and their impacts on the surrounding environment are costly.

Critically analyze the use of biomass fuels. What are the major problems associated with the production of biomass fuels? What are some of the variables that you should measure to determine if the production of a gallon of corn ethanol is energy efficient? Are biomass fuels carbon neutral?

Biomass fuels are obtained from different types of wood, crops, and plants to meet crucial energy needs. Biomass fuels are produced from biodegradable sources. This reduces the number of greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere. Biomass fuels are used for both transport and industrial needs. However, the production of biomass fuels creates some problems for the environment. The fuels release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after they have been combusted. The raw materials used to produce biomass fuels are bulky and are expensive to transport. It is necessary for a fuel production plant to be located close to the area where raw materials are sourced to guarantee efficiency. Biomass fuel production plants located close to forests are likely to deplete forest resources in these areas. Biomass fuel production is only possible in areas that have a lot of raw materials.

It is estimated that 53,785 BTUs (British Thermal Units) are used in the production of one gallon of corn fuel. Corn ethanol production processes have been improved to ensure that less energy is used to produce fuel. This has improved the efficiency levels of corn ethanol plants. It is estimated that a bushel of corn can produce about 2.74 gallons of ethanol fuel. A ton of corn containing 15% moisture can produce 98 gallons of ethanol. A ton of dry corn can produce about 115 gallons of ethanol. Advanced technological procedures are being developed to make ethanol production more efficient.

Biomass fuels release low quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. Some ethanol fuels are blended with fossil fuels which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Trees located in dense forests emit carbon monoxide at night which contributes to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Biomass fuels produced near forests cause trees to be cut down and it affects ecological functions that directly depend on these forests. Logging of trees for biomass production brings out carbon that is stored in soil and this contributes significantly to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon gases emitted by biomass production plants take a long time before they get reabsorbed by trees, which endanger environmental sustainability. Therefore, biomass fuels contribute significantly to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and cannot be described as clean.

Discuss the harmful effects of acid rain on forest ecosystems. Discuss three strategies for reducing acid deposition. Which approach is most sustainable? Why?

Acidic rain is harmful to forest ecosystems. It contaminates water streams and rivers which originate from forests impacting negatively on ecological systems. Acidic rainfall deposits toxic components that alter PH levels in soils that support different plant species in forests. This harms plants and other microorganisms that depend on these soils. Animals that consume plants growing out of acidic soil conditions can ingest toxic substances that endanger their survival. Acidic rain slows down the growth of forests and may cause some tree species to wither and die off before they mature.

Acid rain can be controlled by reducing the number of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This ensures that fewer poisonous substances are accumulated in the atmosphere which reduces acidic precipitation. Conservation efforts must be strengthened to ensure soil erosion is reduced to enable it to neutralize toxic components deposited by acidic rainwater. Soil structures with strong bedrocks limit acidic rain from harming plants that grow there. These soils have strong buffering capacities which make it possible for them to withstand the toxic effects of acidic rainfall. Forested areas should be conserved to enable them to grow strong canopies which reduce the number of toxic components deposited by acidic rain.

Forest conservation and reductions in greenhouse emissions are the most sustainable ways that need to be used to mitigate the harmful effects of acidic rain on forest ecosystems. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas components emitted in the atmosphere condense to form acidic rain which harms forest and water ecosystems. All industrial and domestic processes that emit harmful components need to be improved to reduce acidity levels in the atmosphere. Forest ecosystems need to be conserved to enable them to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to reduce acidic precipitation.

Discuss, using examples the impacts of global warming

Global warming has a lot of negative impacts on society. It has caused temperatures to increase in the North Pole which has resulted in the melting of polar ice in Iceland and other areas in the northern hemisphere. This continues to endanger plants and animals in these areas because they are used to cool climatic conditions. For instance, global warming endangers the survival of the polar bear, which lives in icy conditions in the northern hemisphere. Global warming has made these environments warmer and this endangers surrounding ecosystems. It has also affected seasonal climatic changes which are not predictable as they used to be in the past.

Global warming has contributed to a rise in sea levels. This has caused floods and other natural calamities which result from rising sea levels to increase. Melting of ice in the North Pole has made large volumes of water to be discharged into rivers, oceans, seas, and other water systems. Some low-lying coastal areas and islands will get submerged completely by rising sea water in the future. This makes it difficult for people to settle in such areas because perennial floods displace them from their settlements. Global warming has adversely affected farming activities in some regions across the world. Tropical countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean are no longer able to grow enough food to feed their increasing populations. Climatic seasons are not predictable anymore which has made some countries experience prolonged periods of drought and famine. Global warming has also led to high levels of air pollution in China, India, and other Asian countries with large industrial zones. This has exposed some residents to dangerous respiratory illnesses and complications.

For each greenhouse gas discuss emission levels by source/sector and source/sector appropriate methods for reducing the emissions

Greenhouse emissions mainly originate from large industrial zones which release harmful components into the atmosphere. Sectors that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases include industrial firms, transportation systems, commercial firms, domestic households, and agricultural sectors in different parts of the world. It is estimated that greenhouse emissions have registered an increase of 8% in the US in the last 20 years. A report released in 2009 indicates the volume of CO2 emissions from each sector in the US in million metric tons within a period of 20 years. Industrial and transport sectors emit the largest volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the US. In 2009, it is estimated that more than 1900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted by US industrial firms into the atmosphere. Industrial segments that emit high volumes of greenhouse gases include manufacturing, mining, and construction.

Sector 1990 1995 2000 2005 2008 2009
Industry 2,238.3 2,228.0 2314.4 2,162.5 2,146.5 1,910.9
Transportation 1,548.2 1,698.3 1,935.8 2,022.2 1,895.5 1,816.9
Commercial 947.7 1,000.2 1,135.8 1,205.1 1,224.5 1,184.9
Residential 953.8 1,024.5 1,162.2 1,242.9 1,215.1 1,158.9
Agriculture 460.0 497.1 518.4 522.7 531.1 516.0
Total 6,148 6448.1 7066.7 7155.3 7012.6 6587.7

Diagram 3: Table showing the amount of Carbon dioxide emissions from different US economic sectors in million metric tons within a period of 20 years, from 1990 to 2009. Source: Freight Facts and Figures 2011. “U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic End-Use Sector: 1990-2009.”

In 2009, it is estimated that the transport sector emitted more than 1,816 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Many vehicles, sea vessels, and airlines rely on fossil fuels to transport passengers from one area to another. It is estimated that the transport industry will be the largest source of greenhouse gases in the next 10 years if urgent measures are not put in place to control the situation. Commercial zones such as offices and other general businesses produced more than 1,184 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in the same period. Residential areas in 2009 emitted an estimated 1, 158 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This was caused mainly by inefficient energy consumption patterns by domestic users. It is estimated that the agricultural sector in the US released 516 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in the same year. These figures confirm that all sectors of the US economy contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors need to adopt newer technologies that use less energy and emit less toxic gases into the atmosphere. Manufacturing and mining industries need to improve their work processes to minimize the wastage of resources. Urban residents need to be encouraged to use mass public transport systems such as trains and commuter buses to reduce greenhouse emissions that are caused by their vehicles. They should also be encouraged to cycle to work and school to reduce their overreliance on motorized transport. Residential and commercial energy users need to be encouraged to adopt energy-saving practices to reduce wastage of electricity. This will reduce volumes of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Farmers and other stakeholders in agriculture also need to adopt modern sustainable farming techniques. This will reduce the number of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere which leads to global warming.

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