Friday, January 13, 2012

Power Supplies

Power supplies

Fossil fuels
Fossil fuel is the name given to a certain type of carbon resource which is normally found deep underground. Things like coal and oil are fossil fuels, and are the result of ancient life forms being crushed by geological processes like tectonic activity (the stuff that causes earthquakes). In a fossil fuel power station, the fuel is burned to create heat, which is used to boil water and create steam – just like the stuff that comes out of your kettle. A power station makes so much of it in such a short space of time that it can be used to turn enormous turbines, which generate the electricity. Fossil fuels are running out though, and burning them creates harmful gasses. That’s why fossil fuel power stations are unpopular with some people.

This type of electricity is cheap and environmentally friendly, so it’s popular with governments.

Nuclear power
moving boxes of the stuff around. Nobody knows where to put it once we’ve used it. At the bottom of the sea? Down a huge mine shaft? The material will be dangerous for tens of thousands of years. How will we make sure future humans do not stumble on it by mistake, if language changes as much as it has even in the last five hundred years?

Biomassis a bit like a fossil fuel, except it isn’t millions of years old! Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen based fuels like wood, sugar cane and even animal waste can be used to make electricity in a number of ways. Either it can fuel a steam turbine system like the other types of power station, or it can be converted into another sort of fuel like biodiesel or even hydrogen. Both of these can be used to power electricity generators or vehicles.

Solar photovoltaic
Like photovoltaic panels at school, which might just about power a lightbulb on a sunny day. The photovoltaic panels used for power stations are much bigger and more efficient.

Wind turbines– they’re huge windmill structures which are turned by the wind, and which produce electricity directly. Although they are becoming more popular, critics say that they are a wasteful and do not provide the reliable electricity we need to replace fossil fuels.

Electricity generation. Like a watermill would have ground flour a hundred years ago, the power from a river or stream can be harnessed to turn turbines and produce electricity. The main downside to this is the enormous reservoir which needs to be created behind the dam, but there are negative aspects to every type of power station which we will need to overcome if we want to keep using energy at this rate.

Terry Daley works in the renewables sector as an engineer, but in he started work doing reputation management projects for large energy firms. Looking forward to retired life, he hopes he can leave the world a pleasant place for his grandchildren.