Electricity Generation Methods

Electricity Generation Methods



Electricity Generation Methods

The US gets its energy sources from different sources. About 67% of the energy generated in the country comes from fossil fuels including coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Other sources include nuclear, which accounts for 19%, hydropower at 6%, wind at 4.4%, biomass at 1.7%, and geothermal and solar energy, which account for 0.4% each (EIA, 2015). Although the country continues to generate most of its electricity from fossil fuel energy, environmental concerns are forcing people to rethink their energy source and usage. Because of this, many people have become interested in the use of renewable energy. They have started using wind, solar, and other sources of renewable energy. For instance, the percentage of coal used for the generation of electricity decreased from 51% in 2003 to 39% in 2013. This is a significant reduction over the period. At the same time, electricity generated from wind increased from not being quantified in 2003, as it was 0% to 4% in 2013 (EPA, 2014). People need information so that they can make informed decisions, even as they consider using renewable sources of energy. The paper compares solar and wind energy by looking at their costs and the impact they have on the environment.

Countries are having different approaches concerning electricity generation. In some cases, countries do not have natural resources and they are choosing to use cheaper sources, which are dirtier and costly to the environment. However, most countries, especially those in the developed regions, are looking for ways to use greener energy sources. They are looking for ways of using renewable resources, which have minimal effects on the environment because they do not have carbon emissions. Global warming has become a major concern today, especially because of its link to climate change. One of the main causes of global warming is thought to be an increase in emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. The use of fossil fuels leads to the release of such gases. Therefore, in an aim of preventing global warming, many countries are looking for energy sources that do not depend on fossil fuels.

Solar energy involves the conversion of the sun’s rays to heat and electricity. It is converted to electricity using photovoltaic devices or solar thermal plants. The photovoltaic devices, which are also known as solar cells, convert the sun’s radiation directly to electricity. The solar thermal plants first produce steam by concentrating the solar energy to a fluid. The fluid is then used to drive turbines and produce electricity in the process. Use of solar energy is beneficial because it does not produce harmful emissions. However, the amount of electricity generated will depend on the amount of sunlight available. This can be a problem because the amount of sunlight differs considerably during the day and there is no sunlight in some seasons.

It is possible to generate electricity from the wind. This can be done using wind turbines. Like solar, wind is an infinite source and this makes it preferable as an alternative source of energy. Moreover, it has less impact on the environment. Wind turbines are located in windy areas. One has to consider the speed of the wind when determining where to position the turbines. Therefore, suitable areas include open plains, shorelines, mountain gaps, and top of rounded hills. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy from the wind to mechanical power, which is then converted to electricity using a generator. Wind turbines can be of the horizontal or vertical axis variety. It is possible to generate a lot of electricity by grouping together several wind turbines in wind farms. The generated electricity is then fed into a grid and then distributed to the consumers.

Government support and investment in renewable energy research and development has led to a decrease in the cost of producing such energy. The cost of generating electricity from wind and solar is different across the country. This is because some states have chosen to invest in renewable energy and they have abundant natural resources. Therefore, the costs tend to be lower in such places. Areas in the desert regions and the Great Plains have invested in wind and solar energy and the costs in these areas have reduced significantly over the years. Solar energy costs 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, while the cost of utility scale wind is 1.4 cents a kilowatt-hour. This explains the increased uptake and interest in wind energy as it is cheaper to the consumers. The prices reflect the subsidies offered by the government. Without the subsidies, the costs would be 7.6 and 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar and wind respectively (Cardwell, 2014). This makes the price of solar energy relatively expensive than wind. On the other hand, natural gas and coal costs 6.1 and 6.6 cents per kilowatt-hour respectively (Cardwell, 2014). Therefore, it is clear that without the subsidies the cost of wind remains cheaper than the cost of the other sources. However, with the subsidies more people would be willing to use renewable sources because they would cost less.

As noted, many people prefer using solar and wind energy because of their minimal environmental impacts. However, this does not mean that they have zero impact. Many people are concerned about the wind farms. People living close to the wind turbines complain of the sounds caused by the turbines as they move and the vibration generated. Some people also complain that the turbines in wind farms are an eye sore and that they disrupt the beauty of the natural vegetation. Wind turbines that are located in flat areas tend to take up more land compared to those located in the hilly areas. They can affect the movement of birds and they increase their risk of death. The spinning turbines cause changes in the air pressure and this affects the way the birds move (UCSUSA, 2012). The manufacturing of the wind turbines also has environmental impacts. Large-scale power plants are a problem in some areas as they can interfere with natural vegetation and loss of wildlife habitat. Some of the solar thermal plants use a lot of water. Moreover, some of the materials used for the manufacture of photovoltaic cells are hazardous. They include hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and acetone among others (UCSUSA, 2012).

The costs and environmental impacts of solar and wind energy are not as severe as those of fossil fuels are (Turney & Fthenakis, 2011). It is clear that wind energy is the most affordable option of the two. In addition, considering the land impact, wind energy has minimal environmental consequences. It is possible to use the wind farms for other purposes such as a grazing. However, this is not the case with the large-scale solar panels, which take up most of the land. Despite the impact on the environment, wind and solar energy are better alternative sources of energy. Improvement in technologies can lead to a reduction of the noted consequences as well as a decrease in the price of the tools required to generate electricity using the two renewable sources.

Wind turbines and wind farms are the cause of some limitations, which can prevent large-scale uptake and adoption of wind energy. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the limitations associated with the production of wind power. This can be achieved by locating the wind turbines in areas that are not productive use such as abandoned industrial locations. It is necessary to check the best position to locate the wind turbines and to consider their environmental impact, especially the effect they have on the birds. Locating the wind turbines in an area where there are few birds will minimize the risk of injury and death.


Cardwell, D. (2014). Solar and wind energy start to win on price vs. conventional fuels. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/business/energy-environment/solar-and-wind-energy-start-to-win-on-price-vs-conventional-fuels.html?_r=0

EIA (2015). What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source? U.S. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

EPA (2014). Clean energy: U.S. fuel mix 2001-2013. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/

Greening, B., & Azapagic, A. (2013). Environmental impacts of micro-wind turbines and their potential to contribute to UK climate change targets. Energy, 59(15), 454-466

Turney, D., & Fthenakis, V. (2011). Environmental impacts from the installation and operation of large-scale solar power plants. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 15, 3261-3270

UCSUSA (2012). Environmental impacts of renewable energy technologies. Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-of.html#.VUpvbyyiHeE

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