What does sustainable energy mean?
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The need for petroleum would be reduced, but unless the fuels for electrical generation are changed, the need for coal would increase.
The amount of fossil fuels is limited. There have been major advances in discovering oil and extracting more from existing reservoirs, as well as recent advances in obtaining natural gas and oil from shale. But these sources, as well as coal and uranium, are not being replaced. Sustainable energy sources, primarily wind, water, and solar energy, ultimately receive their energy from the sun, and therefore will be available for billions of years. The present use of these sources is minimal. There are many difficulties in increasing their use. Wind power is highly variable. Water energy from traditional dams and reservoirs causes environmental problems. Energy from waves and tides has yet to be developed widely. Solar energy can be directly converted to electricity using photovoltaic cells. But these cells, at least at present, are inefficient and costly. Large solar “farms” exist, at which solar energy heats a fluid so it can boil water to use with steam turbines driving electrical generators. An additional problem in increasing the use of many of these sources is that they require the use of very rare materials, which are both costly and not easily obtained. Nevertheless, recent analyses suggest that a combination of nuclear, wind, water, and solar energy could replace most of the use of coal and oil for electric energy production.