Alternative energy is energy that does not comes from the fossil fuels. The prime objective is to produces little to no greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). This means that energy produced from alternative sources does not contribute to the greenhouse effect that causes climate change.
These energy sources are referred to as “alternative” because they represent the alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas, which have been the most common sources of energy since the Industrial Revolution. These fossil fuels emit high levels of CO2 when burned to produce energy and electricity. Alternative energy, however, should not be confused with renewable energy, although many renewable energy sources can also be considered alternative. Solar power, for example, is both renewable and alternative because it will always be abundant and it emits no greenhouse gases. Nuclear power, however, is alternative but not renewable, since it uses uranium, a finite resource.
Fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) are our most traditional source for power generation. Therefore, the energy that’s produced from any source other than fossil fuels is alternative energy. In other words, alternative energy is any amount of energy derived from non-fossil fuel sources. Generally speaking, using alternative energy has a low environmental impact.
Difference between Renewable and Alternative Energy Sources
The alternative energy sources are any source we use to supplement or even replace traditional energy sources used for power generation. It looks same for renewable energy sources. However there is one difference between the two. All renewable energy sources fall under the category of alternative energy sources, but not vive verse.
That’s because renewable energy sources are derived from naturally replenished sources or processes of Earth, such as the sun, wind, and water. We refer to these resources as renewable or sustainable (as in sustainable energy) since, unlike fossil fuels, this naturally occurring continual renewal makes them inexhaustible. However, it’s possible for there to be alternative energy sources that are exhaustible, and therefore not renewable
Types of Alternative Energy Sources
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a report back in 2020 showing how renewable power has now become increasingly cheaper than fossil fuels for electricity generation. Onshore wind power and solar photo-voltaic, respectively, are currently the most affordable options when it comes to energy production. Using these two natural resources over coal could save as much as $23 billion in yearly power system expenses. It could also lower annual carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 giga-tons. Bioenergy, geothermal energy, hydroelectric power, and nuclear energy are also making their way into the financially competitive spotlight, depending significantly on location. When it comes to energy efficiency, the leader of the renewable energy pack is wind energy. Behind wind comes geothermal energy, hydropower, nuclear energy, and then solar power.
Most Reliable Sources of Energy
Out of all the known energy sources, nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor by far. Nuclear power plants are able to produce maximum power over 93% of the time on an annual basis. Natural gas is considered the cleanest burning and most reliable fossil fuel. Though it is not a clean energy resource. There is an alternative called renewable natural gas (RNG). RNG also goes by the name of biomethane and is produced from livestock, landfill waste, and other organic materials through anaerobic digestion. While it’s not a fossil fuel, RNG is completely identical to conventional natural gas in chemical make-up, allowing them to use the same distribution system.
Impact on Environment
As it turns out, wind energy, which uses turbines to harness its power from the wind, is one of the cleanest and most sustainable forms of electricity generation. It’s able to produce energy without generating any pollutants or global warming emissions. Moreover, the land and animal impact of wind turbines is minimal.
Most Commonly Used Alternative Energy Sources
1- Wind Energy
Wind power has tripled over the past 10 years in the United States, making wind energy the number one largest renewable energy source. Wind power is one of the alternative energy sources that serves both individuals and entire communities. It’s versatile, and can be produced from small-scale windmills or wind turbines on residential properties to large-scale offshore wind farms in the ocean.
2- Solar Energy
Solar power most commonly refers to the use of photovoltaic cells (or solar cells) to create energy. On a small scale, few solar panels on a house roof would suffice to produce energy for just that one home. On a larger scale, solar farm used as a power plant to produce electricity for their consumers.
3- Hydroelectric Energy
Generated from the energy of moving water, hydroelectricity (also known as hydropower) is produced when water behind a dam causes turbine blades to move as it flows through an intake. The turbine blades then rotate a generator to produce electricity that is sent to power homes and businesses.
4- Geothermal Energy
The Geothermal Power is being generated by tapping into underground reservoirs of hot water and steam. Geothermal electricity can directly heat and cool buildings.
