10 Alternatives To Solar Power That Everyone Should Know
There are several prominent alternatives to solar power, which are important as coal, petroleum, natural gas, oil shales, bitumens, tar sands, and heavy oils are running out.
Yes, humans have almost depleted all the reserves.
Therefore, one of the goals for the future is to turn to alternative energy sources that will allow us to use affordable off-grid and grid electricity and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
So far, the best and cheapest options have been solar panels and wind turbines.
Both provide equally stable clean energy.
However, solar panels remain popular as an alternative source of renewable energy that has many benefits.
However, solar energy also has flaws and there are a few reasons why renewable energy sources are not as great as they seem.
So, if you are looking for an alternative energy solution, you’ve come to the right place.
We have compiled below a list of 10 alternatives to solar power.
1. Hydroelectric Energy
Hydroelectric energy is one of the alternative energy sources.
It is a type of electricity produced by generators propelled by the movement of water.
Dams block a river to form a reservoir which then collects the pumped water.
Releasing the water from the reservoir causes the pressure behind the dam to force water downpipes, which leads to a turbine.
The force at which the water drops causes the turbine to roll, which rolls the generator and produces electricity.
The use of hydroelectric energy to produce electricity does not harm the environment the way fossil fuel does.
Since hydroelectric power plants do not make use of fuel, then their power generation will not produce carbon dioxide.
A hydroelectric power plant does not also emit nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, or any other particulates.
In 2015, 70% of all renewable electricity and 16.6% of the world’s total power was from hydroelectric energy.
These figures are projected to grow by about 3.1% every year for the next 25 years.
About 150 countries make use of hydropower, and the Asia-Pacific region generates 33% of the global hydropower in 2013.
China is a country producing the largest hydroelectricity with 920 TWh of hydroelectric energy in 2013.
The cost of producing hydroelectricity is low, which makes it a very competitive source of renewable energy.
A lot of hydroelectric power plants supply the public with an electricity network.
Some other hydroelectric plants serve only some specific industrial enterprises.
A significant advantage of hydroelectric power plants is that they can save up water in their reservoir at a low cost.
When there is a need for electricity, it dispatches the water in the reservoir to produce high-value clean electricity.
In a hydro station larger than 10 megawatts, the average cost of electricity is between 3-5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Most hydroelectric power plants have a long economic life as some of them are still very functional after 50-100 years.
2. Nuclear Power
Nuclear power, as the name implies, is the use of nuclear reactions which generate heat to produce atomic energy.
These nuclear reactions could be a result of nuclear fusion, atomic decay, and nuclear fission.
Most of the electricity produced in nuclear power plants is from the nuclear fission of plutonium and uranium.
In 2017, nuclear energy produced about 10% of the global energy generation, which is the second low-carbon power source next to hydroelectricity.
A typical civilian nuclear power plant supplies about 2,488 TWh of electricity.
In 2018, there were 449 civilian fission reactors in the world, with a combined electrical capacity of 395 GW.
In January 2021, 337 more reactors came into existence.
Nuclear power generation has one of the lowest levels of fatalities per unit of energy it generates compared to other energy sources.
For example, coal, natural gas, petroleum have each caused more fatalities per unit of energy produced to air pollution and accidents.
Since the commercialization of nuclear power in the 1970s, it has successfully prevented 64 billion tons of CO2 by burning fossil fuels.
The use of nuclear power to generate electricity has also helped prevent over 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths.
There are so many debates going on around the world about the safety of nuclear power.
Proponents like Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy and the World Nuclear Association contend that the use of nuclear power to generate electricity is safe and a sustainable source of energy.
There are nuclear power opponents like the NIRS and Greenpeace who contend that nuclear power poses a lot of threats to the environment and people’s health.
Whether or not nuclear energy is a form of renewable energy is still an ongoing debate.
Another alternative source of energy to solar power is the use of a fuel gotten through the contemporary process from biomass.
Some people often use the words biomass and biofuel interchangeably, since biomass technically can be directly used as a fuel (e.g., wood logs).
