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Earth Month: Green Energy

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Green leaf inside of a light bulb (PIRO4D, Pixabay)

Green leaf inside

Green leaf inside of a light bulb (PIRO4D, Pixabay)

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An overview of environmentally-friendly ways to generate electricity and power our vehicles

Energy

Energy can be broadly defined as the ability to do work. It’s what we need to do things like riding our bikes, lighting up our homes and driving our cars. Energy takes on many forms. These can be grouped into two categories: potential energy, and kinetic energy. We use both every day, and often convert one into the other to perform tasks.

When it comes to our modern world, two uses of energy are extremely important. The first is the energy we use to generate electricity. The second is the energy we use to make our vehicles move from one place to another. Both of these activities involve huge amounts of energy.

Electricity Generation

Electricity generation is a process. Devices transform a source of energy, like the Sun, into electrical energy.

To generate enough electricity to run a city, electrical power plants are needed. The electricity generated is delivered through the electrical grid. The grid powers lights, heating systems, and more.

New York City lit up at night, with many neon signs.
New York City lit up at night (Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash)
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a street corner lit by dozens of neon signs.

Every building along both sides of the street is covered with neon signs. Some are advertising billboards, some are store names, and many are theatre marquees. There is a street light in the middle ground, and an illuminated office tower in the background. In the foreground, a two lines of cars, with headlights on, wait at the intersection. A crowd of people stand on the sidewalk at the corner.

 

Many electricity generating systems use turbines and generators. Turbines convert energy from moving air or steam into kinetic energy. The kinetic energy is transferred into a generator. Here a rotor spins a wire coil within a magnet. This generates an electric current

Parts of a generator
Parts of a generator (Let’s Talk Science using an image by Graphic_BKK1979 via iStockphoto).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour diagram of a generator, with parts labelled and arrows indicating motion. 

The background is yellow. At the top, a large black circle is connected to a smaller black circle with a black loop. Both circles have arrows curving around them, pointing to the left. The larger circle is labelled Connection to Turbine. The smaller circle is labelled Rotor.

From the rotor, a long grey pole leads down through an orange ring at the bottom centre of the diagram. On either side of the pole is an orange line that forms a square. There is a gap at the bottom of the square, where a line from each side is attached to the ring. The square is labelled wire coil, and the ring has a curved arrow around it, pointing to the left.

To the left of the wire coil is a red, rectangular block with a white letter N on the front. On the right side of the block, five blue arrows point right, toward the wire coil. The block is labelled Stator (magnet).

To the left of the wire coil is a blue, rectangular block with a white letter S on the front. On the left side of the block are five arrows pointing right, toward the block. This block is also labelled Stator (magnet). 

On either side of the orange ring are square black blocks. A red line extends from the bottom of the diagram, turns right, and reaches the left block. On the other side, a blue line extends horizontally from the right block, then turns down to the bottom of this diagram. 

Purple arrows move along the red and blue lines, starting from the bottom left, up and across the orange ring, and down to the bottom right of the diagram. This is labelled Direction of Electric Current.

Coloured graph showing a breakdown of electricity generation in Canada by type
Electricity Generation by Fuel Type (2019) (©2022 Let’s Talk Science using data from Canada Energy Regulator).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour graph showing the percentage of different types of electricity generated in Canada.

The graph is labelled with the title Electricity Generation by Fuel Type (2018). It is a large circle divided into eight different coloured sections. A legend below indicates which fuel is represented by which colour, and the percentage of each.

The largest section is labelled Hydro/Tidal, with 61% in dark blue. The next largest is labelled Uranium with 15% in yellow. Natural gas is 9% in red. Coal is 8% in black. Wind is 5% in pale blue. Biomass is 1% in green. Solar is less than 1% in yellow. Petroleum is also less than 1% in grey.

Transportation

Vehicles convert potential energy stored in fuel into kinetic energy to make them go. The most common way of doing this is through the use of an internal combustion engine.

In this type of engine, the chemical energy stored in the fuel is transformed into kinetic energy through a combustion reaction

The reaction produces hot gases which push against pistons. Pistons then rotate a crankshaft that moves the vehicle. An animated diagram of this process can be seen to the right.

Animation of a combustion engine

This animation shows the four steps that occur in a combustion engine. The fuel enters at the left and the waste gases exit at the right (Source: UtzOnBike (derivative work) via Wikimedia Commons).

Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour animated GIF that shows what happens inside an internal combustion engine.

In the bottom left corner, black numbers cycle through 1, 2, 3, and 4 on a loop. 

On the top left, a yellow substance flows through a pipe. At the bottom of the pipe, a grey stopper on the end of a moving pole, moves up and down, blocking, then allowing the liquid to move into a chamber below.