The Bioenergy is being generated from organic materials known as biomass or biofuels. Some examples would be recently living animal or plant byproducts and wood. For example, methane can be captured from landfills to produce bioenergy, which we then used to produce electricity and heat. Ethanol is one example of a biofuel.
6- Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is created in the form of heat through the fission process of atoms. The initial fission process creates energy and triggers a chain reaction that repeats the process and generates more energy. In nuclear power plants, the heat that fission produces creates steam. The steam then rotates a turbine, which leads to the production of electricity.
7- Hydrogen Energy
Hydrogen is used as a clean-burning fuel, leading to fewer pollutants and a cleaner environment. We also use it for fuel cells. These are similar to batteries and are used to supply power to electric motors.
8- Tidal Energy
With the movement of the tides, we can get Tidal Energy when the kinetic energy of the water movement converts into electrical energy. It is very effective though it is location-specific sources of energy, Tidal energy is renewable and produces large amounts of energy even with low-speed tides.
9- Wave Energy
Wave energy is an alternative energy source derived from waves as they move across the water. Wave energy uses electricity generators placed on the ocean’s surface. Wave height, wavelength, wave speed, and water density determine the energy output. Wave energy is environmental friendly, harmless to the atmosphere.
Other names for renewable energy is clean energy or green energy. When we use renewable resources to produce energy, it’s much gentler on the environment than burning fossil fuels.
Conserve fossil fuels: The renewable energy is generated by tapping into virtually inexhaustible resources. When we use these natural resources, we’re allowed to conserve and extend our time with non-renewable fossil fuels, which are dangerously close to depletion.
Slow and reverse climate change: The top cause contributing to carbon dioxide emissions in the United States is electricity generation from fossil fuel power plants. Carbon dioxide and additional greenhouse gas emissions are leading contributors to climate change and global warming. Alternative energy sources have a much lower carbon footprint than natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels. Switching to renewable energy sources to produce electricity will help the planet by slowing and reversing climate change.
Save lives: Making the switch to just hydropower, wind energy, and solar energy can potentially save up to 7 million lives each year by reducing air pollutants.
Reduce severe weather: By slowing the effects of climate change and eventually reversing them, we can expect to see a reduction in extreme weather like floods, storms or droughts, caused by global warming.
Minimize fuel dependency: We can diversify our energy supply by implementing the widespread use of large-scale renewable energy technologies and minimizing our imported fuel dependency.
Economic and job development: Producing even more utility-scale energy systems can create economic growth as well as jobs in the installation and manufacturing industries, not to mention the sustainable energy industry.
As alternative energy technologies continue to improve, the cost simultaneously falls. Solar and wind power have unlocked the potential to generate an energy reserve plentiful enough to meet the world’s demand. When you look at how affordable, effective, and economically friendly these powerhouses are, you begin to see how we could displace fossil fuels within the next 30 years.
Pakistan is overcoming a severe energy crisis that had directly and indirectly affected all sectors of the economy in the past. Pakistan generates its power from an energy mix that includes oil, gas (natural gas and liquefied natural gas, LNG), coal, renewable sources (solar, wind and hydro energy), nuclear, and biomass.
Pakistan’s electricity generation capacity increased by 11.5% and reached 41,557 megawatts in July-April 2021-22 compared to 37,261MW in the same period of previous fiscal year, revealed the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2021-22.
The current electricity generation in the country is only 18500 MW, against the installed capacity of 38000MW and the dependable generation is 36500MW, as due to unavailability of fuel, low renewable power generation and technical issues around half of the generation capacity is currently off the grid.
Due to non-supply of fuel and RLNG, many power generation plants with the capacity of almost 5800MW have been shut down. Similarly around 8000MW is less generated from hydro, wind and bagasse. The country’s current power generation is about 18,500MW, officials said. Whereas the demand for electricity has increased by 38% in April this year as compared to the previous year. While procuring RLNG, care should be taken to deal with suppliers who do not default when there is price hike.
