Green Living

Why has green energy not yet entirely replaced fossil fuels?
Answered by Diana Bocco and Science Channel
  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Green energy has been around for longer than you may realize. One of the first uses of renewable energy was through a wind turbine. American inventor Charles Francis Brush built it in 1888 and used it to produce electricity to power his own home, making it the first house in Cleveland to have electricity [source: Illustrated History of Wind Power Development]. By the 1950s, alternative energy was being touted as the wave of the future. More than half a century later, however, little progress has been made. In some places, use of alternative energy actually is declining. In the 1960s, Australia obtained 19 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. In 2008, only 7 percent of the nation's energy came from those same sources [source: Environment Victoria]. As of 2007, only 18 percent of the electricity used around the world came from renewable energy sources [source: Daily Galaxy]. Most alternative energy production comes from just a handful of countries in the developed world, with Iceland leading the way [source: Renewables Global Status Report 2010].

    So, why aren't we all driving cars powered by ethanol or other biofuels and running homes and businesses with solar and wind power? The simplest answer is cost. Setting up renewable energy plants and systems requires sizable capital investments. Some of these plants (such as wind turbine farms) have to be set up in remote locations, which can add to the costs of transporting the materials and constructing the systems. Then there's the added expense of setting up power lines to transport the electricity that alternative energy systems generate back to the city. The same is true for vehicles: Right now, electric cars are more expensive than cars that run on gasoline.

    Finally, there's the reliability factor: Wind turbines only work when there's wind and solar panels need plenty of clear days to be truly effective. And although electric cars are becoming more efficient, current battery technology only allows for a short charge. This means you'll have to stop more often to recharge or will need to limit your driving to short distances. Until these issues are resolved, it just isn't practical to rely completely on alternative sources of energy to power both your home and your car completely.

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  2. There are many clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. Options include wind, solar, hydropower, bioenergy, geothermal and hydrogen power. However, fossil fuels still meet most of our energy needs, even though many people would prefer to use only clean energy.

    The reason fossil fuels still are used is because these green energies are not sufficiently reliable. For example, wind and solar energy sources provide energy only when nature cooperates. If a day is not windy or sunny, there is no power. Green energy sources also are limited because the costs to produce them still are higher than those of producing fossil fuels.

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