But more often, the word biomass denotes biological raw materials.
This is what biofuel consists of, or some form of chemically/thermally altered reliable end product.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the word biofuel refers to gaseous or liquid fuels used for transportation or energy generation.
The use of biofuel is a perfect alternative to solar power because it can be considered a form of renewable energy.
If the biomass used to produce biofuel can regrow at a rapid rate, then the fuel is generally considered to be a form of renewable energy.
A lot of the biofuels we’re familiar with are from plants, i.e. energy crops, or from commercial, domestic, agricultural, and industrial wastes.
Generally, renewable biofuels involve contemporary carbon fixation like those that occur in micro-algae, or plants through the process of photosynthesis.
Two Common Types of Biofuel
There are two common types of biofuel which are biodiesel and bio-ethanol.
Firstly, bioethanol comes to be by fermentation of carbohydrates producing starch or sugar to form alcohol.
Crops such as sugarcane, corn, or sweet sorghum are the types of plants that ferment to produce bioethanol.
In its pure form, ethanol (E100) can act as fuel for vehicles.
Ethanol can also be an additive for gasoline.
It helps in increasing the level of octane.
Moreover, it improves overall vehicle emissions.
Bioethanol is a widely used fuel in Brazil and the United States.
Secondly, the transesterification of fats or oils is what manufacturers use to produce biodiesel.
Biodiesel is the most common fuel in Europe.
In its pure form (B100), it can act as fuel for vehicles.
In 2018, the production of biofuel worldwide reached about 152 billion liters which are up to 7% more of 2017 production.
4. Natural Gas
Natural gas is also one of the fossil fuels.
It contains mainly methane and a varying amount of higher alkanes.
Natural gas also has a small percentage composition of hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen, helium, or carbon dioxide.
When decomposing, animal and plant matter are exposed to intense pressure and heat under the surface of the Earth and that decomposition produces natural gas.
But through the progression of compression techniques, it’s now one of the most viable alternative energy sources.
So far, so good!
Lately, the demand for natural gas has been increasing.
Natural gas is the primary source of electricity generation through the use of steam turbines, gas turbines, and cogeneration.
The use of natural gas is so vast that it’s well suited for combined use with renewable energy like solar or wind.
Many off-grid engine generators and peaking power plants use fossil fuels.
Natural gas burns more cleanly than most fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
When you burn natural gas, it produces carbon dioxide and water, which is less than the carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal releases.
Natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide per kWh than coal does when burning.
The use of natural gas for transportation produces only about 30% lesser carbon dioxide than when using petroleum.
According to the US Energy Information Administration reports, natural gas produces 6,799 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the world for 2012.
The report further says petroleum produced 11,695 metric tons while coal produced 13,787 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
From the report, it’s glaring that natural gas produces the least about of carbon dioxide for power generation.
5. Wind Energy
Wind energy is one of the alternative energy sources that’s free and renewable.
The wind powers wind turbines which in turn generate electricity.
It’s also traditionally used to do other works like pumping or milling.
The wind is a source of renewable and sustainable energy.
It has a minimal negative impact on the environment than fossil fuel.
Some countries make use of wind farms.
These farms have a connection from individual wind turbines to an electric power transmission network line.
The onshore wind is an inexpensive place to source wind energy to power turbines and generate electricity.
In some parts of the world, generating electricity from onshore wind is cheaper than gas or coal plants.
The shortcoming of onshore wind farms is that they have an impact on the landscape.
They occupy a lot space more than other power stations.
They also need to be built in wild and rural areas to maximize wind flow.
Given these scenarios, they can lead to habitat loss and industrialization of the countryside.
The offshore wind, on the other hand, is stronger and steadier than the on-land wind.
Unlike onshore farms, an offshore farm has a less visual impact, but they require more cost on maintenance and construction.
Wind energy may be renewable and inexpensive, but the wind is an intermittent energy source that you cannot use on demand.
It’s also worth noting that wind energy gives variable power, but it varies over shorter time scales.
