There’s a lot more news about alternative energies recently. Different people have different ideas about just what it is. They also have different ideas about how long alternative energy has been around. I wrote this article to give my perspective on
One way to approach a definition of alternative energy is to consider what “regular” energy is. Ever since the mid 19th century, fossil fuels such as coal and oil have provided an increasing proportion of our energy needs. Fossil fuels have become the energy standard against which other forms of energy are considered alternative.
This wasn’t always the case. In the not too distant past, sailing ships and animals powered transportation.
A windmill by a ranch house is an icon of the American west because thousands of windmills were used to provide power to pump water before electricity was available.
Early in the 20th century nearly 1/3rd of homes in Florida used solar hot water. The availability of cheap electricity in the 1940’s changed that. At one point electric companies were even giving away hot water heaters to encourage consumption.
As you consider the above and similar facts I think you can see that the dominance of fossil fuels has been very brief and very recent. As it becomes harder and more expensive to meet our energy needs with fossil fuel, we need to return to other sources.
Having said all that, let me give you my current definition of alternative energy: energy that comes from a source other than fossil fuels
We should make a distinction between alternative energy and renewable energy. People tend to assume that they’re one and the same but they aren’t. Some non-fossil fuel energy sources can be depleted.
Most sources of alternative energy have less environmental impact and burning fossil fuel. And most are renewable, meaning we don’t have to worry about running out of them. These considerations have led to the increased interest in exploring alternative energy today
Although most people think about solar panels and windmills when they think about alternative energy, the field is really much broader than that. it’s very exciting to see all the research being done in areas such as biomass, tidal power, geothermal, solar chimneys and so forth.
In the not too distant future we can expect that these forms of energy will no longer be “alternative” but instead be our dominate sources.