According to National Electric Power Regulatory Authority’s (NEPRA) 2020 yearly report, Pakistan’s total installed power generation capacity at 38700 MW, of which 57 percent of energy comes from thermal (fossil fuels), 31 percent from hydro, 4 percent from renewable (wind, solar and bagasse) and 8 percent from nuclear. Country’s electrical load pattern varies from season to season. Overall electricity consumption in the country was affected by the global pandemic as compared to FY19 as power consumption was reduced due to negative economic growth in country. Going through long power outages in the past, Pakistan has significantly increased its power generation capacity enough to meet country’s total demand.
In the current scenario where country is more dependent on importing the energy, renewable energy (RE) resources can play an important role. With current government’s tilt towards renewable energy, Government has developed a long term Alternate Renewable Energy (ARE) policy 2019. The ARE 2019 policy outlines a comprehensive framework not only for the renewable energy generation but also encourages utilization of renewable technologies in country. The policy reportedly seeks to have 20-30 percent of all energy derived from renewable energy sources by 2030 and envisages development of large-scale renewable energy projects in Pakistan. Over the last five years, 19 wind power projects of 980MW, 06 solar power projects of 418MW and 08 bagasse projects of total 258 MW achieved commercial operations and are providing electricity to the grid.
Pakistan has considerable potential for using wind energy in the coastal belt of Sindh and Baluchistan (in southern Pakistan). The Government of Pakistan (GOP) has developed a wind power energy corridor along the southern coastal regions of Sindh and Baluchistan. Wind data, provided by Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, measures Pakistan’s coastal belt at 60km (Gharo-Keti Bandar) and 180km long, with an exploitable potential of 50,000MW of electricity generation through wind turbines. Currently there are 24 private wind projects operating, producing approximately 1235MW. In addition to this, 12 wind projects with cumulative capacity of 610 MW have achieved financial close and are under construction. However, GOP has curtailed electricity off-take from few existing wind plants as energy purchase agreements with these developers have become expensive due to impact of corona pandemic on economy, higher tariff, grid instability and currency devaluation which may impact completion of new projects. Yet, these wind projects, existing and upcoming, offer potential for U.S. companies particularly for turbine manufacturers.
In addition to large hydro, there are certain prospects of development of small-mini-micro hydro power. GOP considers small hydropower projects as clean and inexpensive source of energy. Small hydropower projects are mainly located in the remote areas of Pakistan particularly North of country. Primarily, these projects are awarded and approved by provincial governments to developers. At present 128 MW of small hydro projects are operational, whereas projects of 877 MW are under implementation.
Pakistan has an average of nine and a half hours of sunlight daily. Opportunities are unlimited in this sector but there are challenges. The biggest challenge to an on-grid solution is the unsolidified renewable energy policy and its implementation through an autonomous energy authority. An unpredictable Feed-in-Tariff and challenges to getting a Letter of Intent (LOI) dampens enthusiasm for investment in this sector. However, scalable, and off-grid solutions have huge potential. There have been some efforts to install and expand the use of solar energy at the national level. Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park – a photovoltaic power station – was established in 2016 with a designed capacity to generate 1000 MW. However, this project is currently producing only 400 MW with plans to enhance its generation capacity. In sum, Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) is pursuing 22 solar projects with cumulative capacity of 890 MW. Of these, 6 solar projects are operational and generating more than 400 MW of solar power. The remaining projects are at different stages of development.
To expand renewable energy in Pakistan’s energy mix, the World Bank has provided $100 million of financing to Sind Solar Energy Project to support independent power producers develop 400 MW of new solar power projects and provide partial grants to private sector firms for the commercial provision of Solar Home Systems to 200,000 households.
With the rising costs of electricity in Pakistan and an unreliable grid supply, more industries and commercial organizations are turning to captive solar solutions. There has been a strong surge in domestic installation of rooftop photovoltaic panels in larger cities. This sector is trending toward significant growth soon as the GOP is targeting at least 1 million customers and adding approximately 3000 MW of solar power through net metering.
The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh could be reached at [email protected]