Its been almost 2 months since I last wrote here. I just moved my base to another city & thats somehow demolished my usual routine. It will take 1 more month or so to get back on track….but I am glad that I finished this post…it has remained in draft stage for ages :).


With the news of the nuclear calamity in Japan, the calls for changes in policies for Energy generation has been quite vociferous. People are promoting certain forms but hardly anyone is coming out with the whole correct picture. Their focus has always been on the -ve points of other forms(some of which aren’t even valid) but never on their own.
I thought of getting all the facts in a single place so that one can form an unbiased opinion.

The current Energy consumption of the World is given below :


With the depletion of the existing sources of energy, its become important to switch to other forms of energy with virtually unlimited resources.

Note : All the below forms emit negligible or no green house gases into the atmosphere thus their advantage over fossil fuels need not be mentioned.

  1. Nuclear Energy

  2. Advantages :

    1. A single nuclear reactor can produce a large amount of power. None of the below energy forms even come close to it.
    2. The operating costs of a nuclear reactor are relatively low.
    3. Nuclear plants need only a small amount of uranium to produce a lot of energy. Current amounts of Uranium can last for abt 200 years but with implementation of certain new methods (like extraction from seawater) can lead to a Uranium supply for thousands of years.
    4. Waste products are negligible & can be safely buried in the Earth where they decay until they lose their radiation.

     
    Disadvantages :

    1. Leakage of the radiation can lead to disasters of cataclysmic proportions (Eg: Incidents in Chernobyl at Ukraine & Fukushima at Japan).
    2. Initially setup cost is large because of emergency, containment, radioactive waste and storage systems.
    3. The technology used for generating nuclear power can also be used for producing nuclear weapons.
    4. Waste products require a long time (1000yrs?) to decay & lose their radiation.
    5. Uranium requires mining which like the coal industry leads to loss of health & lives of a number of miners.

  3. Solar Energy

  4. Advantages :

    1. No pollution (ignoring the pollution caused during production of the required equipments.)
    2. Sunlight provides an unlimited supply of energy.
    3. Small units can be installed independently to provide energy for homes.

     
    Disadvantages :

    1. Extremely high cost of setup though price is coming down compared to initial times due to government subsidies, improvement in technology.
    2. For production of a significant amount of energy, large amounts of land are needed for installing large solar panels.It requires 33 square miles of mirrors for this system to produce as much electricity as 1 nuclear power plant.
    3. Duration of production. Solar energy is only able to generate electricity during daylight hours. Its even dependent on the weather.

  5. Hydro Electric Energy

  6. Advantages :

    1. Inexpensive maintenance.
    2. The dams are useful for storing water which is useful for proving nearby areas with water in case of a drought.
    3. Hydro electric plants last long and since the power generation process is mostly automated, less labor is needed to operate and supervise the power station.

     
    Disadvantages :

    1. Expensive setup cost.
    2. Large amount of land needs to be cleared for setup.Compensation needs to be provided for transferring people and necessary arrangements for the same need to be made as well, for areas around where the dam is to be built. This is a tough task and could result in major disagreement and opposition from people if their demands are not met.
    3. Hydroelectric energy plants, at times, can alter the local environment of an area to a great extent – be it fish or humans.
    4. As hydroelectric energy plants require a reservoir to function, it could cause flooding in neighboring lands & lead to loss of a number of lives.

  7. Wind Energy

  8. Advantages :

    1. Wind is a never ending resource.
    2. No pollution.

     
    Disadvantages :

    1. Limited to windy areas.
    2. Highly climate dependent – wind can damage equipment during windstorms or not turn during still summer days.
    3. May affect endangered birds, however tower design can reduce impact.
    4. Based on the average wind speed there it would take 50,000 wind turbines , in a 300 square mile area, to generate the same amount of electricity one nuclear power plant produces.


Conclusion :

  • The rightmost column in the below figure gives the cost of production (in relative terms). Ignoring the fossil fuels, 1 can see that Nuclear Energy appears to be the best bet for energy production as far as cost goes. But the risk involved (even if its 1%) would scare off most people.
  • Solar Energy can be the next best bet then provided that technology improves to such an extent that its cost drops drastically & we are able to plant large areas with solar panels (maybe try something radically different like floating structures on the oceans.)
  • Sadly we are still very far away from such developments & we are falling short of time…


Ref :
Wiki : World Energy Resources Consumption
Wiki : Relative cost of electricity generation
Comparisons of various energy sources
Advantages of Nuclear Power
Scientific American – Uranium Supply Q
Nuclear Energy – Pros & Cons
Hydro Energy – Pros & Cons
Solar Energy – Pros & Cons
Wind Energy – Pros & Cons

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7 thoughts on “The Energy Crisis

  1. Truth is, nuclear is by far the cheapest–and there are plant designs available now that are far safer than the Japanese plants (and lots of safer places to put them). The other options are (other than hydroelectric and geothermal) are still prohibitively expensive; too expensive to power our economy.

    1. All things considered Nuclear is the cheapest. But the safety factor will always be debated…classic case of twice bitten trice shy i guess.

  2. very well written article Rohit ,There is one more source of energy generation that is from anti matter . I believe CERN is working on this project & if we get a breakthrough It would be the best source of energy .however It will take around 50 yrs to get to that level 🙂

    Regards,
    Rajv

      1. Hehe. Was just gonna say that while AntiMatter could be an alternate source of Energy but it would be along the lines of Nuclear Energy. Remember the ‘end of the world’ rumours floating around that the miny black holes being created in the Collider would eventually destroy the world 😛

  3. Yes. Sad to say, safety concerns aside, nuclear power still has the lowest environmental impact of any energy source (barring hydroelectric and geothermal, which can’t be used everywhere). Which means in the end if environmentalists are truly serious about minimizing mankind’s carbon footprint it’s the only real game in town. At least for now.

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