The increased environmental awareness, and the need for the preservation and conservation of the environment has led policy makers, non governmental organizations and other bodies to look for, and develop alternative sources of energy. This has had an impact on the electricity industry. People have moved from relying heavily on hydroelectric power, and they have adopted other forms of renewable energy including wind, solar and nuclear energy. These sources of energy, if well developed, have minimal impact on the environment. They have influenced the electricity industry by increasing diversity in the fuel sector and increasing reliable and affordable electricity for different uses. On the other hand, the development of the energy sources has led to the stakeholders devoting more resources in their development, leading to heavy initial setup costs.
There are different sources of electricity generation in the country. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 86% of the country’s electricity comes from coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. About 13% of electricity generation sources are renewable (EIA). Therefore, the development of wind and solar energy in electricity generation will reduce reliance in the three sources of fuels. Factors affecting electricity prices include the fuel used, power plants, transmission and distribution lines, weather conditions, and state regulations. The cost of electricity increases in summer because of increased demand. There are abundant sources of electricity generation in the country, and a reliable distribution system, and this lessens the chance of power breakouts. Most electricity is consumed in residential areas at 37%. Commercial sector consumes about 34% of electricity generated while the industrial sector consumes 26% of the electricity generated in the country.
Wind energy is not a major source of electricity generation in the country, although there has been rapid development of wind energy over the years. In 2011, wind energy constituted about 3% of all the electricity generated in the country (EIA). It is the second most used form of renewable source of electricity generation at 23%. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there were 2900 wind turbines set up across the country in 2010. There are currently more than ten million homes using wind energy currently. These figures indicated the increasing popularity of wind energy. Wind energy is pollution free and affordable. It does not produce any emissions. Wind is free and renewable. The only environmental concern that developers have to consider is the safety of birds in areas where the turbines are located. The current drawback in wind energy development is that it can only be developed in areas with high wind speeds and intensities. However, increased investment and technological development in the sector has increased the possibilities of developing the energy in offshore regions, and in areas with low wind. This development will ensure that more people around the country can access wind energy, and this will reduce the use of other energy sources.
Development of wind energy requires a careful analysis of the location of the wind turbines. Factors such as terrain, landscape, and wildlife have to be considered. To develop and use wind energy, one has to have wind turbines and a generator. The wind moves the turbines, which harness the kinetic energy. A central hub transfers the energy to the generator, which converts the mechanical energy into electric energy. This energy is then delivered to a power grid. As interest in the sector grows, more people are interested in researching the potential for wind energy. This has led to more investment in the sector, and it has contributed to the decrease in costs of development. The government has provided incentives for the development of wind energy by offering tax credits. The government has increased its investment in wind energy compared to other non-renewable sources of energy (Natural Resources Defense Council). With this increased investment, many people are likely to use wind energy compared to other renewable energy sources.
Hydropower constituted 8% of electricity generation in the country, the previous year. It is the major renewable source of electricity generation, at 63%. It involves generating electricity from flowing water. Its availability fluctuates because of its dependence on water, which mostly comes from rainfall or melting snow located near the major hydroelectric dams. Other than the initial costs of constructing the dams, hydroelectric power is relatively cheap to maintain and operate. The initial costs of set up can be very expensive. One requires a lot of land where the dams and reservoirs will be constructed. This ends up costing a lot of money. In addition, a lot of water is required to ensure efficient electricity generation. This source of energy is beneficial because it is renewable, and it uses water that is available freely. Although hydropower does not pollute the environment, it does have negative impacts on the environment, especially concerning changes in land, and destruction of habitat when the dams are constructed. As people become more aware of their environment, electricity generation through hydropower is likely to remain constant. The government and other institutions are investing elsewhere for energy generation. The existing hydroelectric plants will continue future operations, although no new plants are being constructed in the country.
