We have been reliant mostly on coal, gas, and other kinds of fuel to sustain our energy needs. Now, the problem with this is the fact that fossil fuel isn’t easy to prepare nor is it unlimited. Fossil fuels, compared to other renewable energy sources like hydropower or solar power takes millions of years to develop and renew.
Fossil fuel is the byproduct of the decomposition of the animals and plants that died millions of years ago. Under certain circumstances, these decomposed parts turn into some variant of fossil fuel which we have been using. If our current fossil fuel supply suddenly finished, it would take thousands of years before more are created for our use.
This is why it is so important for us to find other alternatives to fossil fuel so that our energy needs will always be met. This is where hydropower and solar power comes in. Both solar and hydropower are renewable energy sources and this is why both of them are great candidates to replace old non-renewable energy resources that we have.
These are renewable energy sources because we are never going to run out of either of them. So, as long as the sun exists and we have water, we can continue to harvest energy out of both of them. Both of these renewable energy sources also happen to hold another great advantage, and that is the fact that both of them are environmentally friendlier than fossil fuels which we know plays a huge part in the emission of greenhouse gases. Yes, solar and hydropower come with many benefits, but it is also important to remember that they will come with their share of issues as well, like the fact that while these resources are limitless, they aren’t always available, which is an important thing to differentiate. So, this article will be discussing the good and the bad of both solar and hydropower and, seeing how they fare in helping us deal with the energy crisis.
Understanding Solar Energy
The first thing we are going to outline is that solar energy uses both the light and the heat from the sun to harvest energy. While it might seem like a more recent science, it can be traced back to the 1800s. The idea of using the sun to create energy that would subsequently be used as electricity was first introduced by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, a French scientist in 1839. Scientists after him continued to pursue his idea and were eventually able to design what we now recognize as solar panels.
Solar panels harvest energy from the sun and are then able to convert that energy into electricity through the process of photovoltaic effect. Solar panels can perform at their best during the day when the sun’s rays are their highest and brightest. Solar panels are usually operating anywhere between 12-15 hours and then at night time they go into sleep mode and are not actively working then.
The USA, China, and Japan are some of the countries that are utilizing solar panels today. Out of these three, China happens to have the largest solar energy capacity at 130 gigawatts, making it the highest used in the world. With time other countries have also solar energy and are continuing to develop different kinds of solar technology and are currently working towards generating solar energy round the clock even when the sun is not present.
The sun is doing a lot of great things for us generally, the most important one is keeping us alive. Similarly, when we are harnessing energy from the sun, we are reaping many additional advantages. Some of the advantages of using solar energy happen to include:
- Limited Pollution – Fossil fuel creates a lot of pollution and a lot of waste. However, when you are using solar energy, you are not creating any pollution it is pollution-free. This means that solar power is eco-friendly energy in every sense of the word. This is great because it means we are not adding to our carbon footprint which we know is already accelerating the rate of global warming. So, switching to solar energy will mean that we are not adding to more greenhouse gases or affecting our ozone layer. The lack of pollution also means that we are less likely to get sick because the air and water quality will not be affected by using solar energy. This means that the likelihood of lung problems like bronchitis, pneumonia, cancer, etc. will reduce as well.
- No Noise – Another great advantage of using solar energy is that it is not noisy. The process of creating fossil fuel requires a lot of heavy machinery and equipment which can get noisy for people living in that area. However, you can have solar panels on top of your house and you still will not notice any noise or disturbance.
- Easy Installation – Solar panels do not come with conditions to be used. You can set your solar panel on your roof, on the ground, and anywhere as long as there is sunlight. Their installation is a relatively simple process and it can be done anywhere.
- Renewable Energy Source – The biggest advantage of solar energy is the fact that the sun is never going to run out. Energy from the sun is an unlimited resource that we can use for as much as we want. The sun can be used to harvest energy until the end of time without any risk of it “suddenly running out” and that makes it a lot more appealing.
- No Maintenance – Solar panels are not tricky to use and they do not require much maintenance either. Solar panels can last for decades as long as you just clean them now and then. You do not have to get regular maintenance checks for them either, which is a huge benefit.
- Ineffective at Night – Like the name suggests, solar panels require the sun to be able to harvest energy from it. This means that they are not harvesting energy during the night when there is no sunlight. Solar panels usually go into “sleep mode” at night, becoming inactive at that time. To tackle these problems, there are large batteries that come with the setup and these batteries will store up excess energy that is produced during the day so that it can be used during the night.
