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The Alternative Energy Revolution - Separating The Hype From Reality

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Technology and World Change Individual Topical Review Paper


The Alternative Energy Revolution: Separating the Hype from the Reality

Xie Shangqian (

3rd year student, Bachelor of Business Management

Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University

Executive Summary

The age of alternative energy is dawning upon us. Wind power, geothermal energy, solar energy,

hydropower, nuclear power, fuel cells and bioenergy -all of them come with their own set of

developmental challenges, implications and opportunities. Understanding these issues will allow us an

insight into a world where alternative energy is no longer the alternative but the only solution to a

sustainable world.

This paper was reviewed by Daren Li, Isaac Chen and Shaun Lee with guidance from Dr. Gurinder Shahi

A) Introduction

The era of cheap oil has ended. At least that is how the trend has been playing out for the past two years.

The modern world built around crude oil is now reeling from its unprecedented surge in prices -a stark

reminder that too little investment and effort has been made on finding a suitable substitute. The world is

taking notice. The annual investment in CleanTech companies grew more than 500% between 2005 and

2007 (National Venture Capitalists Association, 2007), a clear signal that people now believe in the

power of alternative solutions to our energy problems.

A revolution is defined as “a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving”(WordNet

Princeton). An Alternative Energy Revolution would represent a time of dramatic paradigm shifts on how

people view alternative energy and react accordingly-the current state of affairs now.

This paper will attempt to shed light on this powerful movement that could radically change how the

world uses its energy resources.

The first two parts of the paper aim to equip the reader with a basic understanding of the various

alternative energies before explaining the four major factors driving this revolution.

This is then followed by the two main focuses of this paper: an objective view on alternative energy and

the challenges and potential it holds for the world.

B) The Different Realms of Alternative Energy

There are 7 major realms of alternative energy, namely: solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, bio, fuel cell,

nuclear. They will be briefly described in this section.

1. Solar Energy

Solar energy is the light and heat radiated from the Sun. Solar energy essentially supports the existence of

life on Earth, be it heating the climate to a hospitable temperature or making photosynthesis possible. It is

also the most abundant and infinite energy source, although one that is difficult to harness due to the

diffuse nature of solar rays when it hits Earth. To put things into perspective, the total energy absorbed by


Earth’s atmosphere, land and sea masses is 3850 zettajoules(ZJ) per year (Smil, 2006), whereas


worldwide primary energy usage in 2005 only amounted to 0.487 ZJ (EIA, 2005).

2. Wind Power

The main driving force of wind is the uneven solar heating of the equator and the poles, and of land

masses versus the oceans, causing a differential in atmospheric pressure. Air tends to flow from regions of

high pressure to low pressure, hence the creation of wind.

3. Hydropower

Hydro or hydraulic power is the energy of flowing water. Hydropower is derived by constructing a

hydroelectric dam over large areas of flowing water, usually fast flowing rivers. The water running

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10Joules. 1 Joule is approximately the energy required to heat one gram of dry, cool air by 1 degree Celsius.

Energy that has not been subjected to any conversion or transformation process

through the dam will rotate turbines that will in turn generate electricity. Currently, hydropower is the

indisputable leader in alternative energies, accounting for 16% out of a total of 18% of global renewable

energy derived electricity production (IEA, 2006).

4. Geothermal Energy

Geothermal power is generated by subterranean heat stored in rock formations. Water is injected deep

into the rock, and the steam generated drives an electrical turbine to produce electricity. An MIT report

conducted in 2006 estimated that 200 ZJ of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) resources are

extractable globally, with the potential to increase this to 2000 ZJ with advance in technology, enough to




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