When the chamber is full of yellow liquid, a white spark from a green plug in the roof of the chamber turns the chamber red. The chamber then quickly turns grey. 

When the chamber is grey, a stopper on the top right of the chamber lets the grey substance up through a pipe. The end of this pipe spews grey fumes, like the exhaust pipe of a car. 

At the bottom of the chamber,  wide grey object moves up and down in a steady rhythm. It moves down when the chamber becomes yellow, then up until the spark, then down when it's grey.

A large, round green object with a pointed triangular top, hangs from a hinge on the bottom side of the wide grey object. A grey half-circle attached to it moves smoothly around an empty chamber.

 

Electrical generation and transportation are important to everyday life. But they come with costs. Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity or power vehicles releases greenhouse gases (GHGs). These gases collect in the atmosphere. They trap heat from the Sun that would otherwise reflect back out into space. Greenhouse gases are the major contributor to climate change.

Burning fossil fuels produces other pollutants as well. For example, burning coal and oil releases nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide gas. These pollutants can lead to acid rain, which harms soils, forests, lakes, and rivers. Burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, also releases particulate matter into the air. Particulate matter can lead to heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and other diseases. 

Getting fossil fuels out of the ground can also impact the environment. For example, natural gas can be obtained through fracking. This process can lead to contaminated groundwater and drinking water. It can also release methane, which is another greenhouse gas.

Thankfully, we can generate electricity and move our vehicles using sources of energy other than fossil fuels. Let’s look at some of these “green” energy sources.

Green Electricity Generation

Electricity generated using “Green” energy sources does not produce GHGs. This includes energy from sources such as uranium, moving air, moving water and the Sun. Running solar panels or wind turbines does not produce GHGs. But building them does produce small amounts.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is one alternative to fossil fuels. Like generating stations that burn fossil fuels, nuclear generating stations heat water to form steam which then turns a turbine.

The fuel in this case is uranium, a radioactive chemical element. Uranium atoms are split in a process called . This process generates a large amount of thermal energy, which can be used to heat water.

Aerial view of Bruce Nuclear generating station
Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine, Ontario (Source: CNSC).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour, aerial photograph of large grey and beige buildings next to water.

In the centre is a row of four similar, blocky beige buildings. In front of that is another blocky building, and a grey, cylindrical structure, about the same height.

In the foreground is the curving shoreline of a greenish blue body of water. There is also another body of water to the right of the buildings, separated from the larger one by a wall of earth.

 

The fission process takes place in a specialized chamber called a reactor. Pellets of uranium are lined up in cylinders called fuel rods. The rods are then submerged in water. The water keeps the fuel rod temperature under control. In some reactors, called pressurized water reactors, the heated water is used to heat another pool of water. This second pool creates the steam. In other reactors, called boiling water reactors, the steam is generated from the same pool the fuel rods are submerged in.

The biggest advantage of nuclear power is that it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. In terms of its contribution to climate change, it is a clean energy.

The downside involves other environmental problems. Uranium decays over time, so that it is no longer as radioactive as it once was. Eventually it must be replaced with fresh fuel rods. The leftover spent fuel rods are cooled in large pools of water for several years.

Spent fuel rods continue to be radioactive after they are cooled, and can stay radioactive for a thousand years. After being removed from cooling pools, they are encased in dry storage containers. These are small vaults made of thick concrete and steel. 

Diagram on the structure of a fuel rod, spent fuel assembly, and a storage cask
Diagram of a fuel rod and of how spent fuel rods are stored (Source: US Nuclear Regulatory Commission [BY] via Flickr).
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Shown is a colour diagram of the inside of a fuel rod, its assembly, and rods inside a storage cask.

There are three illustrations on an orange background. 

In the centre is yellow circle with a long, straight vertical structure made up of light blueish grey rods arranged in a square. It is capped with a square brown top, and appear held together with square brown bands. This is labelled Spent Fuel Assembly, with a black line and dot.

A faint yellow cone extends from one of the rods to a yellow circle on the right. This is a close-up view of one of the rods. 

The rod itself is labelled Fuel Rod. The lower part of the rod is cut away to reveal it is filled with a stack of brown cylinders. One of the cylinders is labelled Uranium Fuel Pellet.

On the right is an illustration of a wide brown cylinder, labelled Storage Cask. It is cut away to reveal it's filled with about 24 spect fuel rod assemblies, packed close together.

 

Another downside for nuclear power is the potential for nuclear accidents. These have been rare in the history of nuclear power generation. A few have occurred and they have had serious consequences. Some of the ones you may be familiar with are the 1986 accident at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, and the 2011 accident in Fukushima, Japan.

Compared with other common methods of electricity generation, though, nuclear power is quite safe. A study from NASA shows that nuclear power produces the fewest deaths per unit of energy generated.

