Imagine yourself in the year 2050. What kind of car do you drive? How “smart” is your home? What type of mobile device do you carry? While nobody knows the answer to these questions, you can count on one thing: there is a fairly good chance that alternative energy sources will play a major role in powering your lifestyle.
Let’s take a look at alternative energy resources and how they might shape our future.
What are alternative energy sources?
Traditional energy sources are what we currently use most for power generation. These are fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas. So, an alternative energy source would be anything other than fossil fuels that can supply us with energy.
Are alternative energy sources the same as renewable energy sources?
It’s true that renewable energy sources (those that are naturally replenished by the Earth, like the wind and the sun) can be called alternative energy sources. But sometimes alternative energy is produced from non-renewable sources (that aren’t fossil fuels).
Nuclear energy is an example of an alternative energy source that isn’t classified as a renewable energy source. Yes, nuclear energy is clean — but it relies on using a relatively rare form of uranium known as U-235. So, while nuclear energy is an alternative to fossil fuels, it’s not considered renewable energy.
Why is using alternative sources of energy important?
The fossil fuels that we’ve relied on for over 150 years will eventually run out. And it will take millions of years to form more. So, if we want to continue modern life as we know it, we’ll need to find other sources of energy.
It’s also important to explore alternatives to fossil fuels because, well, fossil fuels are pretty dirty. They contribute over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. These gases blanket the earth, trapping the heat from the sun. This causes global warming and other disruptions to nature that have a domino effect.
Using alternative power sources — and specifically clean, renewable sources — can help address both of these issues.
What are the most common types of alternative energy sources?
You’ve probably heard of the most common types of alternative energy: solar power, wind power and hydroelectric power. The sun, the wind and water, respectively, are naturally replenished by the earth. So, these types of alternative energy are also considered renewable.
Harnessing the power from the sun, solar (photovoltaic) cells create energy. From rooftop panels on homes to utility-scale solar farms on large plots of land, solar power is a popular alternative to fossil fuels.
Wind energy is another form of renewable, alternative energy. From single turbines on residential properties to wind farms in the ocean, wind is the leading source of non-hydro renewable energy.
In 2022, it made up more than 10% of total electricity generation in the U.S. That’s up from 0.27% two decades earlier.
The energy captured by flowing water moving through a turbine is called hydroelectric power. This is another of the renewable and alternative energy sources that we can develop responsibly.
In 2022, hydropower made up about 6.2% of utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S.
Other types of alternative energy sources
The sun, the wind and water aren’t the only types of alternative power. Other types of energy that are both renewable and “alternative” include biomass energy, geothermal energy, ocean energy and hydrogen energy.
What is the most promising alternative energy source?
A recent study by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson revealed that the top five most promising raw energy sources are:
- Concentrated solar (reflecting the sun to heat a fluid)
- Geothermal (heat harvested from deep inside the Earth)
- Tidal (energy from the ocean’s waves)
- Solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels)
His study rated each alternative energy source’s potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, effects on global warming, human health, security, the environment, reliability, as well as their reliability and sustainability.
What are some of the emerging alternative energy sources?
Scientists are also researching many other types of renewable energy sources and technology. Some of these include:
- Space-based solar power, using fleets of satellites with reflectors or inflatable mirrors to direct and capture the solar energy that doesn’t make it through the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Human power, collecting energy we generate through movement using a wearable system.
- Magma power, a type of geothermal energy that utilizes magma deep within the Earth.
- Nuclear waste power, converting radioactive “leftovers” into energy.
- Embeddable solar power, technology that turns any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell to harvest the part of the solar spectrum our eyes can’t see.
- Algae power, genetically altering algae’s energy-rich oils to produce biofuels directly.
- Fusion power, fusing together two hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) to produce zero-emission energy.
How will alternative energy sources shape the future?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that renewables will become the largest source of global energy generation by 2025, surpassing coal. By 2027, renewables are projected to represent 38% of the global energy mix.
Alternative energy sources are already shaping our future in many ways. Industries and governments have taken steps to scale back the use of fossil fuels:
- The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 offers funding, programs, and incentives to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and will likely drive significant deployment of new clean electricity resources.
- In 2023, New York became the first state to ban natural gas and other fossil fuels in new buildings, following the lead of cities like Berkeley, San Francisco and New York City.
- In 2022, California banned the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.
- The European Union countries voted to phase out new gas and diesel powered cars by 2035.
- Ford, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and other automakers have committed to selling only zero-emission vehicles by 2040.
- Electric vehicles are the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry. In Q2 2023, there was a 48% increase compared to the same time last year, with 300,000 sold.
As you can see, alternative energy sources are on the rise. We still have a long way to go until these sources overtake fossil fuels. However, they represent part of the solution to fight climate change, pollution-related health issues and energy dependence.
Do you want to help advance this movement? Consider powering your home with alternative energy sources. Solar and wind electricity plans offer a simple way to support the growth of renewable energy.
To see plans available in your area, and make apples-to-apples comparisons, just enter your ZIP code here.