Four Major Energy Sources: Their Pros and Cons

RP Siegel frequently contributes to Triple Pundit, a website devoted to sustainability initiatives  favoring “people, planet, profits.”  Recently Triple Pundit posted Siegel’s series exploring the advantages and disadvantages of four widely used energy sources that fuel American industry.

Whether a fossil fuel or renewable energy, every source presents its own unique set of challenges. Complex issues abound, and conspire against any simple explanation. In deference to developing a “big picture” perspective across this informative series, we’ll let bullets target the more salient topics attached to each resource. Here’s a quick look at highlights from the series with links back to original articles where Siegel explores the environmental impact  and the eco-friendly advantages of all four energy sources.

Clean Coal: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Abundant supply, concentrated in industrialized countries (US, Russia, China, India).
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Continuous power. Good utilization. High load factor.
  • Substantial existing infrastructure. Mature industry.

Cons

  • Coal is nonrenewable. There is a finite supply.
  • Coal contains the most CO2 per BTU, the largest contributor to global warming.
  • Severe environmental, social and health and safety impacts of coal mining.
  • Devastation of environment around coal mines.

Solar Photovoltaics: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Clean energy. No combustion. No greenhouse gas emission from use.
  • Inexhaustible and abundant “fuel” supply
  • Available nearly everywhere
  • Well suited for distribution generation

Cons

  • Intermittent source. Not available at night or under clouds.
  • Relatively high cost, especially with storage
  • Requires inverter to produce AC current
  • Requires storage or grid connection for continuous round-the-clock use

 

Natural Gas: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Widely used, contributes 21% of the world’s energy production today
  • Delivery infrastructure already exists
  • End use appliances already widespread
  • Used extensively for power generation as well as heat
  • Cleanest of all the fossil fuels
  • Emits 45% less CO2 than coal
  • Emits 30% less CO2 than oil

Cons

  • Non-renewable fuel, supply cannot be replaced for millennia
  • Emits carbon dioxide when burned
  • Contains 80-95% methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG)
  • Explosive, potentially dangerous
  • Concentrated sources require long distance transmission and transportation
  • Requires extensive pipelines to transport over land
  • Stored and distributed under high pressure

 

Nuclear Energy: Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Lower carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) released into the atmosphere in power generation.
  • Low operating costs (relatively).
  • Known, developed technology “ready” for market.
  • Large power-generating capacity able to meet industrial and city needs (as opposed to low-power technologies like solar that might meet only local, residential, or office needs but cannot generate power for heavy manufacturing).

CONS

  • High construction costs due to complex radiation containment systems and procedures.
  • High subsidies needed for construction and operation, as well as loan guarantees.
  • Subsidies and investment could be spent on other solutions (such as renewable energy systems).
  • High-known risks in an accident.
  • Target for terrorism (as are all centralized power generation sources).

 

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