Renewable Energy: Beyond Wind and Solar

Beyond wind and solar, a variety of carbon-free energy sources—biofuels, geothermal and advanced nuclear energy—are seen as possible ways of meeting rising global demand. 

What's the Latest Development?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative turns five next month. To celebrate, the college is examining which renewable technologies can be scaled to make a truly significant difference in the global energy supply. Biofuels and tidal power hold the least promise, according to the Institute. The former currently makes land unavailable for growing food and may also encourage the cutting down of forests; the latter simply supplies too little. The most energy that could ever be captured using waves is less than one terawatt. 

What's the Big Idea?

Geothermal and advanced nuclear power hold the most promise for substituting fossil fuels in the coming decades. The Earth constantly produces 44 trillion watts of power which is three times humanity's current energy use. Hot dry rock technology can be used to heat water deep underground, bringing steam to the surface to turn turbines. For the next several decades, nuclear power faces obstacles, not the least of which are political. The Institute reminds us that harvesting energy requires energy: no system is pollution-free. 

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