The ferris wheel in Pripyat, in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone
The ferris wheel in Pripyat, inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Source: IIja Nedilko via Unsplash).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a ferris wheel surrounded by overgrown trees.

The spokes and supports of the wheel are dark red and streaked. The round cars are bright yellow with matching canopies. Large bushy green trees grow around the wheel. Some branches reach between the spokes. Some branches grow up from the cement in the foreground. In the background, the sky is bright blue with a few white clouds.

 

Did you know?

France, Russia, and Japan have processes that recycle nuclear fuel. Rather than dispose of it, these plants refine it so that it can be used in reactors again.

Many communities do not have nuclear generating stations because they cost billions of dollars to build and maintain and take many years to build. They also need large bodies of water nearby.

This has led to the development of a new type of nuclear reactor - the small modular reactor (SMR).

Like large reactors, SMRs produce electricity through nuclear fission. But since they are small, they are cheaper and faster to build. They also generate a smaller amount of electricity.

In Canada, this would be ideal for:

  • Provinces that are getting rid of fossil fuel electricity generation.
  • Provinces with small electrical grids, such as Saskatchewan.
  • Remote communities where power is typically generated using diesel-fueled generators.
  • Resource extraction locations that need lots of power, such as oil or mining camps.
Small Modular Reactors (3:28) (2018) opgvideos

Did you know?

recent agreement in Canada aims to use SMRs to move provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick away from coal-generated electricity.

Solar Energy

Energy from the Sun can also be used to generate electricity. Unlike fossil fuels or nuclear power, no heat is involved. Like nuclear reactors, generating electricity using solar energy does not produce GHG emissions. Another advantage of solar power is that it is that the Sun is a source of renewable energy since the Sun is unlikely to run out of energy any time soon.

To generate electricity using the Sun, you need photovoltaic materials. These materials generate a small electrical current when exposed to light. Large numbers of photovoltaic cells are sandwiched between clear adhesive film. This solar sandwich is then placed between panes of glass and framed with wood.

A junction box is attached to these solar panels. The electricity generated by the photovoltaic cells flows out through the junction box.

A line of solar panels on green grass
Solar panels (Zbynek Burival, Unsplash)
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a long line of solar panels under blue sky.

The camera shows the right end of many rows of panels, tilted up to the sky. The first row is made up of at least six smaller, rectangular sections joined together by silver frames. Each section is dark blue with a grid of silver lines. The ends of many identical rows stretch off into the distance. 

Green grass is visible below the panels. The sky above is clear, deep blue.

 

A single photovoltaic cell can generate around half a volt of electricity. Three connected together produce about as much electricity as a AA battery. Several large panels are needed to generate enough electricity to power a house.

To generate larger amounts of electricity, people construct Solar farms. These are large groups of solar panels. Solar farms can produce up to 100 megawatts of electricity. The downside of solar farms is that they require a large amount of space, which is not always practical. They also need the Sun to be shining, which does not happen all the time.

First Look at Canada's Largest Solar Farm (2:42) (2021) CBC: The National

Currently, solar panels only convert around 20% of the solar energy they capture into electricity. This is not very much. To get more out of solar panels, researchers are experimenting with new types of photovoltaic cells. One group was able to convert up to 47% of solar energy. By making cells more efficient, they would not need to be as large. This could make them more practical to use.

Wind Energy

Energy from moving air can also be used to generate electricity. Like fossil fuels and nuclear generators, wind power also uses a generator. However, unlike fossil fuels and nuclear, no heat is involved. Generating electricity using solar energy does not produce GHG emissions and like the Sun, wind is a source of renewable energy.

A line of white wind turbines against a dark storm sky
Wind turbines in Ontario (Source: Keshav Rajasekar via Unsplash).
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Shown is a colour photograph of four turbines against dark clouds.

A row of tall, thin turbines with three blades, sit along the horizon. They gleam in low sun. The fields in the foreground are covered in snow. There are dark trees on the horizon and the sky is streaked with dark blue and grey clouds.

 

Wind turbines are devices that convert the kinetic energy of wind into electrical energy. A wind turbine consists of rotor blades attached to a nacelle that are on top of a tower.

The turning rotor blades connect to a generator, which generates the electricity.

Parts of a wind turbine
Parts of a wind turbine (Let’s Talk Science using an image by Ghrzuzudu via iStockphoto).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour illustration of three turbines, with their parts labelled.

The long, thin stem supporting the turbine is labelled Tower. At the top, the central, torpedo-shaped hub is labelled Nacelle. The pointed cone at the front of the nacelle is labelled Rotor. The three long, thin, tapered arms that extend out from the rotor are labelled Rotor blades.

