We use energy every day in our homes, vehicles and places of work. Increasingly, weare aware of the impact that our energy usage has on the environment. Withincreasing rates of vehicle ownership and usage, and continual growth of the use of electricity globally our demand for energy is insatiable.When we talk about ‘using’ energy, we do not really mean that we are ‘using it up’ :this is impossible. The law of ‘Conservation of Energy’ states that energy cannot beeither ‘created or destroyed’; instead it is ‘converted from one form to another’.When we are travelling in a car, the chemical energy stored in the hydrocarbon bondsof our petrol or diesel vehicles, is converted to heat energy as the fuel burns. Theexpansion that results from this
of heat energy, pushes a piston along acylinder – so the heat energy is converted to kinetic energy (motion). The linearmotion of the pistons is converted to rotary motion, and through the gearbox andtransmission, the car moves forward. The car uses hydrocarbon fuel, and producescarbon dioxide and other emissions from burning this fuel.In the home, when we use electricity, we are often unaware of the complex series of energy
conversion processes that take place in order to deliver this electricity to ourdoor. In a fossil fuel power station, fuel is burned to produce heat, which is in turnused to produce steam. This steam is used to turn a turbine, which in turn is coupledto a generator to produce electricity – which is then transmitted through a network of cables to our homes, offices, factories, schools and anywhere else where we useelectrical power.Thermal generation of power, comes with drawbacks – when we burn fossil fuels, weproduce vast amounts of carbon dioxide, and other emissions that come as a result of burning fuel. Also a lot of heat is wasted up cooling towers.In a nuclear power plant, the process of nuclear fission is used to produce heat insteadof burning fuel.With nuclear power, whilst no carbon dioxide emissions are producedat the point of generation, we need fossil fuels to power the complex process of nuclear fuel extraction and processing. In addition to this, nuclear power stations leavea legacy of radioactive waste which we still have no permanent solution to.Renewable energy, by contrast, produces no emissions or toxic wastes – it is clean andalways available for free. We can take renewable energy and produce hydrogen by aprocess called ‘electrolysis’ allowing us to “store” energy. This is particularly helpful asit means energy can be transported. Also renewable energy isn’t always “there” whenyou want it as the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Storingthe energy can help us compensate for this intermittency.