For wind energy to be most efficient, it must be used together with other sources of electric power or stored power for a reliable power supply.
6. Geothermal Power
Among the alternative energy sources is geothermal power.
It is a type of power that is generated by geothermal energy.
It’s about extracting energy from the ground.
In 2015, the geothermal power capacity worldwide amounted to 12.8 GW, with 28% of it or 3,548 MW power plant capacity in the United States.
This sector is increasingly growing every day, with a 5% growth in the industry in 2015.
The technology that is in use to generate geothermal power includes binary cycle power stations, flash steam, power stations, and dry steam power stations.
About 26 countries currently use geothermal electricity generation, while 70 countries make use of geothermal heating.
Based on the geologic technology and knowledge, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that about 6.9% of the total global potential has been tapped so far.
The IPCC also reports the geothermal power potential to be in the range of 2 TW to 35 GW.
Some countries that generate about 15% of their electricity from geothermal include Costa Rica, the Philippines, El Salvador, New Zealand, and Kenya.
Geothermal power is a renewable and sustainable source of energy.
Compared to the Earth’s heat content, heat extraction is smaller.
In a geothermal power station, the greenhouse gas emission is on an average of 45g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of electricity.
It could also be less than 5% of that of conventional coal-fired plants.
Using geothermal power as a source of renewable energy has the potential to meet 3-5% of the global demand in 2050.
Based on economic incentives, there are estimates that by 2100, geothermal power might meet 10% of the global demand.
7. Hydrogen Gas
Unlike other forms of natural gas, hydrogen gas is a complete clean-burning fuel.
In other words, we can say hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel when it burns oxygen.
Once produced, they only give off warm air and water vapor when in use.
The primary issue with generating electricity with hydrogen gas is that it makes use of fossil fuel and natural gas.
Many will argue because of its dependence on fossil fuel that the emissions created to extract hydrogen gas counteracts the benefits of its use.
However, the process of electrolysis which is an integral part of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen makes the issue less significant.
Even though electrolysis still ranks below the mentioned methods of getting hydrogen, researchers continue to make it more cost-effective and efficient.
In 2018, most hydrogen gas (about 95%) came from fossil fuels by partial oxidation of coal gasification and methane or steam reforming.
Problem with Hydrogen Gas Electricity
One of the major problems of using hydrogen gas to generate electricity is the ability to extract hydrogen from compounds containing hydrogen effectively.
Steam reforming which combines natural gas with high-temperature accounts for most of the hydrogen gas produced.
It occurs at a temperature between 4700-1100C and at an efficiency of 60-75%.
Steam forming of methane is very common.
It’s more preferable than electrolysis which requires electricity and uses natural gas directly.
Once there is hydrogen gas, it can be used in the same way as natural gas would by delivering it to fuel cells to generate heat and electricity.
The use of hydrogen gas in a combined cycle gas turbine will produce much higher electricity or burn to run a combustion engine.
Although the cost of producing electricity via solar PV and wind turbines falls below the price of natural gas, electrolysis becomes cheaper than SMR.
8. Tidal Energy
Tidal energy or tidal power is a type of hydropower.
This is one of the most preferred alternatives to solar power.
It converts the energy obtained from tides to useful forms of control, mainly electricity.
This energy is not accessible, but it has the potential for future electricity generation.
Tides are more predictable than wind or sun, among other sources of renewable energy.
One of the reasons why tidal energy is not so popular is because of the high coast and limited availability of sites with sufficient flow velocities and high tidal ranges.
However, recent development in turbine technology and design indicates that the total availability of tidal power may be higher than previously assumed.
As a result of recent development, environmental and economic costs may be brought down to competitive levels.
Setting up a tidal energy source has an expensive initial cost, and it may be one of the reasons tidal energy is not one of the most popular sources of renewable energy.
It’s also important to note that the method of generating electricity through the means of tidal energy is a relatively new technology.
There is a projection that tidal energy will be commercially profitable in 2022 with better technology and on a larger scale.
