Energy for Life

Energy is a central point in physics and also in real life. Energy is needed for

  • moving a body
  • heat something
  • electric current
  • electromagnetic waves
  • ...
  • life of plants, animals and humans

Forms of Energy

Energy exists in many forms as

  • Thermal energy
  • Chemical energy
  • Electrical energy
  • Radiant energy
  • Nuclear energy
  • Magnetic energy
  • Elastic energy
  • Sound Energy
  • Mechanical energy
  • And maybe others

For our life energy is transformed from one form to another, e. g. the chemical energy contained in coal is transformed in electrical energy in coal burning power plant. Different possibilities exists for the transformation but each transformation has its advantages and disadvantages. As we all know several problems are connected (global warming/climate change) to the current way of energy production of humans and new ways for energy transformation are needed. Many people in the past and today think about this problem.

Transformation of Energy to useful Energy

Current large scale technology

  • Coal burning power plant
    The energy source here is brown coal or black coal, both are fossil fuel. The advantage are continuity and reliability but the main problem is the emission of CO2, which is a greenhouse gas. To produce one kWh approximately 1000 g CO2 is emitted.
  • Water power plant
    Here water is the energy source. Water, that flows with high velocity, is guided through a turbine, that converts the kinetic energy of the water to electric power. To obtain high velocities water flows from a high level to a lower one, which is mainly obtained by a dam. The production of electric energy is mainly free of greenhouse gases and also here the amount of producible energy is good to calculate and regulate. Disadvantages are the limited number of locations, that are useful, and the intervention in the landscape and the natural water management.
  • Nuclear power plant
    In a nuclear power plant the decay energy from radioactive isotopes is the source for the energy production. The advantage of this technology the reliability of the energy production and also it is mainly free from greenhouse gases. The disadvantages are the radioactive waste that could be dangerous for several thousands years or even longer (as comparison, some chemical waste are dangerous forever and will never decay as waste with mercury and the amount of waste is much larger than for nuclear waste, but the discussion about this is small compared to the discussion for nuclear waste), also safety considerations are important (s. Chernobyl) but for modern power plants mainly solved and the production possibility of nuclear weapon materials.

Alternative technology

  • Ground based wind power
    The wind power is already used for long time as for sailing. Today normally wind turbines are used to transform wind power to electric power. The problem is that only during wind power is produced. During the time without wind other power plants or energy storage must be used to replace the electric power. This technology is in practice free from greenhouse gases but it changes the shape of the landscape and also it is a source of noise.
  • High altitude wind power
    The idea is to benefit from strong and constant winds in higher altitudes as the jet streams with wind velocities up to over 500 km/h. The wind turbine is mounted for example to a balloon and is connect via a cable to the ground station. An other method is to use kites and let them up and down to get power from the wind. The advantage is that the wind is relative constant and strong but the technology is not fully developed and maybe some safety issues may be a problem.
  • Ground based Photovoltaic
    Photovoltaic is a way to convert sun power directly to electric energy. This is an advantage and disadvantage, because there is no loss by transforming the sun power from another energy form to electricity (advantage) but as soon as the sun is blocked also no energy is produced because no buffer is in between. Using no moving parts it is a noiseless way to produce electricity.
  • Space-based solar power
    Here the solar panels are installed in outer space, where no clouds or atmosphere absorbs light reducing the amount of energy available for power production. Also it is possible to produce energy 24 hours a day because no night interrupts the energy production. The biggest problem is of course to bring the power back to earth.
  • Tidal power
    A tremendous amount of water is moved by the tidal action. Like a clockwork the water is moved. Thus it would be a relative reliable power source. But of course here is environmental protection a topic.
  • Nuclear power station next generation
    Nuclear power stations of the fourth generation offers many advantages compared to the current operated power stations.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor
    Also an interesting topic is nuclear fusion power plants but this far away from operation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iter
    If one day such a power plant could be realized this would help solve several problems in power production.