Coal is the largest single fuel source for world energy demands. Despite its negative environmental credentials, there are over 1400 GW of new coal fired power plants in development or planning stages, nearly doubling the world’s current coal generated power of 1600GW. The problem is it’s cheap and plentiful and developing economies need cheap power. The costs associated with conventional Carbon Capture and CO2 emissions controls can virtually double their cost of power production. As a result, smog and CO2 emissions continue unabated in these developing economies.
Natural gas is made of two elements; carbon and hydrogen. As the name suggests, natural gas comes out of the ground as a gas. Natural gas is clean, producing 45% less carbon dioxide than coal. It is abundant, efficient and reliable. We know it generates electricity, runs manufacturing plants, heats and cools our homes just to name a few. It also provides low-emission back-up generation for renewable sources like solar and wind as well as the growing demand for clean alternative for powered transportation. However Natural Gas is not available in all markets.
Nuclear power is produced using uranium, a radioactive mineral that is mined as an ore in large quantities. Nuclear reactors work in a similar way to other power plants, but instead of using coal or gas to generate heat, they use nuclear fission reactions. In most cases, heat from the nuclear reactions converts water into steam, which then drives turbines to produce electricity.
On a positive note, nuclear power plants do not release greenhouse gases. Instead, however, they produce radioactive waste which remains radioactive and hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Disposal of this radioactive waste poses severe environmental and public health concerns.
Renewable energy can be defined as “energy that comes from resources that are not significantly depleted by their use; sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, geothermal and wood”. Renewable energy is slowly replacing some conventional fuels in four areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, motor fuels, and rural (off-grid) energy services. Most renewables are great “clean” solutions but come with problems. They tend to be expensive when compared with conventional solution. Further, they often require large land mass per unit of energy output and are, therefore, not energy “dense” enough to supply the current world demand for electricity.