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Electricity production - The various methods.

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Electricity Production; Page                 Geography Coursework

Electricity Production

The Various Methods

There are many ways to produce electricity, although not all are in wide use. Here are some of the more popular new methods and facts about how they are used.

Hydro-Electric Power

Hydro-electric power plants convert the kinetic energy contained in falling water into electricity. The energy in flowing water is ultimately derived from the sun, and is therefore constantly being renewed. Energy contained in sunlight evaporates water from the oceans and deposits it on land in the form of rain. Differences in land elevation result in rainfall runoff, and allow some of the original solar energy to be captured as hydro-electric power (Figure 1).

Hydro power is currently the world's largest renewable source of electricity, accounting for 6% of worldwide energy supply or about 15% of the world's electricity. In Canada, hydroelectric power is abundant and supplies 60% of our electrical needs. Traditionally thought of as a cheap and clean source of electricity, most large hydro-electric schemes being planned today are coming up against a great deal of opposition from environmental groups and native people.

Wind Energy

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Tidal Energy

In coastal areas with large tides, flowing tidal waters contain large amounts of potential energy. The principal of harnessing the energy of the tides dates back to eleventh century England when tides were used to turn waterwheels, producing mechanical power. More recently, rising and falling tides have been used to generate electricity, in much the same manner as hydroelectric power plants.

Tides originate from the motions of the earth, moon and sun. Although ocean tides contain extremely large amounts of energy, it is only practical to generate electricity at sites with exceptionally high tides such as the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada which, at up to 17 metres, has the highest tides in the world. Tidal energy is an essentially renewable resource which has none of the typical environmental impacts of other traditional sources of electricity such as fossil fuels or nuclear power. Changing the tidal flow in a coastal region could, however, result in a wide variety of impacts on aquatic life, most of which are poorly understood.

Geothermal Energy

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Biomass, defined as all land and water based vegetation as well as all organic wastes, fulfilled almost all of humankind's energy needs prior to the industrial revolution. All biomass is produced by green plants converting sunlight into plant material through photosynthesis. As recently as 1850, 91% of the total US energy consumption was biomass in the form of wood. Since the industrial revolution, the majority of the developed world's energy requirements have been met by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Biomass, however, is still the predominant form of energy used by people in the less developed countries, accounting for 14% of world energy use.

Worldwide concern about global warming and acid rain have prompted many observers in industrialized countries to call for a decreased reliance on fossil fuels. Renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydro power, as well as biomass, are being looked at as alternatives. Conversion of biomass into useful energy carriers is fairly well documented and economical in many cases; but less well understood are the environmental implications of increased use of biomass fuels.

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