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Anthony Coffey

Renewable energy final paper
Energy sources, out with the bad in with the renewable.
Currently in the U.S. we rely on non-renewable sources to produce our energy such as
oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. Although these methods do well producing energy, they
also have large down falls environmental, economically, and in other ways that fail to show a
promising future. This makes it necessary that we adapt alternative renewable energy methods
that do not have these effects, and can insure a promising future.
Because of the fast paced world we live in, we tend to go with what works and sometimes
fail to see the negative side of those actions. The use of fossil fuels to produce energy is one
example. Although it doesnt seem like it, the ways in which we are currently producing our
energy create many negative effects for us, one of which is economically. Looking at oil or
petroleum, which produces about 35.5 percent of the U.S. energy (Annual Energy Review), it is
estimated that the U.S. spends 1.5 to 1.75 billion dollars a day (Lynch). As time goes on and oil
sources become less and less this cost will only grow. These numbers are not including other
hidden costs that make the price of oil and or petroleum, or any other nonrenewable energy
higher. Such things include keeping foreign relations with fossil fuel providing countries, money
used in healthcare to treat illness, injury or death from using these methods. Many people in
favor of fossil fuels argue that the number of people with health effects resulting from fossil fuels
is very low, usually only occurring with people that have been in direct connection with the
production process, like miners for example. But in fact they are wrong. A 1995 Harvard study
estimated that particles in the atmosphere caused 100,000 people to die prematurely in the
United States. Most of these microscopic particles are from fossil fuel combustion (Smith17).
Finally the environmental disasters from these methods also harbor large price tags because of
the massive cleanup efforts needed. For example on March 28, 1979 a nuclear core melt down
occurred at Pennsylvanias 3 mile island nuclear power plant resulted in a $973 million dollar
cleanup cost(World nuclear association). Fortunately no deaths or injuries occurred otherwise the
cost most likely would have been much higher.
Although we pay huge amounts of money for fossil fuels there are other costs.
Environmental costs are a huge problem when it comes to using fossil fuels, some of which can
be considered even greater than the economic costs. Many of these arise long before we are
using these sources to produce energy. Mining, drilling and producing these energy sources
cause large strains on the environment; such strains include land destruction from clear-cutting
forest and digging huge voids in the earth while mining for coal or natural gas, as does water and
soil pollution from off shore and inland oil drilling. And finally air pollution and global warming
from co2 emissions released during production (Miller & Spoolman193-205). The gulf oil spill
which dumped millions of gallons of oil into the ocean is a prime example of environmental
pollution due to fossil fuels. The environmental costs rise even higher as we start to burn these
fossil fuels mostly in the forum of emissions. The sources can be anything from a car exhaust
pipe to a huge industrial power plants, anywhere these fossil fuels or nuclear energy are being
produced or burned there are emissions going into the air. Although fossil fuel advocates
acknowledge that these methods have pollution problems, they belive it is worth it for the energy
we get out of them. But think about this According to the Union of Concerned Scientists there
are about 600 coal fired power plants in the U.S. in an average year; each plant generates
3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 500 tons of small
airborne particles, 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), 220
tons of hydrocarbons, 170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, and 114 pounds of lead.
Now ask yourself this question. Does it seem worth it to use these methods, when there are
renewable methods available that produce none of those chemicals?
Presently, economic and environmental issues are problems we face with the use of fossil
fuels and nuclear energy. But to see the biggest concern facing these methods we must look at
the future. The reason being, all these methods come from or are produced from nonrenewable
resources. A nonrenewable resource is a resource from the Earth that exists in limited supply,
like oil or coal. Once this supply is used up, the resource is gone forever (Websters dictionary).
How long tell this happens you might ask? It is estimated that within the next 250 years all of the
worlds fossil fuels could be diminished (Miller&spoolman199). Some people bring up
arguments saying, I will be long gone before fossil fuel sources run out, so why should I care?
or why not just wait until sources run out, then switch to renewable energy? In response to
such arguments; we may all be gone by the time these sources run out, but there will be others
after us and it is our responsibility to provide future generations with the same opportunitys that
we received from others before us. Adopting and developing alternative renewable energy is a
step in that direction. Also, long before these resources completely run out the shrinking supply
will raise demand, driving cost higher than the worth of the energy for which it produces.
Another point to make is waiting for supply to be depleted will only stall progress. If we depend
solely on current methods and one day they are gone what will we do to produce energy? It could
take years if not decades to develop renewable technologies to completely take over all energy
production which will leave us with little to no source of energy indefinitely (Miller &
Spoonman229). For those reasons it is important we start now so when the time comes, if not
before then we have reliable alternative energy to take over other failing methods.
So what are this renewable energys that keep being talked about? Well there are many
different kinds that branch off into many sub groups but the three big ones that are really
showing promise now and for the future are wind, solar, and biomass. Wind power is harnessed
from large wind turbines; these turbines use large blades that catch wind. The blades are
connected to a shaft thats connected to a generator. With wind, the blades move turning the
shaft which turns the generator and produces electricity. Wind energy seems to be one of the
most promising renewable energys but some critics argue saying wind energy doesnt produce
enough to be worth our time. Although studies have shown that capturing just 20% of the wind
energy at the best energy sites could produce seven times the amount of electricity we currently
use in the world (Miller & Spoolman 222).