9. Biomass Energy
Biomass energy is the use of animal and plant materials to generate heat or electricity.
This biomass can occur naturally or purposefully grown.
Example of biomass used for energy production includes energy crops (e.g. switchgrass, miscanthus), waste from a food crop, wood or forest residue, animal farming, or human waste.
Although burning plant-derived biomass releases carbon dioxide, it’s still under the list of renewable energy sources.
It’s worth noting that all biomass plants sequester carbon.
Even the UN and EU legal frameworks see the burning of plant-derived biomass as a form of renewable energy because photosynthesis cycles the carbon dioxide back to new crops.
Sometimes, during the process of recycling carbon dioxide from plants to the atmosphere and back to the plants
can be carbon dioxide negative because a massive chunk of the carbon dioxide goes to the soil.
Cofiring of Biomass
Cofiring of biomass with other substances has increased over the past few years, especially in coal power plants.
When cofiring biomass with other substances like coal, it releases less carbon dioxide with little or no cost for building another infrastructure.
Although, cofiring is not without issues, an upgrade of the biomass is beneficial.
Kinds of Conversion Processes
Biomass fuel can be upgraded to a higher grade of fuel using different methods broadly classified as chemical, thermal, or biochemical.
The thermal conversion process makes use of heat as the dominant mechanism to upgrade the biomass into a more practical and better fuel.
Chemical conversion, on the other hand, uses a range of chemical processes to convert biomass into different forms like fuels that are more practical to store, use, and transport.
Biomass energy just like other forms of renewable energy, comes with several issues, especially if installed at home.
Maintenance is one of the factors.
You would need to acquire permission from local authorities before you can install one.
10. Wave Energy
Last but not least on our list of 10 alternatives to solar power is wave energy.
Wave energy is a type of energy that works by capturing the power of wind waves or water waves to do useful work.
Some perfect examples include water desalination, electricity generation, and so on.
A wave energy converter (WEC) is a machine that exploits wave power.
Do not confuse wave energy with tidal energy.
Tidal energy captures the power of the current caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun.
Waves and tides are also different from ocean currents.
Forces like wind, breaking waves, Coriolis Effect, and so on cause ocean currents.
The use of wave power generation is not a widely employed commercial technology compared with other renewable energy.
Wave energy is not a new technology.
Attempts to use it as a source of energy started in the 1890s because of its high power density.
The power density of a typical photovoltaic panel is 1kW/m2 at the peak of solar insolation.
The power density of wind, on the other hand, is about 1 kW/m2 at 12m/s for a general electric 1.5 MW machine.
But the average annual power density of waves at the San Francisco coast, for example, is 25 kW/m2.
Why Use Solar Energy?
Solar energy is popular as it is free all year round.
You can use sunlight to convert its energy through photovoltaic cells in solar panels to produce electricity.
There are many reasons to choose solar energy and install solar systems in your homes.
You can place the panels in your yard or on the roof to capture and convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
You can generate up to 10 or more watts of electricity per square foot, but it depends on the orientation and latitude of the solar panels you use.
There are two basic types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.
While monocrystalline solar panels are made of a single silicone cell, polycrystalline solar panels are made of many silicone cells fused.
Besides, monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient and thinner, but polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper and with decreased efficiency compared to monocrystalline ones.
Why Should We Look for Alternative Energy Sources?
People have almost depleted all the reserves of fossil fuels and are turning to other renewable alternative energy sources.
With the earth’s growing population and production, the problem of energy will become more prominent in the future.
Energy companies will have to adopt an alternative energy power grid source and turn to a ground mount system such as a solar system or wind power, that will provide clean energy.
Besides, alternative energy sources should significantly decrease carbon emissions (or carbon footprint), while still meeting the energy demands of production and electricity needs in people’s daily lives.
Solar energy and solar panels remain popular alternative energy sources.
Although there are alternative power sources, most still rely on fossil fuels.
Yet, companies and the transport sector are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, which can only happen if we all turn to alternative and clean power sources.