- Winter Time Problems – Winters tend to create more obstacles for solar panels because there isn’t sufficient warmth from the sun present that can keep the solar panels going. Since the sun is not producing enough heat during winters, the solar panels are not able to produce a normal amount of electricity from the available energy. So solar panels cannot be a primary source of electricity during winters.
- Sizing Issues – Solar panel sizes tend to vary depending on your geographical location. So, opting for large panels in an area where there are enough light and heat to generate the same amount of electricity with smaller panels can prove to be a waste of money. So always be mindful of your geographical area in this regard.
A Look at Hydropower
Hydropower happens to be our next area of focus in the second half of this article. For those of you who need clarification, hydropower technology involves using the flowing of water to create electricity. Hydropower, like solar power, also happens to be a renewable energy source.
Hydropower is most commonly seen being used by dams on rivers to create a water reservoir. The water that is stored in the reservoir will then be released, and the flow of the released water will spin the turbines and create electricity in the process. Any country that happens to have large supplies of flowing water like the US, Brazil, China, and Canada make use of hydropower and related technology to create billions of kilowatts of electricity annually. The Guri Dam in Venezuela and the Three Gorges Dam in China are some of the dams that are used to produce hydroelectric power.
We will now take a look at both the advantages and the disadvantages of hydropower as a renewable energy source to get a better understanding of what it might mean to us in the future.
- No Pollution – We have also highlighted this advantage when we were talking about solar power above. So, like solar power, hydropower dams will not affect the air or water the way that fossil fuel plants do. Less pollution means less environmental damage which means a reduction of greenhouse gases. Fewer greenhouse gases mean a deceleration in the rate of global warming.
- Renewable Energy Source – The world’s water supply is limitless and free-flowing. This means that we should ideally be able to use hydropower to create electricity until the end of time. Given how the global fossil fuel supply has been depleting, we can safely look towards hydropower as the new sustainable alternative energy source for the future.
- New Recreational Opportunities – The reservoirs tend to become a picnic spot for some people, and a lot of people do come to reservoirs to swim, fish, and have fun.
- Reduction of Floods – Reservoirs and dams over flood-prone areas can help reduce flooding in those areas by storing the water.
- Economic Sustainability – Countries that do not have a supply of fossil fuels usually have to buy them in the international market, and the prices can fluctuate a lot and become expensive. However, by producing your electricity using hydropower, you do not have to rely on the international market and become more economically sustainable in this area.
- Costs – The biggest concern with hydropower is how expensive it can get. Building a dam can take billions of dollars and it can also take years to fully construct the dam as well.
- Risk of Droughts – Hydropower is dependent on the availability of flowing water to generate electricity. So, if there is no water, you cannot produce any electricity. If you happen to live in a country where droughts are a common occurrence, then you cannot reap the benefits of hydropower throughout the year. However, countries that have lots of free-flowing water inland should have no problem with that.
- Affecting Aquatic Biodiversity – Dams essentially separate water from the highland by storing it in a reservoir. Now the problem with this setup is that it disrupts the natural food chain of the river below the dam. This runs the risk of overpopulation and the underpopulation of certain species.
Solar And Hydropower: How They Address Our Energy Crisis
Now that we have discussed the advantages and disadvantages offered by both solar and hydropower, it is important to see how both of these renewable energy sources can address our future energy crisis.
We know that both solar and hydropower does not create pollution, however, they might not be considered reliable at all times since both of them are dependent on certain conditions, which is the availability of sunlight and free-flowing water to produce energy.
Solar energy happens to hold a greater advantage over hydropower energy because it can be built anywhere, whereas hydropower requires you to build a dam which in turn requires a river with free-flowing water. Solar panels on the other hand can be installed anywhere ranging from commercial to residential properties to rural areas and so on.
If we look at the cost of the two, then the opinions are polarized here. Some countries argue that hydropower is more cost-efficient in the long run as compared to solar power. You will also find some countries argue that the cost to build and install solar panels is significantly less and the amount of electricity that is produced can match the amount produced through hydropower.
Summarizing It All
We are still trying to figure out our renewable energy sources and it might take some time before we can finally sort out all of the details. During this time fossil fuel will continue to be our energy source. However, we need to remember that our supplies are beginning to deplete and the time when we run out of fossil fuels is coming soon, so we need to make sure that we figure out our primary renewable energy source before that happens.
There are many other sources of renewable energy that are also being investigated too. This includes wind power which utilizes wind to spin wind turbines which in turn produces electricity. There is bioenergy which uses biological materials to make fuels and geothermal energy which uses the thermal energy that is produced beneath the earth’s crust to create power.
While we have not discussed them ourselves, these other alternatives should not be avoided as they can also prove to be an effective means to produce electricity as well.