Generating energy is vitally important to our survival as a species, but it is also one of the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint.
Fortunately, the industry is starting to wake up to these challenges and has a potentially huge role to play in securing our environmental future.
Renewable Sources of Energy
One of the most important steps that the energy sector is taking to reduce its environmental impact is the transition towards renewable sources of energy.
Although this transition isn’t progressing quite as fast as many of us would like, the fact that renewables are now a part of the conversation and are seen as an inevitable end-point for other discussions is an encouraging indication of the role that they will play in our future energy generation strategies.
There are several types of renewable energy sources that are of interest to researchers in the present day, even if we aren’t yet able to harness those sources very efficiently.
A good example of this is solar power. Solar power has come a long way since it was first introduced in the last century and is now much more capable than it once was.
However, the amount of energy that we can generate from sunlight pales in comparison to the amount of energy that the humble flower is able to harness from the sun. Perhaps one day we will be able to replicate the process of photosynthesis, but we aren’t there yet.
Even further in the future, we have the potential of nuclear fusion – which could ultimately offer us limitless, clean energy. But that kind of technology still needs significant investment before it matures.
Beyond the switch to renewable sources, there are a number of ways that other technologies can enable us to generate energy from non-renewable sources in a much less environmentally harmful way.
A good example of this is the cooling solutions that are used in power plants. Inefficient cooling systems mean less efficient power generation.
In turn, less efficient power generation means a higher financial and environmental cost of producing each unit of power.
Another emerging trend in the energy industry is one of the established fuel producers – Shell, BP et al – investing their money in renewable energy businesses.
These companies aren’t exactly darlings of the environmental movement, and their investments are likely the result of begrudging acceptance of inevitability rather than a burning desire to help the planet.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the long-term future of the energy market is whether the focus should be on creating a bigger and more efficient electricity grid or focussing on individual power generation.
By decentralizing energy generation, enabling individuals to generate their own clean energy rather than relying on a centralized provider, we would be handing an enormous amount of power over to individuals.
In places like California, there is already a legal requirement that all new homes have solar panels. One day, generating our own power could be as easy as putting a few panels on our roofs.
As a species, we generate and use a lot of energy every second of every day. It is inevitable that there is some environmental cost to this, but it is important that we look for ways to reduce that cost.
If we are going to be successful, we need the industry to take the lead in improving its green credentials.