CanopyCo carbon offsetting and reforestation in Ecuador, South America.

Energy Sources

Wind energy could be a viable alternative in some parts of EcuadorIn our daily lives we are continually consuming energy, and an inevitable outcome of that consumption is carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is primarily produced when fossil fuels, which are hydrocarbons (principally derived from gas, petroleum and coal), are burnt; it is the reaction of hydrocarbons with oxygen in the burning process that produces carbon dioxide.

As energy is involved in every single manufacturing process, every mile travelled in conventional transport, every house with light and heating, and so on, the energy consumption per capita soon adds up.

The majority of the world's energy, 86% (data for 2004) is produced using fossil fuels or non-renewable energy sources, oil, coal and gas.

This is why effort is being spent on looking at renewable energies, such as wind, solar and tidal energy, not only as replacements for the diminishing non-renewable sources, but as the clean, non-polluting energies for the near future.

  Actual World energy production by source in 2004:  

Oil 40%, coal 23.3%, natural gas 22.5%, hydroelectric 7.0%, nuclear 6.5%, biomass and other 0.7%.
It is the "other" category that needs to grow sharply in order to feed the worlds growing energy demands.

  Energy Review:  

Oil - currently accounts for 40% of energy production in the world and is also the primary fuel for all methods of transportation. Production was expected to peak in 2010 (did it?!), and whilst oil production will be on an estimated 3% per annum decline, demand will average a 2% increase, leaving an obvious short fall in supply, by as early as 2020. There are many oil deposits still to be exploited, not to mention one under the Ecuadorian jungle, which, if explored would have serious environmental consequences.

Coal - was the fastest growing energy source during the last 3 years, and presumably will continue to grow due to abundant reserves. This has worrying implications for the atmosphere as coal fired powers stations, despite technological advances to make them "cleaner" and to sequester CO2, are still highly polluting, especially in some of the fast developing nations, like China and India. They will without doubt accelerate carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere; in China, a new power station is brought online each week, and their energy industry is growing at a rate three times the global average.

Gas - of the 3 fossil fuels, gas is the cleanest, burning with fewer emissions. However, it still produces carbon dioxide in the burning process, and, when released into the atmosphere, through leaks, methane gas is 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Gas currently supplies around 22% of US domestic energy requirements, and 35% of the UK's. The majority of remaining proven reserves are in the Middle East, Russia and Europe, with a combined total of around 76%.

Nuclear - this is an established energy source, and considering its energetic efficiency has very little waste, none of which is damaging for the atmosphere. Naturally, there are other fears associated with nuclear energy, but this hasn't stopped countries like France embracing the energy to provide almost 80% of their energy needs; this makes France the most energy independent western country, as well as the smallest producer of carbon dioxide of the worlds 7 most industrialized countries.

Wind - is one of our older energy sources, having been captured for hundreds of years to help farmers pump irrigation water from underground reservoirs. It is now becoming an increasingly popular alternative energy source, with developments at local and national levels. Quite simply, the wind, by turning the blades of a wind turbine, generates electricity.

Large scale on and offshore farms are being developed, with mixed support. Conservationists have rightly highlighted the potential effects on local wildlife, and also the eyesore factor; some scientists have noted that in large numbers, these wind farms may actually disturb normal air currents and therefore change local weather patterns. The obvious drawback is that the wind doesn't always blow, at least on land, leading to sporadic supplies, and the cost of producing off shore systems is extremely high relative to other available energies.

Used locally, and developed in combination with other renewable systems like solar energy, this could be an extremely viable system, although current costs of development, for both energies, are hindering moves in this direction. In October 2007 Ecuador's Galapagos Islands launched the first of three pioneering wind turbine sites as a first step to reduce the archipelagos reliance on diesel fuel and consequential environmental pollution.

Tidal - Tidal power has three technologies; barrier, current turbines and tidal fences. The former is the primary technology and works by trapping high tidal waters within an estuary, using a large barrier. When the tide retreats, the large trapped volume of water is then released back through the barrier towards the sea, passing through turbines, which drive electricity generators.

It is currently estimated that in Britain tidal could account for as much as 10-20% of future energy demands. However the construction of tidal barriers could have serious consequences on marine and wildlife. Another drawback to this technology is that there are only around 40 sites in the world suitable for harnessing this renewable energy source; a basic requirement is a difference of at least 5 metres between high and low tides.

Biomass - this is a primary source for cooking and heating in developing countries and is a term associated with any fuel that is produced from plant or animal origin, such as wood, crops, or animal manures.

An ongoing discussion is concerning the use of biofuels, e.g. fuel made from maize, sugar cane or rapeseed (as ethanol), as these fuels are competing for agricultural land (in particular grain and soya production in the US) and dramatically raising the price of staple foods.

In climate terms, their one advantage is that their net CO2 emissions are deemed zero, as they absorb CO2 in their growing process, which is then released during the combustion process. However, depending on farming and agricultural processes, biofuels reportedly reduce emissions by only 50-60% relative to fossil fuels.

One area of community work we hope to manage is the development of biogas units. These systems capture methane produced by the decomposition of animal manures for use in cooking and heating water.

Solar - is the primary source for most energy; coal, oil and gas (through plant growth), wind (through convection) and also what we more commonly interpret as solar energy; energy derived from the sun shining. It is by far the most abundant energy source available to us, and in time, is expected to become the dominant source for our energy. Solar energy is captured through three systems; passive, active and photovoltaic.

Passive is gained when we harness the suns heat through careful design, e.g. of houses, where passive design can reduce home energy consumption by as much as 80%. Petes permaculture house has a recycled plastic water heating system which captures passive solar energy.

Active solar energy uses solar collectors to transfer sun light into heat for heating or hot water in homes.

Photovoltaic cells convert daylight (not necessarily direct sun light) into energy by creating an electricity flow; the stronger the light source the more electricity will flow.

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