Statement of the Problem………………………………………………………………….1
Purpose of the Study………………………………………………………………………3
Definition of Key Terms….………………………….……………………………………5
Review of the Literature………………………………………………………….……….5
In a world of limited resources to produce energy, fossil fuel and other alternative means to produce energy are vital to the lives of everyone on the planet. Understanding how fuel is turned into energy through the transformation process and how energy is neither created nor destroyed but merely changes its state of energy is paramount when comparing and contrasting multiple energy sources. Fossil fuels are used in almost every facet of transportation, heating, cooling and movement. Alternative fuels are necessary to fill the void of the non-renewable fossil fuels used today. Solar energy and wind energy are two renewable sources which are the current time are only restrained by technological and economic factors due to their near unlimited availability.
Alternative energy at this point in development does not meet the output requirements expected by the end user and consumer. It is also difficult, in comparison to non-renewable energy sources, to produce the amount of energy needed, at the cost needed and within the scope of resources available without impacting the environmental balance of nature and habitation of humans. The project would cover how deep and wide the impact alternative energy’s production, sustainment, delivery and storage have on the environment and how much change management would be required to ensure adoption and acceptance of the new methods to replace the old methods.
Statement of the Problem
Based on the discussion, it is possible to identify a multiple variables within the problem of providing the vast majority of the world’s energy through non-renewable resources. As will be discussed later in the project and review of literature, parts of the multifaceted problem encompass the affordability, adoption and sustainability of the alternative energy source such as durable and efficient solar panels at prices consumers can purchase. Currently the pressure to relieve the use of nonrenewable energy sources is not felt by the end consumer in a direct correlation to which the consumption rate will deplete the resources. The cost of producing renewable energy and the lack of competition regarding the generation of this type of energy have hindered free market development as well as coupling detractors from each type of renewable energy development such as hydro for river habitat destruction, wind for avian mortality, solar for desert overdevelopment, biomass for air emissions, and geothermal for depletion and toxic discharges (Bradley 1997). The types of materials and availability of these materials such as those which make up the solar semiconductor may not be available in twenty years (Durham University 2011).
In essence, the ultimate goal of the end user is to have a source of energy that is affordable and provides the needed energy output with minimal invasion to their lifestyle. The purpose of the research is to dive into the impacts of the utilization of renewable energy sources so that areas of concern can be mitigated with effort, funding or technological advances and show how renewable resources and how energy transformation is an ever evolving process much like the business practices throughout corporate American and the need to update and modify business models to meet consumer demands. In essence, creating a sustainable and scalable energy production framework is necessary to provide the energy for the growing needs of the world. Understanding the effects the new energy sources have on the environment and energy process would make or break the renewable energy project depending on how it is conducted or utilized.
The importance of the research lies within the ability to mitigate risks and take a proactive approach to the issues that arise from changing the entire energy production environment. As the end consumer views their energy they want the same productivity, availability and reliability afforded to them in their current state. Transitioning behind the scenes will require the knowledge and foresight in what this research project offers through proofing the hypothesis.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study, then, is to explore the wing-to-wing impact alternative energy production, sustainment, delivery and storage have on the environment and society as a whole. This information would provide the data to formulate information to make informed decisions on the energy project facilitating objective and purpose definition.
Q1. To determine the relationship between renewable energy production and impact on the environment.
Q2. Compare and contrast renewable and non-renewable energy production’ process life cycle.
In addition to the impact and comparison is it also relevant to have a view into not only the shift between energy sources as a whole but also the small incremental change necessary to stay flexible and not locked in by one depleting energy source that cannot keep up with the current demand.
Q3. To determine process for energy production as a whole and how adapting to new resource needs and technological advances impact current production models.
Based on a review of literature as noted in this proposal, one major hypothesis will be the basis for this research but should encompass all of the touch points for renewable energy production and it results both positive and negative. The first hypothesis is involves renewable energy sources impact on the environment.
H10-If new sources of renewable energy are proliferated into the current energy production model, then the impacts will impact the environment in a negative way.
