Advantages and Disadvantages of Electricity Sources

A break down of the current systems used to generate electricity

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By Devan P.

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There are many sources of electricity. The most common source is from fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. The most familiar alternatives to fossil fuels are wind and solar. Geothermal, Hydroelectric, and Nuclear are some other methods of producing electricity. There are many advantages and disadvantages to different types of power plants, such as consistency of power output, total power output, fuel cost, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fossil fuels are the most common method of producing electricity. Its main advantage is its high and consistent power output. The fossil fuels that are most in use today are coal and natural gas, each making up 33% of all electricity production in the United States in 2015, whereas petroleum only made up 1% [1]. However, fossil fuels have large disadvantages as well. The fuels must be obtained from the earth, which damages the natural environment, and will eventually run out. There is an added cost involved in acquiring the fuel and maintaining the mining and refining equipment. Coal power makes up more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources of electricity production combined [2].

Green energy is energy that can be produced without damaging the environment. The most well-known sources of green energy are wind and solar energy. What set these apart from other alternative energy is they can be used almost anywhere on earth. The other main advantages of wind and solar are no fuel cost and no greenhouse gas emissions. However, they do have the disadvantage of being low and inconsistent with their energy production, i.e. it’s not always sunny or windy. Another problem is greenhouse gasses are emitted when creating solar and wind power plants.

The other main types of green energy are Hydroelectric, Geothermal, and Nuclear energy. All of these have little to no greenhouse gas emissions. These have the advantage of consistent energy production, but are more difficult to use. Geothermal energy needs to drill deep holes in the earth and be in a suitable location [3]. Hydroelectric requires flowing water of some sort. Nuclear energy requires nuclear fuel to run and nuclear waste needs to be disposed of. However, nuclear fuel, which is most commonly uranium, is very cheap and it is not too difficult to dispose of the waste [4].

Out of all of these sources of electricity, nuclear appears to be the best. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels, and they also emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases. Wind and solar are unreliable and the production of the generators emits greenhouse gases. Geothermal and Hydroelectric require to be in specific locations to work. Nuclear, on the other hand, has consistent and high electricity production like fossil fuels, but unlike them, nuclear energy has very little greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy does require fuel to run, and it will eventually run out, but it is cheaper than coal, and it will last a long time until solar and wind or a new green and renewable energy source can be developed.

millsper-kwh-of-electricty-production

Cost includes operation, maintenance, and fuel. Note: 1 Mill is equal to 1/1000th of a dollar. Source: eia.gov [1]

u-s-electricty-production-by-source

Source: eia.gov [5]

co2-emissions-of-different-electricty-sources

Source: eia.gov [6]

Works Cited

[1] “What is the U.S. electricity generation by energy source?” U.S. Energy Information Administration. 1 Apr. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3>

[2] “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions>

[3] “Geothermal Energy” A Student’s guide to Global Climate Change. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 3 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. <https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/solutions/technologies/geothermal.html>

[4] “Nuclear Energy” Conserve Energy Future. Unknown. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/advantages_nuclearenergy.php>

[5] “How much does it cost to generate electricity with different types of power plants?” U.S. Energy Information Administration. 8 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=19&t=3>

[6] “What are the greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions factors for fuels and electricity?” U.S. Energy Information Administration. 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. <https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=76&t=11>