With all the headlines being dominated by the Fracking debate, it may be a good time to look again at where we stand with the alternative energy situation.
The new kid on the block with regard Solar power is Organic Solar Cells. Most of the solar panels in use today are made from silicon based materials, whereas the organic type typically consist of two semiconducting layers made from plastic polymers and other flexible materials.
The cell generates electricity by absorbing photons which knocks off an electron from the polymer atom. The hole left by the electron then combines with the electron and forms an exciton. The electron then escapes the exciton and moves to fill another hole. This movement of electrons from hole to hole creates the electrical current.
Currently these new solar cells are still in an early stage of development and can only max out at an energy conversion rate of 9%. This is not yet as efficient as the standard cells but is more cost effective.
Government funding for Wind energy is shifting from land based facilities to sea based. However, problems have emerged regarding their effects on Marine life and the added cost of siting them offshore. Despite these potential problems, research has shown that by staggering turbines offshore will increase their efficiency by 33%.
The John Muir Trust, however, suggests that turbines cannot be relied upon to produce significant levels of power generation. Government figures state that wind turbines generate about 30% of their rated capacity, this compares with 50% for a power station.
Studies in the US are finding that a major influence on the efficiency of these wind turbines is a problem with the conversion of the type of AC current provided by the turbine to the type of current required to be compatible with the grid. It currently needs to be converted into DC current and then back to the required type of AC current before being put into the grid. This leads to a cancelling out effect on the output in certain circumstances.
Hydroelectric power is generated by passage of water over a turbine. The amount of water flowing over the turbine dictates the amount of electric it produces. Dams, weirs and pumped storage can all be used to generate electricity.
The UK currently generates 1.5% of its needs from Hydroelectric sources.Unfortunately, there are limited opportunities to exploit this alternative source of electric in this country.
The energy conversion rate of hydroelectric power is up near 90% with a load factor of 35%-40%, which is comparable with power plants.
Wave and Tidal Power
The UK is currently leading the world in this form of research. Potentially, 75% of the country’s needs could be supplied with this type of generation.
Wave power harnesses the kinetic energy of the oceans and as an island state we are well placed to take advantage of this abundant green resource. A series of jointed “tubes” rock up and down on the surface of the ocean, oil in the hydraulic pivots drive generators that produce the electricity.
Tidal energy is “farmed” by allowing the on rushing tidal waters to drive propellors under the surface of the sea, working in much the same way as wind turbines do on land. These devices work best in narrow inlets and the mouths of tidal rivers. The outputs from these sources are more reliable than wind and in 2004 tidal energy accounted for 4% of the UK’s needs. Potentially this could rise as high as 12% for tidal and as much as 20% in wave power.
For many years the nuclear industry has received, justifiably, severe criticism for its safety record. Disposal of the waste from nuclear reactors is a major problem. However, this bad news only extends to one half of the Nuclear solution. Most of the Nuclear Power Stations are based on Fission, which involves the breaking up of an atom and harnessing the energy released from this event. This process leaves a highly radioactive waste product. Fusion is the other side of the nuclear coin.
The Sun is a fusion generator. Atomic nuclei collide and releases energy in neutrons. The nuclei are fused together so there is no long lived nuclear waste. Plant components will become irradiated but these can be disposed of safely after 100 years.
There are no carbon emissions; the only by-product is a small amount of helium.
There is abundant fuel, Deuterium can be extracted from water, Tritium is extracted from Lithium so supplies can last for millions of years.
1 kg of fusion fuel can produce the same energy as 10m kgs of fossil fuel.
Safety concerns are reduced. The fuel in use is no bigger than a postage stamp so there is no chance of a major nuclear accident. A major problem with the likes of Fukushima is the sheer quantity of nuclear materials tied up in hundreds of fuel rods.
Fusion can supply a continuous stream of reliable power. Plants can supply large amounts of electricity at a cost competitive with other energy sources.
Research is currently underway to facilitate a full scale working fusion power station in the US. The CCFE Research Facility is building a plant based on the ITER 500 megawatt Tokamak generator to see if it is feasible on a commercial basis.
Recent experiments in the US (NIF Livermore) have yielded results that show the amount of energy released during fusion exceeds the amount being absorbed by the fuel. A laser is used as an ignition source.
Perhaps one of the most controversial areas of green energy is covered by what is known as Free Energy. It is termed free as each generator (there are many designs) produces more power than it uses, almost defying the laws of physics. Many conspiracy theories revolve around this subject, with stories of inventors and machinery disappearing and bullying tactics by the major oil companies trying to keep availability of these machines off the market.
Most of the products being explored depend on some sort of Perpetual Motion, creating Zero Point Energy. These convert energy that is all around us into electricity, hence producing more energy than it uses.
There are too many examples of these machines to go through in detail so below is a short list of some; the reader can do his own research.
Permanent Magnet Motors
Example: Shen He Wang’s permanent magnetic motor.
Generator of 5Kw capacity using permanent magnets needing no fuel to run it.
Moving Pulsed Systems
Example: Robert Adams Motor/Generator
Output at 800% of input power.
Motionless Pulsed Systems
Gravitational Pulsed Systems
Energy Tapping Pulsed Systems
Battery Charging Pulsed Systems
Other inventions to look out for:
Aerial Systems and Electrostatic Generators
Fuel Less Engines
Nicola Tesla’s Power from air System.
Biofuels have been around for a number of years now. The sight of field upon field of bright yellow rapeseed has become common place in our countryside. Biofuels can also be refined from crop waste and manure.
Figures suggest that biofuels can save up to 60% on carbon emissions so go along way towards our government reaching their targets on emissions. However, there are some serious considerations to take into account when looking into using Biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Biofuel development is still heavily reliant on oil. It requires oil during its production through fuel for the machinery that sows, harvests and transportation etc. and of course oil features heavily in the production of the required fertiliser and pesticides.
By replacing vast areas of land with plants for biofuel you create a monoculture which is detrimental to natural habitat and can degrade the soil over time.
It requires the use of a lot of water, so is not compatible in drought conditions.
Deforestation is a result of the push to grow material for biofuels.
Although it is possible to use a certain amount of biofuel in the vehicles of today for it to become a serious influence on the emissions of these vehicles more research is needed to convert engines to suit this new fuel, which will lead to an increase in the price of new cars.
One has to consider that by giving over vast tracts of land to growing material for biofuels we are reducing the amount of land available for growing food. Five acres of crops planted for biofuel will last less than a minute, whereas the same land could keep several families in food all year every year.
On the plus side, waste can be used to produce biofuel, recycling materials that would take up landfill.
It is easily renewable, can be produced locally and employ local workers.
Given all the opportunities that these green energies give us, the question has to be asked why are we chasing down yet more fossil fuel resources. Money that is being diverted into the mad dash for Shale Gas for instance could surely be better used to develop the whole range of available low carbon emission projects. Shale gas is an unknown, both for safety reasons and for its long term benefits to the country’s economy and energy security. All these alternatives have far less risk involved with them and all help our Government reach its carbon emissions target.
 H.Hoppe & N.S. Saricifti (2004) – “Organic Solar Cells:An overview”
 Wind Energy Foundation- “Interesting Wind Energy Facts”
 Dept. of Energy & Climate Change : Historical Electricity Data 1920 – 2012
 Dept. of Energy & Climate Change : Wave and Tidal Energy : Part of the UK’s energy mix.
 Culham Centre for Fusion Energy : Introduction to Fusion
Patrick J. Kelly – “Practical Guide to Free Energy “
 Jared Skye – “Advantages & Disadvantages of Biofuels.