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Energy resources: Alternative energy in perspective

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Alternative energy sources are seen by many people as potential solutions to the many economic and environmental challenges posed by the current dominance of world energy supply by fossil and nucler fuels. Just how realistic are these hopes? Energy resources: Alternative energy in perspective, is a free course that summarises the technical and geographic challenges posed by each alternative source. It is left to you to judge the feasibility of implementing these changes against the claims for 'alternative' solutions to global energy challenges that are regularly made.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • explain the principles that underlie the ability of various natural phenomena to deliver useable energy
  • outline the technologies that are used to harness the power of alternative energy sources
  • discuss the positive and negative aspects of alternative energy sources in relation to natural and human aspects of the environment
  • assess the potential of various energy releasing or redistributing phenomena in supplying humanity's requirement's for energy, in both geographic and numeric senses.

By: The Open University

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Energy resources: alternative energy in perspective

Introduction

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Energy from sources other than fossil and nuclear fuels is to a large extent free of the concerns about environmental effects and renewability that characterise those two sources. Each alternative source supplies energy continually, whether or not we use it. The alternative sources to consider are geothermal energy derived from the interior heat of the Earth, solar energy in forms that can be harvested at the Earth's surface and the sources which stem from gravitational forces associated with the Sun and Moon — tidal energy.

Many of these alternative sources have been used in simple ways for millennia, e.g. wind and water mills, sails, wood burning, but only in the last two centuries has their potential begun to be exploited on an industrial scale. Except for geothermal energy, all have their origins in energy generated outside the Earth, yet the potential of each is limited by its total supply set against its rate of use. Each is likely to be renewable in the sense that the available rates of supply of each exceed those at which they are used. The main concern is whether or not such alternatives can supplant fossil- and nuclear-fuel use to power social needs fast enough to avoid the likelihood of future global warming and other kinds of pollution.

Alternative energy sources are seen by many people as potential solutions to the many economic and environmental challenges posed by the current dominance of world energy supply by fossil and nuclear fuels. Just how realistic are these hopes?

This course summarises the technical and geographic challenges posed by each alternative source. It is left to you to judge the feasiibility of implementing these changes against the claims for 'alternative' solutions to global energy challenges that are regularly made.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 2 study in Science [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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