The Alternative Energy Sources of the Future
Despite the hype around the progress of renewable energy, many people don’t realize that solar and wind have only made a tiny dent in the energy mix thus far. The good news is that costs are coming down and many people are starting to adopt green technologies, but there is still a mountain to climb if we want to truly get off of fossil fuels on a large scale.
To accomplish this, we’re going to have to think outside the box to come up with new ways to tackle the energy challenge. Luckily, the folks at Futurism have put ten of the most promising alternative energy sources of the future in a handy infographic. Some of these may be long shots, but some may also play a crucial role in the energy mix of the future.
Most solar energy doesn’t actually make it into the Earth’s atmosphere, so space-based solar power makes a lot of sense. The challenges are the cost in getting a satellite to orbit, as well as the conversion of electricity into microwaves that can be beamed down to the planet’s surface.
There’s over seven billion people walking around the Earth each day, so why not generate power from the movement of people? Many experts believe that we can harness this energy, and that we could use it to power our devices.
Five countries around the world are starting to operate viable wave power farm operations, but the potential is far higher: the U.S. coastline alone has a wave energy potential of about 252 billion KWh per year.
Hydrogen is a clean and potent source of energy, and best of all – it accounts for 74% of the mass of the entire universe. The only problem is that hydrogen atoms tend to only be found in combinations with oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen atoms. Removing this bond takes energy, which ends up being counter-productive. As a result, many people around the world are working on making these processes more economic.
The center of the Earth is very hot, so why not try and get closer to it to tap into some geothermal heat? People in Iceland are already doing this with red-hot magma after accidentally striking a pocket of it during a 2008 drilling project.
Only 5% of uranium atoms are used in a traditional fission reaction. The rest end up in the pile of nuclear waste, which sits in storage for thousands of years. Researchers and companies are trying to tap into these leftovers for a viable and economic energy solution.
Embeddable solar power
What if every window could be easily turned into a solar panel? Solar window technology turns any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell that harvests the part of the light spectrum that eyes can’t see.
Algae grows practically anywhere, and it turns out these tiny plants are a surprising source of energy-rich oils. Up to 9,000 gallons of biofuel could be “grown” per acre, making it one of many potential energy sources of the future.
Flying wind power
Winds are much more powerful and strong at higher elevations. If wind farms could be autonomous and flying, they could go to where the winds are strongest and deliver double the energy of similarly sized tower-mounted turbines.
Fusion has been the dream for some time – but scientists are making baby steps to achieving the power process that is harnessed in nature by our own sun. The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is currently being built in France, and it’s one of the most complex scientific and engineering projects in existence.
Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves
See the countries with the most oil reserves on this map, which resizes each country based on how many barrels of oil are contained in its borders.
Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves
There’s little doubt that renewable energy sources will play a strategic role in powering the global economy of the future.
But for now, crude oil is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the energy world.
In 2018, we consumed more oil than any prior year in history – about 99.3 million barrels per day on a global basis. This number is projected to rise again in 2019 to 100.8 million barrels per day.
The Most Oil Reserves by Country
Given that oil will continue to be dominant in the energy mix for the short and medium term, which countries hold the most oil reserves?
Today’s map comes from HowMuch.net and it uses data from the CIA World Factbook to resize countries based on the amount of oil reserves they hold.
Here’s the data for the top 15 countries below:
|Rank||Country||Oil Reserves (Barrels)|
|#1||🇻🇪 Venezuela||300.9 billion|
|#2||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||266.5 billion|
|#3||🇨🇦 Canada||169.7 billion|
|#4||🇮🇷 Iran||158.4 billion|
|#5||🇮🇶 Iraq||142.5 billion|
|#6||🇰🇼 Kuwait||101.5 billion|
|#7||🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||97.8 billion|
|#8||🇷🇺 Russia||80.0 billion|
|#9||🇱🇾 Libya||48.4 billion|
|#10||🇳🇬 Nigeria||37.1 billion|
|#11||🇺🇸 United States||36.5 billion|
|#12||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||30.0 billion|
|#13||🇨🇳 China||25.6 billion|
|#14||🇶🇦 Qatar||25.2 billion|
|#15||🇧🇷 Brazil||12.7 billion|
Venezuela tops the list with 300.9 billion barrels of oil in reserve – but even this vast wealth in natural resources has not been enough to save the country from its recent economic and humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil dominance, takes the #2 spot with 266.5 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Canada and the U.S. are found at the #3 (169.7 billion bbls) and the #11 (36.5 billion bbls) spots respectively.
The Cost of Production
While having an endowment of billions of barrels of oil within your borders can be a strategic gift from mother nature, it’s worth mentioning that reserves are just one factor in assessing the potential value of this crucial resource.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, the production cost of oil is roughly $3.00 per barrel, which makes black gold strategic to produce at almost any possible price.
Other countries are not so lucky:
|Country||Production cost (bbl)||Total cost (bbl)*|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$17.36||$44.33|
|🇺🇸 U.S. shale||$5.85||$23.35|
|🇺🇸 U.S. non-shale||$5.15||$20.99|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$3.00||$8.98|
Even if a country is blessed with some of the most oil reserves in the world, it may not be able to produce and sell that oil to maximize the potential benefit.
Countries like Canada and Venezuela are hindered by geology – in these places, the majority of oil is extra heavy crude or bitumen (oil sands), and these types of oil are simply more difficult and costly to extract.
In other places, obstacles are are self-imposed. In some countries, like Brazil and the U.S., there are higher taxes on oil production, which raises the total cost per barrel.
Mapped: Every Power Plant in the United States
What sources of power are closest to you, and how has this mix changed over the last 10 years? See every power plant in the U.S. on this handy map.
This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States
Every year, the United States generates 4,000 million MWh of electricity from utility-scale sources.
While the majority comes from fossil fuels like natural gas (32.1%) and coal (29.9%), there are also many other minor sources that feed into the grid, ranging from biomass to geothermal.
Do you know where your electricity comes from?
The Big Picture View
Today’s series of maps come from Weber State University, and they use information from the EPA’s eGRID databases to show every utility-scale power plant in the country.
Use the white slider in the middle below to see how things have changed between 2007 and 2016:
The biggest difference between the two maps is the reduced role of coal, which is no longer the most dominant energy source in the country. You can also see many smaller-scale wind and solar dots appear throughout the appropriate regions.
Here’s a similar look at how the energy mix has changed in the United States over the last 70 years:
Up until the 21st century, power almost always came from fossil fuels, nuclear, or hydro sources. More recently, we can see different streams of renewables making a dent in the mix.
Maps by Source
Now let’s look at how these maps look by individual sources to see regional differences more clearly.
Here’s the map only showing fossil fuels.
The two most prominent sources are coal (black) and natural gas (orange), and they combine to make up about 60% of total annual net generation.
Now here’s just nuclear on the map:
Nuclear is pretty uncommon on the western half of the country, but on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest, it is a major power source. All in all, it makes up about 20% of the annual net generation mix.
Finally, a look at renewable energy:
Hydro (dark blue), wind (light blue), solar (yellow), biomass (brown), and geothermal (green) all appear here.
Aside from a few massive hydro installations – such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State (19 million MWh per year) – most renewable installations are on a smaller scale.
Generally speaking, renewable sources are also more dependent on geography. You can’t put geothermal in an area where there is no thermal energy in the ground, or wind where there is mostly calm weather. For this reason, the dispersion of green sources around the country is also quite interesting to look at.
See all of the above, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, in an interactive map here.
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