Sizing Up Fuel Source Choices

When assessing energy sources, you can’t simply say, nonrenewable energy is bad and renewable is good. Each source has its pros and cons, which means that this green issue isn’t a black-and-white choice. Sustainable energy issues to mull over include:

  • Cost: It doesn’t matter how beneficial an energy source is for the environment if it costs so much extra that it’s no longer affordable. However, if the additional cost for environmentally friendly energy is only a small amount and you can afford it, it’s worth paying. Supporting government initiatives that fund alternative energy research and technology development is one way to help bring costs down.

  • Practicality: Some alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen fuel cells, aren’t yet at the point where they’re practical for everyday use. In other cases, an energy source may not be available in your area because of climate limitations (solar and wind power aren’t practical in all geographic areas, for example).

  • Environmental impact: It’s important to go beyond the issue of greenhouse gas emissions to assess all the environmental issues involved in energy sources. Hydro power, for example, is green in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but can create other problems in terms of the flooding needed for reservoirs and the challenges that dams pose for fish.

  • Life cycle issues: Energy sources need to be assessed on a cost, practicality, and environmental viewpoint from their initial construction, through their energy-producing life, to their eventual decommissioning and dismantling. Nuclear power, for example, is considered relatively clean in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but mining for its fuel — uranium — and dealing with its radioactive waste is expensive, energy intensive, and potentially harmful to the environment.

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