H1a– If new sources of renewable energy are not proliferated into the current energy production model, then the impacts will impact the environment in a negative way.
Definition of Key Terms
Term 1. Fossil Fuels – Non-renewable resources produced by anaerobic decomposition of dead and buried organisms (Green Investing 2011).
Term 2. Non-renewable resource – a natural resource which cannot be recreated (produced, grown, generated, transferred) to meet the consumption rate Examples are coal, natural gas, petroleum which are considered fossil fuels (Green Investing 2011).
Term 3. Renewable Resource – a natural resource with the ability of being replaced through natural processes with the passage of time (Green Investing 2011).
Review of the Literature
Within the review of this literature it is interesting to view the polar opposites regarding the stance of pro-renewable energy production and that of sustainment of current energy sources and focus on technological advancements to provide the efficiency and ability of the energy production facilities and tools to provide a feasible amount of energy in comparison with the cost. Energy is the ability to do “work” and any form of energy can be transformed into another form, but the total energy always remains the same. It can be found in many different forms such as chemical, electrical, thermal, radiant, nuclear and mechanical energy. Each of the types of energy is produced in by different methods of transformation. Coal burning is a simple process for producing electrical energy. During the process of burning coal at the coal burning plant chunks of coal are pulverized into dust and loaded into a coal burning chamber. The chemical process of burning coal creates heat to be transferred to a boiler. The boiler heats up through the heat transfer and boils the water to create steam. This steam turns a turbine to create kinetic energy which in turns changes the kinetic energy into electrical energy to be used or stored for future use. Another example of energy transfer would be driving a vehicle down the road. There is a tremendous amount of energy use in multiple forms through this process. In order for certain types of energy to form a specific purpose such as moving a vehicle down the road, multiple transformations of energy must take place. Gasoline is introduced into the engine with oxygen and a spark to produce an explosion of heat and carbon dioxide. This chemical reaction converts chemical energy into thermal energy and mechanical energy. The heat and mechanical energy caused by the chemical reaction pushes the piston head down turning the chemical reaction into a mechanical energy and kinetic energy. Through the rotation of the engine and transfer of heat and kinetic energy the vehicle is propelled forward. It may appear that energy is lost through the process but as stated above energy is neither created nor destroy, it is only transferred and reapplied to other areas of energy.
In both the above examples of transforming on type of energy to another the source fuels were coal and gasoline. Both of these fuels are hydrocarbon based fuels also known as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are created by the anaerobic decomposition of buried and dead organisms over the course of millions of years Most of the Earth’s fossil fuels were created during the Carboniferous Period (Site Berkeley), hence the term fossil fuel. It is important to note that fossil fuels are also known as non-renewable sources of energy due to the long lead time in producing useable energy sources. In some instances the lifecycle to create a fossil fuel would exceed hundreds of millions of years. Fossil fuels are composed of carbon and hydrogen and can range from coal, petroleum to natural gas all depending on the mixture of carbon and hydrogen. The main benefit of fossil fuels is their ability to produce energy. The amount of fuel available with the amount it takes to use to create the amount of energy surpasses all other consumable energy sources available. Fossil fuels are readily available, multiple uses and an exponentially greater amount of energy in comparison to other energy producing methods currently available. Although other means for energy production are not currently feasible as a direct competitor to fossil fuels in the world today, tomorrow may be a different story. Through the economic principle of supply and demand as the demand grows greater for a certain commodity and the supply shrinks with no way to replenish the prices goes up (Prasch, 2008). As the natural resource of fossil fuels diminish and are no longer able to sustain our needs and cost constraints other methods of energy production must be implemented to fill the growing needs of the world.