Solar energy is another renewable source that is expected to be a large part of energy
production in the future. Solar energy is produced by harnessing the power of the sun and can be
used for heat, light, to get hot water and make electricity. The most popular way to capture solar
energy is with solar panels, these panels hold solar cells that take the suns light and convert it to
energy, mostly electricity. Although solar panels have been said to be expensive and not
environmentally friendly during production recent developments have put those theories to rest.
The cost has been decreased by almost half, and cleaner ways of production are now being used.
Solar panels are considered to produce virtually no pollution once installed and in use. (Miller &
Biomass energy is achieved through using natural plants and there organic material to
produce energy. Large amounts of matter are burned to create heat, and then the heat is used to
produce different forms of energy (National Atlas). Getting energy from Biomass is not just
limited to burning Matter to create energy but it can also be used to produce things like ethanol
and biodiesel (you might know one such form as E85). These biofuels are able to power the cars
we drive along with the other machinery we use. Some skeptics point out that burning biomass
produces co2 just like burning coal, and yes it does, but the amount of co2 from burning biomass
is drastically lower than that of coal burning. You can also add the fact that some of the Biomass
that is burned to produce energy is material that would otherwise end up in landfills (smith).
Now that you know about some of these renewable sources and their individual benefits
you can start to see the good in them. Now look at the big picture of renewable energy adoption
and it becomes very clear how this change will provide large benefits for us and are future.
Probably the most obvious is the environmental benefits. Even if we were able to produce the
same amount of energy with wind turbines and solar energy as we do with coal we could stop all
those gas emissions that coal power plants put into the air. This would also stop the need for
mining and allow land that would have been destroyed to be turned into a corn fields that could
be used as a source of biomass. If oil fields were replaced by wind turbines farms we would have
a emissions free energy source while at the same time eliminating the threat of oil spills in are
oceans and on land. Its really very clear to see that switching to renewable sources will give us
cleaner air, water and land along with a whole list of others.
Just like renewable energies have environmental benefits, they also have economic
benefits. Because the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise we have to pay more and more money
but with renewable energy there is only a one-time production cost. Say a wind turbine is
produced and installed there is a cost for all that but as it begins to create energy it starts to pay
for its self, After its income from energy production passes its original production cost it is
basically producing 100% free energy. Because of this there is no reason for cost to rise as se it is
already paid for. Another large economic benefit that renewable energys percent is the creation
of jobs. It is estimated that investing $150 billion dollars which is about how much we pay per
day on oil will produce 1.7 million new jobs (Pollin, Heints, & Garrett-Peltier). Also those
hidden costs that come with fossil fuels are basically eliminated. Because we would have the
ability to produce all our own energy, extra time and money in foreign relations is no longer
needed. Renewable energy is much safer in basically every aspect so healthcare cost would
decrease. Some people on the side of oil argue that the funds are being spent on oil and
petroleum is good because it keeps a steady flow of money in the economy. While that is
partially true much of it is not, because the majority of that money we spend on oil goes to
foreign countrys because they have the majority of the oil supply 91% to be exact (Miller &
Spoonman193). Being able to produce all our own renewable energy would allow us to keep
American money in our economy because we are no longer giving it to other countries to pay for
fossil fuels.
And finally what is thought to be the biggest down fall of fossil fuels is the biggest
benefit of renewable energy, which is the fact that they are renewable. This means that these
sources will in theory be around forever. The sun, wind, and earth will never run out as long as
mankind is around so renewable energy will always be here for use unlike fossil fuels (Lynch).
This issue has been addressed in regards to biomass. Some say that the resources needed to
produce biomass, like corn, can be used up just like fossil fuels. As long as these sources are
used sustainable this issue will not arise because a crop like corn is able to be produced in 6
months to quickly replace the old supply, compared to say coal which takes millions of years
(Miller & Spoonman 208). The quicker we make renewable energies our method of energy
production, the more of these fossil fuel sources we can save for other uses or the future if ever
Although these alterative energies are not perfect and not just one will be able to solve all
of our energy problems, adopting this alternative renewable energys over current methods will
provide economic, environmental benefits. Most importantly they will reduce our dependence on
non-renewable fossil fuels, while at the same time creating a more promising future for us and
other generations to come.
Works Cited
Department of Energy. "EIA - 2010 International Energy Outlook." U.S. Energy Information
Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. 25 May 2010.
Lynch, Peter J. "The True Cost of Fossil Fuels | Renewable Energy News Article." Renewable
Energy World - 12 May 2008.
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Sustaining the Earth: an integrated approach. Belmont,
CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning, 2009.
"NREL: Learning - Renewable Energy Basics." National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Home Page. 23 Sept. 2009. <>.
Pollin, Robert, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier. "The Economic Benefits of Investing in
Clean Energy." Center for American Progress. 18 June 2009.
Runyon, Jennifer. "Yes, Green Jobs Are Real | JenniferRunyon." Renewable Energy World -
Renewable Energy News, Jobs, Events, Companies, and more. 2 Nov. 2010.
Smith, Kimberly K. Powering our future: an energy sourcebook for sustainable living. New
York: IUniverse, 2010
Union of Concerned Scientists. "Environmental impacts of coal power:." Union of Concerned
Scientists. 2009.
"U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) - Annual Energy Review." U.S. Energy
Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. 19 Aug. 2010.
World Nuclear Association. "Three Mile Island | TMI 2 |Three Mile Island Accident." World
Nuclear Association | Nuclear Power - a Sustainable Energy Resource. June 2010. 15