The Earth is in the middle of a crisis right now. Greenhouse gases and global warming are all over the news, and it’s the way we make electricity that’s causing all the problems. Scientists are meeting the challenge head-on, with researchers all over the world devoting their hard work towards creating sustainable energy sources.
But what is sustainable energy and why is it so important to the future of the planet? We’re going to dive into the way the world makes its energy and the steps we are taking towards a more environmentally friendly future.
What is Sustainable Energy?
Electricity is one of the world’s most important inventions. In fact, most of us use it all day, every day! Any time you turn on a light, or watch TV, or play on the computer, you’re using electricity.
And that electricity is a type of energy.
When we talk about Sustainable Energy, we’re talking about any type of energy that helps power our homes and cars without damaging the environment. You see, right now, the world relies on energy that is created using fossil fuels like coal, oil and petrol. Fossil fuels make our lives convenient, but they’re bad for the environment and have the potential to make Earth uninhabitable if we keep using them at the rate we are now. Sustainable energy is all about meeting our current energy needs without creating environmental problems for the future.
Why is Sustainable Energy Important?
All types of energy – including electricity – have to come from somewhere. If you look across the world you’ll find lots of different ways of making electricity. In Australia, most of our electricity is made at power plants that burn coal. These power plants are simple enough. Coal that is mined from the earth is turned into a fine dust. The coal dust is burned and used to heat large vats full of water. As the water boils it creates high pressure steam which is then used to spin large turbines that are kind of like the engines you see on large aeroplanes.
These spinning turbines are what makes the electricity that runs your lights! The rotating turbines spin large magnets inside a conductor made of copper wire. The moving magnets create an electric current in the copper wire, which is then sent to your home as electricity.
The real problem with this process is how we make the turbines spin. Burning coal is incredibly bad for the environment because it produces large amounts of greenhouse gases like Carbon Monoxide. Greenhouse gases get stuck in Earth’s atmosphere where they absorb and trap heat from the sun. Over time this has caused temperatures on Earth to slowly rise, which is often called global warming. Global warming doesn’t just make summers uncomfortably hot, it’s also creating problems like:
- Rising sea levels
- Higher wildlife extinction rates
- More frequent weather disasters like floods, storms and droughts
- Rising levels of sickness in people
Sustainable energy strives to change all of that. By switching away from things like coal-fired power plants and using more solar and wind energy, we can decrease the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. That means we’ll live longer, see less natural disasters and create a better world for future generations to live in.
What Types of Sustainable Energy are Available?
The good news is that the science of sustainable energy has come a long way recently! We’ve now got lots of different ways of producing energy that keep our lights running while also helping us protect the environment. Some of the most common types of sustainable energy are:
- Solar Power. Solar panels are everywhere these days. Your parents might even have some on their roof. Solar panels turn light particles (photons) into electricity that can be used around the home, stored in a battery or sent to the electrical grid for other people to use.
- Wind Power. Wind generators are a popular type of sustainable energy because they don’t rely on the sun to produce electricity. Instead, these giant fans harvest energy from the wind, using it to spin turbines and create electricity.
- Hydro Power. Hydroelectric power isn’t actually a new invention. In fact, it’s quite an old one! Hydro power plants are usually built right into large dams. Water gets released from the dams slowly and the flow spins the turbines and creates electricity.
- Geothermal Power. If you dig down into the ground you can find natural sources of heat. In some parts of the world, like Iceland, there is so much heat underground that it can actually be used to generate electricity without creating any greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists all over the world are doing research into sustainable energy sources. Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power are some of the most common types, but they’re far from the only ones. In the next few years we’re expecting to see lots of new sustainable energy sources pop up all over the world!
Dive into the World of Sustainable Energy with Street Science!
The race is on to develop sustainable energy sources that can power our lives and help us look after the planet at the same time. There’s some amazing science behind sustainable energy research, and Street Science is ready to help students get involved. Book into our Rethink Refuel Recover program for Year 7-10 students to learn more about sustainable energy and the science that’s powering our future. Get in touch with us if you have any questions or would like to book a course!