Renewable Energy Sources

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Chapter 8: Renewable Energy Sources

The Sustainability Revolution

John C. Ayers

"In a sense, the fossil fuels are a one-time gift that lifted us up from subsistence agriculture and should eventually lead us to a future based on renewable resources." Kenneth Deffeyes (2001) "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that." — Thomas Edison, 1931 We cannot create or destroy energy. We can only capture it. The sun provides either directly or indirectly nearly all of the energy available to us. Plants capture solar energy directly through photosynthesis. Fossil fuels contain the energy of sunlight captured hundreds of millions of years ago. Photovoltaic (PV) cells also capture sunlight energy directly. Other energy sources capture the energy of sunlight indirectly. Heat from the sun powers the flowing air and water. We usually capture the kinetic energy of wind and water by using turbines that transfer the energy to an alternator, an electrical generator that produces alternating current. Geothermal energy is different in that it captures flowing heat energy produced by radioactive decay in the earth’s interior. In this chapter we will see that Wind, Water, and Sun (WWS) energy sources are sustainable because they are renewable, clean, safe, and nearly carbon-free. Although they have low energy densities, meaning that they require large areas of land or water to produce energy, they are sufficient to meet the energy needs of the US and many other countries. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity is to transition to WWS energy as rapidly as possible to mitigate AGW. Renewable energy sources are rate-limited: they can flow forever, but only at a fixed rate. They cannot support an indefinitely growing population, but they can provide an energy base for a…...

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