One area which currently subsidizes the use of fossil fuel for energy production is solar energy. Solar energy is created from radiant light and heat from the sun. Solar energy can be defined as passive or active solar energy depending on how they are captured (Bradford, 2010). Passive solar energy collection uses sunlight without use of an active mechanical system which rely solely on the thermodynamic properties of the material or system to operate. An example of this would be a house pointing in the direction of direct sunlight thus gaining heat by allowing the sunlight a direct surface for heat transfer. This type of technology would use the sunlight to heat things like water or air to be used for hot water or a houses heating system. Active solar collection uses mechanical means to convert solar energy into another form of usable energy such as electricity or heat. One benefit of active over passive solar energy production is that in the active technique with the use of controls the user can maximize the effectiveness and transfer of energy. The upside to the active process can also be a downside when comparing to the passive method. If a control fails the entire system could be useless for electrical and heat energy production. In comparison to fossil fuels the main advantage to solar energy is the abundance and availability of sunlight. The negative aspect is the amount of energy transferred from light to usable electric or heat energy. In comparison the amount of inputs used to turn solar into electric energy far outweigh the amount of inputs needed to turn fossil fuel into electrical, kinetic or heat energy thus making it harder for production of solar energy to meet the demands already in place.
As with solar energy, wind energy is generated through the use of a natural occurring phenomenon called wind. Wind energy is the kinetic energy of wind as it flows across the earth. Theoretically to capture all of the wind energy, zero wind should leave the mechanical tool used to transfer the energy. Currently wind turbines are used to transfer and capture wind energy. Wind turbines are used to transfer the kinetic energy of the wind into ultimately electric energy to be used or stored for consumption in other applications. As a replacement for fossil fuels, wind energy is a plentiful and renewable source of energy only limited by economic and environmental factors for production (Manwell, 2009). Some advantages over fossil fuel include winds availability, usability and costs. Since wind is free and cannot be controlled by a single entity it is usable by all societies despite their economic status thus leading to development opportunities to other countries hindered by oil based economies. Some negative aspects of wind power in relation to fossil fuels include: startup wind farms and their costs, noise pollution, landscape pollution and very large wind farms need to be created to meet the demand of energy consumption.
Through a majority of the literature there is a solid understanding that a new source of energy is needed considering our current consumption is quickly depleting the non-renewable resource. The major inhibitor for current adoption is the cost barrier followed by impact to the environment (CEC, 2001). Cost being a known factor many projects and research efforts are underway to make efficient energy transfer from renewable sources into usable energy for consumption. The higher cost of all forms of renewable energy compared to that of fossil fuels has prevented the market penetration of clean or renewable energy. Numerically counting the current costs of renewable energy outweighs the cost of fossil fuel but the ramifications are direct negative correlation of their costs and environmental impact.
Energy production by source is represented in the following chart which will help to visually set the tone for our dependence on non-reusable energy sources and comparatively view the costs and benefits of reusable sources.
The energy production in the year 2006 for non-renewable resources represents over 90% of the energy production in the U.S. 90% market share would be an epic barrier to break through for any business without facilitating environments. Over the course of history the lion’s share of investment, research and process improvement have been pumped into non-renewable aspects of energy production and usage. The below chart illustrates how we are in an energy production deficit and the demand for energy increases year over year.
(US EIA, 2010)
Defining Renewable Energy Production and the Impacts of Production
To fully understand the impacts of energy production on the environment we must first look into the benefits and costs of each form. This research literature review focuses primarily on solar, wind and touches upon nuclear energy production methods.
First, let us start off with nuclear energy since to many people, especially those in the United States, Russian and most recently Japan, are aware of the dangers to human life and the environment are fairly visible. In the past 30 years three incidents have occurred in nuclear and radiation plants resulting in immeasurable damage and thus limiting the potential for nuclear energy production in the future. Although accidents do not occur often the impacts are devastating. Nuclear waste disposal and low level radioactivity are by products of energy production. Currently there is not a plan of action for disposing and storage of nuclear waste due to the cost and danger of disposal and transport. The benefits are far outweighed by the potential of harmful results if and when proper handle and care are not taken. An often overlooked area of nuclear energy is the transmission and contamination of tools, clothing, and materials of the reactor itself.
With only 103 nuclear reactors in the United States, slightly more than that has been cancelled since the induction of usable nuclear power into US usage. Cancellations have occurred due to cost overruns, schedule extensions, and lack of scope definition. As seen in the chart below there were dramatic increases in cost not only for material but with riskier projects come higher interest rates on financing and this coupled with the escalation of the requirements demand on safety, storage, disposal and other government regulations, cost increased.
