With the environmental balance tipping the wrong way in the present times, humanity is trapped between the cosmic version of Hobson's choice - make amends for the ravages it has inflicted upon Nature while there's still time or continue with its selfish, exploitative ways and make way for yet another period of mass extinction similar to, or perhaps larger than, the one that took place in the Permian-Triassic period. While we have greedily taken from Nature to further the progress of technology and civilization, the thought of giving something back or, at least, restoring some part of what we've plundered has never occurred to us, till recently when we find ourselves so close to an impending natural disaster.
The result of all that air pollution brought on from burning millions of tons of biological and fossil fuel since centuries is now painfully obvious in the form of radical shifts in seasons and the increased frequency of natural calamities such as tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes. Looking down at extinction and destruction of the planet in the eye seems to have knocked some sense into mankind and this is evidenced by the fact that we are actively looking towards alternative sources of energy that are natural and pose minimal threat to the already deteriorating environmental conditions. Come, let's take a brief tour of the different types of natural energy sources available to us that are renewable and can be optimally utilized without tipping the environmental balance further.
What are the Various Types of Natural Energy?
Surprising as it may seem, but almost all of us have read about the utility potential of at least two out of the four primary natural energy types. What? You mean to say they never taught you those chapters on solar power or windmills in elementary school? Anyway, coming back to the subject of our discussion, there are four chief sources of natural energy that can be harnessed to extract all the energy we need to keep this hi-tech world of ours running smoothly! These are solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and water/tidal energy. Let's take a brief look at each of these.
The sun is perhaps the most powerful and abundant source of energy that our planet has. The best part is, the heat and energy is available to us just like that! We need not drill or dig for it, nor do we have to process it to make it usable. All that we need to do is develop instruments and mechanical paraphernalia in order to harness it's potential. Solar energy has been in use since quite some time in industrial as well as domestic areas. Solar power has been effectively harnessed by humanity to generate electricity, power vehicles, charge batteries and generators, cook food, heat water and run HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. Nowadays, you can see huge solar power plants generating millions of units of electricity for domestic as well as industrial purposes. The best part about it is, you can generate and use solar energy without risking air, water or land pollution!
Be it for generating electricity for domestic and industrial use or for powering commercial aquatic vessels, wind energy is here to stay! A lot of wind farms, both on shore and off shore, are run in many different parts of the world for the purpose of generating electricity and many more proposed wind farms are on their way towards establishment. Wind farms are set up at such locations where wind speed and thrust are strong and the surrounding areas have little or no man-made constructions. Off shore wind farms, therefore, are preferred above on shore ones as the former get access to strong sea breeze at all times and the turbines located so far away from civilization and wilderness neither pose a threat to any life form nor do they mar the scenic beauty of a landscape. Wind generators are emerging as a preferred power provider among commercial shipping and fishing vessels that often need to stay out in the sea for days on an end and need a continuous energy source for powering on-board appliances and applications.
Similar to wind power, a lot of countries all over the world that have inland water sources or have easy access to coastal waters make extensive use of tidal energy to generate electricity. Such power generated from water is often used to run entire towns and cities! Almost all dams that are built all over the world have an adjoining power station that generates electricity by manipulating the water in the dam reservoir using turbines and propellers. Hydroelectric power is the chief, most powerful and often the sole power alternative for places that are situated in mountainous terrains having fast falling and free-flowing rivers and streams along the ranges, as the downward flow of these rivers and streams pack great momentum that's ideal for power generation.
Discovery and manipulation of geothermal energy to produce fuel and power is a relatively recent phenomenon and is still in its developmental stage. Geothermal energy is nothing but heat and radioactive energy that's locked within the earth's crust as a result of underground volcanic activities that break down minerals such that they produce radiation and heat. Also, solar heat absorbed by the surface of the Earth also gets locked in the crust in the form of geothermal energy. Geothermal energy from hot springs had, previously, been used in ancient times for heating space and water for bathing and therapy since the times of the ancient Roman civilization. Generation of electricity from geothermal energy, however, is a recent development.
Another emerging natural and renewable energy source is biomass energy. This form of energy is derived from remains of living matter that ceased to live not too long ago (unlike fossil fuels that come from the fossils of creatures and plants that lived millions of years ago). The by products produced during the process of decay or incineration (especially wood and plant matter) or recently dead organisms such as gases (such as those that are produced in landfills as a result of bacterial action on organic tissues), alcohol and other chemicals can be used to power automobiles, produce fuel for cooking and heating (biogas, for instance), etc.