Energy: Energy Resources and their Uses

Energy: Energy Resources and their Uses

Energy Resources

  • Energy resources are sources from which we can extract energy. They can be divided into two main types: non-renewable and renewable.
  • Non-renewable energy resources include coal, oil, and natural gas. They are finite and can take millions of years to form, hence the name ‘non-renewable’.
  • In contrast, renewable energy resources such as wind, sun (solar), water (hydroelectric), biomass, and tidal are infinite as they naturally replenish over a short time.
  • Nuclear power, though technically non-renewable as it uses finite resources (like uranium or plutonium), is sometimes considered separately due to its distinctive features and impacts.

Uses of Energy Resources

  • Different energy resources are used in different ways to generate power and heat.
  • Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are commonly used in power stations to generate electricity. The combustion of these fuels produces heat which is used to boil water, creating steam which turns turbines and generates electricity.
  • Nuclear power stations, instead of burning fuel, use nuclear reactions to generate heat that is then used in the same way as in a fossil fuel power station.
  • Renewable resources have various applications:
    • Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into electrical energy.
    • Solar panels convert solar energy (light) into electrical energy.
    • Hydroelectric dams use the kinetic energy of falling water to generate electricity.
    • Tidal power utilises the energy of shifting sea levels.
    • Geothermal power stations extract heat energy from inside the Earth.
    • Biomass involves burning organic material (like wood or biogas) to generate heat and electricity.

Environmental and Social Impacts of Energy Resources

  • Energy production has various environmental and social impacts that need to be considered in decision-making.
  • Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) contributing to climate change, and can also release sulfur dioxide causing acid rain.
  • While nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, it creates radioactive waste that is difficult and dangerous to dispose of. Nuclear accidents, though rare, can have catastrophic effects (like the Chernobyl disaster).
  • Renewable resources are generally environmentally friendly – they produce little or no greenhouse gas emissions. However, they can still have local environmental impacts. For instance, hydropower can damage ecosystems through flooding, and wind turbines can disturb local wildlife.
  • The adoption of certain energy resources can also have different social implications, such as job creation or loss in certain industries, and changes in land use and local communities.

Energy Resource Choices: Factors to Consider

  • When deciding which type of energy resource to use, various factors must be taken into account.
  • Availability and cost of resources: This includes not just the cost of the actual resource, but also the cost of extraction, transportation and generating electricity from it.
  • Environmental impact: Including greenhouse gas emissions, other pollution, and local ecological impacts.
  • Social and economic impacts: Including local job creation, effects on communities, and national energy security.
  • The efficiency of energy generation and the technology available.
  • The geographical location: For example, solar power is more effective in sunny climates, while wind power is more effective in windy areas.
  • Finally, sustainability: Ideally, the chosen strategy should not deplete resources or cause environmental damage that could make it unsustainable in the long term.