Wednesday, 20 January 2021

What can we do to change the fate of our world? - Renewable energy

SELA wishes to demonstrate how engineering could have an impact in tackling the myriad of sustainability issues which plague our society before irreparable damage is done.

Today, we are looking at renewable energy and the issues and potential solutions it offers in the future. We have researched exciting up and coming technologies and brainstormed to find an area that was not only relevant but was also facing challenges. We all know that renewable energy is great, but how do we power our homes when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine?

Fossil fuels currently supply about 80% of the world’s energy, but these resources are limited and produce harmful greenhouse gases. In order to keep up with the demand for energy from an ever expanding population, we need to invest in new, cleaner renewable energy sources. Current predictions suggest that we will run out of fossil fuels by 2060. If we don’t put the infrastructure in place for greener solutions now, we will have global energy shortages later on, hugely impacting the way of life for billions of people. Not only are these sources finite, the harmful emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are closely linked with the increase of the number of people affected by respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Although a very serious issue, there are fortunately a number of ways engineers can work to help fix this problem. There is a large amount of research going on into how we can make the current forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, more efficient, producing more energy in shorter amounts of time.

On the other side, there are also lots of engineers looking into how we can use less energy. For example, some LED lightbulbs can use up to 90% less energy than traditional lightbulbs, and also last a lot longer. If we are able to cut the amount of electricity we need by making things more energy efficient, we can minimise the amount of energy produced. If we take the example of solar power, this would be very effective since one of the key issues with producing a large amount of energy with this method is you would need a large amount of space to put the solar panels. If less energy is required, and the solar panels themselves are more efficient, the amount of space required decreases considerably.

Other solutions involve storing renewable energy; one simple example of this is pumping water up into a dam, effectively storing the energy as gravitational potential. This works by pumping water from a reservoir at a lower elevation to a reservoir at a higher elevation; when the dam releases the water from the higher reservoir, gravity causes the water to flow through pipes containing turbines, which convert this movement into electricity. By storing renewable energy in this way, we can effectively power our homes through renewable energy even when conditions don’t allow for energy to be produced via wind or solar power.

It’s fair to say greenhouse gas emissions affect all of us. When people are aware of their energy usage it becomes much easier to make change, and small things can help to make a big impact. Turning off lights when leaving a room and switching to more energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs really does make a difference. We hope that reading this article may inspire you to think more carefully about your energy consumption.

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