(Freeman 2001). The construction cost across the board were evenly distributed and equivocal amount among coal and nuclear but as mentioned previously the process for nuclear to meet the regulations while implementing new technology the cost grew exponentially.
While nuclear energy’s downside is fairly visible solar energy may not be as present at first glance. The cost of energy drives consumers to choose the more financially feasible source. In our current age and time point on the technological advancement timeline of energy, solar energy is available and usable by the direct consumer. The biggest downside to the usage is cost. Leaps and bounds have been made in solar energy transference to usable electric/kinetic energy. Over the past few decades for every 100% increase in power supply the cost falls by approximately 20% (Bradford 2010). With all of this advancement in cost saving technology solar power does not yet have the ability to compete directly with the energy sources ingrained in humanity’s consumption methods. There is also a high capital investment and locations in which solar energy plants can be built are very limiting. Both of these are arguable instances since the cost of solar energy would decrease after the initial investment until it hits the sustainment phase of the project lifecycle. The second disadvantage relates to any type of energy production method. Location is limited by where the resource is available and adaption of methods would mitigate that risk.
Wind energy maintains many of the same positive characteristics as solar energy but it also shares many of the negatives also. Many of the negatives impact land usage disruption of environmental aspects such as visual and audible pollution. It takes a great number of wind turbines to create a semi-cost effective production of energy. The visual impact is having a wind farm gracing the landscape and potential impact on home values due to view disruption. Opposition comes from not only the home owners and property investors but this creates another medium for non-renewable resource supports to provide their support to hinder projects such as the one in Massachusetts that has been delayed multiple times over the past ten years (Green Investment 2011).
Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not “Green”
The purpose of this article is to show how some perception of reusable energy comes in readily available forms, i.e. wind, solar and hydro (tidal, river) which are free in nature which transfers that tangible cost, free, to the cost of energy which is usable for use in transportation, heating, cooling or other uses. The main focus of the study was cost to benefit and environmental impacts of energy sources. Data was gathered through researching investment by corporate and government entities as well as benefits such as tax breaks provided by state and federal governments. Data was also pulled from renewable energy projects conducted throughout the United States over the past three decades.
The findings of this study included that cost was a driving factor and large investments were required to bring renewable energy as a cost effective supplier of energy into fruition it also showed that every action taken to save the environment or lessen the cost burden had an equivocal ramification.
Recent Advances in Solar Energy and Potential Applications
Solar energy is a hot topic in the energy field because of the safety and availability of solar energy. Effectively meeting the energy demands by harnessing the power generated by the sun is just out of reach. This study focused on the limiting factors associated with solar energy and the technology needed to take the energy production and efficiency to the next level. The research was conducted by viewing the current technology and the limitations presented then comparing emerging technologies and performing a fit/gap analysis with potential areas for development. The data was retrieved through various methods including leveraging off of the multiple studies by US Energy Information Administration. The results showed that developments in nanotechnology and organic solar cells could provide a gap filler to push solar energy production to a level closer to providing a larger portion of the energy demand.
Renewable Energy Study
The California Energy Commission conducted a traditional study among homeowners and businesses regarding solar cells, small wind turbines, fuel cells and solar electric including the use of renewable energy sources and their benefits and drawbacks. The study was conducted in a survey method with an in person questionnaire. The study resulted responses from a few key areas:
Familiarity with Renewable Energy-Both homeowners and business were familiar with renewable energy systems/sources but less than 5% of each had a system installed
Benefits—Two areas were benefits annotated in the study
- Benefit to the environment and conserving natural resources
- Saving money on utility bills
Barriers—Cost was by far the biggest barrier to entry with 89% stating this was their number one concern. The reliability also played a factor coming in second.
