Three promising alternative energies of the future

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Photovoltaic solar panels drink in the sunlight to create electricity.

Currently, there are several ways for us to power the lights in our homes and run our electronic devices. However, energy demands keep growing and old sources just don’t cut it. Now, scientists are dedicating their efforts to developing alternatives, like unlimited nuclear fusion energy, renewable heating from solar thermal power, and electricity from photovoltaic solar panels.

Nuclear fusion involves combining small particles called atoms into larger ones. The great thing about this process is that it actually creates more energy than you start off with. To put this in perspective, the amount of energy needed for a single shower would be enough to power a whole city for a year. There are still several obstacles to overcome, like lowering the energy cost required to create nuclear fusion in the first place, but it’s definitely the most promising answer to our energy problems.

While researchers work on the early stages of nuclear fusion, there have already been several advances in the realm of solar thermal energy. This clean technology generates energy by using mirrors to redirect heat from the Sun to a tower filled with a water-like substance. This warms the liquid until it converts to steam, which then turns a large turbine (a big propeller-like fan) to create energy. The USA recently opened the largest solar thermal plant in the entire world, which uses more than 350,000 garage-sized mirrors to redirect light. It can power 140,000 homes just from the sunlight!

As for solar photovoltaic technology, it also uses the Sun, but in a way that’s more convenient than the mega mirrors of solar thermal. Similar to how plants drink in the sunlight to create energy for themselves, solar photovoltaic panels can create energy directly from sunlight. No need for redirecting it with mirrors! Business investors plan to build a huge solar photovoltaic plant, and all those panels are predicted to produce twice as much power as solar thermal plants.

Featured image courtesy of Ivanpah Solar. Image of solar panels courtesy of Black Rock Solar on Flickr.