Most of the country’s operating hydroelectric power plants were constructed to control flooding and for irrigation purposes. Many people do not see the need of expanding and investing in hydropower since there are abundant sources of energy power. In addition, many people oppose the construction of hydroelectric dams and reservoirs because of their environmental and social impact and destruction on the environment. Conventional hydroelectricity from running water is not the only source of hydropower. Other technologies can convert ocean currents, wave energy, and tidal energy to electricity (America’s Energy Future Panel on Electricity from Renewable Resources and National Research Council 100). Conversion of tidal power to electricity involves the use of tidal barrages, tidal fences, or tidal turbines. Some people have taken advantage of wave energy to generate electricity. This involves increasing the power and size of the waves by focusing them on a narrow channel. The waves then spin the turbines, converting the energy into electricity. Researchers have found out that they can produce electricity using the difference between cold, deep water and warm surface water on the ocean. There must be a significant difference on the water temperature for electricity to be generated using energy from the ocean. Tidal, wave, and ocean energy have not been fully exploited, and they are rarely used.
The country has invested in nuclear generation, and about 19% of the country’s electricity was generated through nuclear power in 2011. The country has sixty-five nuclear power plants, and 104 nuclear reactors (EIA). All the nuclear power produced in the country is used to generate electricity. The reactors provide the heat needed to make the steam. This steam drives the turbine, which in turn drive the generator producing electricity. Nuclear power generation requires a lot of investment in building and maintaining the nuclear plants. In addition, handling nuclear waste is a sensitive issue because it contains radioactive materials. The percentage of nuclear power used in electricity generation has remained steady for more than twenty years. The country has not invested much on the development of nuclear energy since the eighties. There was increased development of nuclear energy in the country in the seventies after the oil embargo. The country realized how much it had depended on energy from fossil fuels, and it sought other alternatives (Luft 302). It has concentrated on increasing capacity in the existing reactors and has only recently commissioned the construction of a new nuclear reactor in thirty years (EIA).
Although solar power is one of the oldest methods of generating electricity, it is not popular in the country as a form of electricity generation. In 2011, less than 1% of the country’s electricity was generated using solar energy (EIA). Although the sun is freely available, the cost of generating electricity from the sun remains high because of the methods used for conversion. Photovoltaic cells are commonly used when generating electricity from the sun, as they convert solar energy directly into electricity. They do not depend on the power grid, and individuals in hot regions prefer to use them. Some people use electric power plants to convert solar energy to electricity. Solar energy can be concentrated to increase its intensity. The energy is transferred to thermal-electric generators, where it is converted to electricity (Edison Electric Institute 10). Solar energy can only be used for limited periods because of seasonal changes. Large surface areas are needed to collect the sun’s energy. The benefits of using solar energy are that it has little impact on the environment, and it does not pollute the environment since it has no emissions.
Wind, solar and hydropower are renewable sources of energies. They have several benefits, especially concerning their impact on the environment. They do not produce toxic emissions or contribute to global warming. Of the three renewable sources of electricity generation, wind energy seems to have the greatest potential in development. There is less concentration in hydroelectric power, as people increase their awareness of the environment, and they look for ways of conserving the habitat. Although there is an increased awareness of the potential benefits of using solar energy, the development of solar energy for electricity generation is low because of high set up costs. All the renewable sources of energy are limited by the fact that they can only be developed in regions, or at certain seasons. Converting hydroelectric energy to electricity requires a lot of water, and it would not be practical in a desert. Solar energy can only be harnessed during the summer or in areas where it is constantly sunny. Wind energy can only be used in areas with high wind intensity. Electricity generated using nuclear power has remained constant for over twenty years. However, renewed interest in the development is likely to increase the rate at which the country uses nuclear power for electricity generation. The adoption of various energy sources for the purposes of electricity generation has ensured that the government does not rely on a single sector for producing electricity. Future investment in these sources is likely to reduce electricity costs and to increase the level of technologies used.
America’s Energy Future Panel on Electricity from Renewable Resources and National Research Council. Electricity from Renewable Resources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009. Print
Edison Electric Institute. Renewable Energy: Growth and Challenges in the Electric Power Industry. 2008. 28 September 2012
EIA. Electricity Explained: Electricity in the United States. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2011. 28 September 2012.
Luft, Gal. Energy Security Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Print
NRDC. Wind Energy. Natural Resources Defense Council. 2011. Web. 28 September 2012.