Research Project Aims to Make Solar Energy Technology Cheaper
Durham University has provided some details regarding a 4 year study on a medium to long term goal of making solar energy more competitive and sustainable. The study is focused on stretching out current resources, both physically and theoretically, to save the rare earth metals needed for solar panels. This study is a follow on study conducted by PV-21 in which they focused on photovoltaic solar energy thin-layer cells. The study is going to show how thin layers of PV will result in cost savings by saving rare metals.
The design for this research project will encapsulate a correlative nature in which the research will dive into the relationship between the utilization of renewable energy methods and the impact on the environment. The research is between the covariates of the increase in renewable energy production and the impact on the environment measured as an increase in renewable resource methods producing energy as well as the amount of energy produced and the quantitative results of the impact on the environment such as increased emissions, increase/decrease in environmentally impacted health conditions or a decrease/increase in agricultural activity. The variables in the research will occur on two sides. The side of energy production will contain variables including the type of energy production, amount of energy produced and the cost of the energy produced including monetary and resource consumption. On other side of the equation the variables include the measurable impacts to agriculture, living conditions such as quality of life, the air quality, water quality and soil quality.
The quantitative nature of this research will provide factual information based on a cause and effect scenario. In order to accurately depict the causation of the renewable energy production on the environment a base line must be established on all of the measurable environmental impacts. The purpose of this study is to show the causal reaction of renewable energy production on the environment and to show this the base line measurable variables will be compared to the same variables after the implementation of the renewable energy production. This will show pre-implementation and post-implementation broken out by type of renewable energy production and results to the environment delineated chronologically over a series of time.
The measurements of the research will be based on the amount of renewable energy production units created and the amount of energy produced. The impacts will be measured through air quality, soil quality, agricultural production, livestock production, quality of life by residents and expenditure of resources. While the direct measurements will facilitate the proving of the hypothesis as true or null, the study will also incorporate interviews and testimonies to provide context to the data. The interviews will not substantiate the problem statement but will provide a picture to the overall research project.
The tools utilized will be analytical tools used by governing entities to measure air and soil quality. Production numbers for livestock and agriculture will be taken into analysis and the amount of resource consumption will be measured.
Some of the major findings in the initial research proposal and literature review were:
- Impacts on the environment by Green energy sources
- Barriers to entry into the energy business by non-renewable energy sources
- How little energy is produced in the United States by non-renewable energy sources
- Costs associated with technological advancements to bring the end cost down
The findings of all of these studies show that there is still a measurable and formidable distance between renewable energy sources and mass consumption like that of its breather the non-reusable energy source. Although technology in the energy field has breakthroughs consistently there needs to be more action taken on the overall impact all energy sources have on a sustainable environment. The time line has been set by our consumption of energy and the fact that 90% of our energy comes from sources that will no longer be available once used. The next phase would be the determination of the scope in which renewable energy sources will take over and then the quality and reliability of those systems would need to be visited.
The research studies cover the depth and breadth regarding the impact alternative energy’s production, sustainment, delivery and storage have on the environment and how much technological advancement would be necessary before moving into adoption across the board for energy production. It was also noted that cost is king when decisions are made and investors and ultimately the consumer dictate where the energy comes from and how much is used.
Bradford, R. (2010). Solar revolution, the economic transformation of the global energy industry. The MIT Press, 89-113. Print.
Bradley, R. (1997). Renewable energy: not cheap, not “green”. Cato Institute. Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-280.html
Charles, T. (2011). Recent advances in solar energy and potential applications. Journal for Young Investigators, Volume 22 Issue 5.
California Energy Commission. (2001). Renewable energy study. Renewable Energy Program: Consultant Report. Retrieved from http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/2002-04-03_500-02-016.PDF
Durham University. Research project aims to make solar energy technology cheaper. ScienceDaily, 14 Jan. 2008. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080114101837.htm
Freeman, M. (2001) Who killed U.S. nuclear power? 21st Century Science and Technology. Retrieved from http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/spring01/nuclear_power.htmlz
Green Investing. (2011) Disadvantages of renewable energy – drawbacks of different alternative energy sources. Retrieved from http://www.greenworldinvestor.com/2011/04/01/disadvantages-of-renewable-energy-drawbacks-of-different-alternative-energy-sources/