 

The taller the tower, the longer the rotor blades can be. The longer the rotor blades, the more electricity the wind turbine can generate. Large numbers of wind turbines are often grouped together to form wind farms. These wind farms can generate a large amount of electricity.

Did you know?

The largest such farm in Canada is the Lac-Alfred Wind Project in Quebec, which generates 300 megawatts.

Wind turbines need specific situations to work effectively, though. If the wind is blowing too fast or too slow, the turbines will not operate.

Concerns about the effect of wind turbines on human health are largely unproven. But there is some evidence that they can have a negative effect on local wildlife. Due to this, engineers and planners try to make sure that new wind turbines do not interfere with animal habitats.

Wind farms attract attention as Canada looks to renewable energy (1:43) (2016) The Canadian Press

Energy from Moving Water

Energy from moving water can also be used to generate electricity. Hydroelectric generating stations work in a similar way to wind turbines except they use moving water instead of moving air to generate electricity. Moving water, like wind and solar energy, is a source of renewable energy. And like wind turbines, hydroelectric stations do not produce GHG emissions.

Did you know?

Nearly 60% of the electricity generated in Canada comes from moving water.

Some hydroelectric generating stations take advantage of naturally flowing water. One example of this is Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls electricity generation stations produce 25% of the electricity used in Ontario and New York State.

Other places use dams and reservoirs. Water is collected in the reservoir behind the dam. Some water is allowed to flow down through tunnels in the dam called penstocks. Turbines located at the bottom of the penstocks spin as water flows past them. The turbines are connected to generators.

A picture of the Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam in Nevada (© 2022 Scott Taylor. Used with permission).
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Shown is a colour photograph of a massive cement wall surrounded by cliffs.

A tall, smooth, curved, beige structure stretches across a canyon. In the distance, the cement is tightly sealed to a jagged cliff face. It curves all the way around so the top edge is just visible in the bottom left corner, like half a gigantic clay bowl.

There is a beige cylindrical structure nestled in the rocks at the far end of the wall, and part of an electric pylon is visible in the foreground.

 

Did you know?

Energy from moving water is used to provide nearly all electricity for the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec, as well as the territory of Yukon.

There are some environmental downsides to hydroelectricity. Building dams in rivers diverts the natural flow of water. This can have negative effects on ecosystems and the wildlife dependent on them.

Another potential downside is what may happen if a dam fails. The resulting flooding can result in damaged land, property, and human health.

Hydroelectric Power: How It Works (2:10) (2014) opgvideos

Did you know?

The world’s largest hydroelectric dam - and the biggest electricity generation station on Earth in terms of output - is the Three Gorges Dam in China.

Green Energy for Vehicles 

Much like fossil fuel-based electricity generation, vehicles produce GHGs as a by-product of the combustion reactions that take place in their engines. The combustion of gasoline and diesel fuel is a major contributor to climate change and poor air quality.

Luckily there are some up-and-coming green alternatives to this process.

An important device found in many vehicles is the catalytic converter. This device uses noble metals like platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd) and rhodium (Rh) to reduce harmful emissions from exhaust.

 

A honeycomb of noble metals inside of a catalytic converter
Catalytic Converter (Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Flickr)
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a tube with perforated gold coloured material inside.

The camera looks into the end of a shiny metal tube. Partway down, the tube is blocked with a circle of pale gold material. This is perforated with tiny holes, forming a fine grid.

 

Did you know?

The demand for these metals and their cost is now so high that thieves are stealing catalytic converters from cars!

Biofuels 

Another way people have tried to reduce vehicle GHG emissions is through the use of biofuels. These include fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is made mainly from corn and wheat seeds. Biodiesel is mainly made from vegetable oils and animal fats. Both fuels are processed so that they can undergo combustion reactions in engines.

Green growing corn field against an idyllic blue sky
Corn field (Source: Waldemar Brandt via Unsplash).
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Shown is a colour photograph of a field of tall green plants under blue sky.

The bottom two thirds of the photograph is filled with densely packed plants. They are tall and green with long pointed leaves that reach up into the sky. Above, the sky is bright blue, streaked with white.

 

Most vehicle engines can run on a fuel mixture that contains up to 10% ethanol. This fuel is labelled as E10. The “E” stands for ethanol. As of 2010, gasoline in Canada must contain at least 5% ethanol, and in Ontario, gasoline must contain at least 10% ethanol.

Biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels, and release fewer pollutants and GHGs into the air.

A gas pump, with ethanol among the available choices
Ethanol ratings at a gas pump (in grey rectangle at lower right) (Source: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons).
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Shown is a colour photograph of the front of a fuel pump.

The front wall of the pump is pale grey. There is a yellow button, a blue button, and a red button indicating different types of gasoline. Low on the right is a small, dark grey sticker with matching yellow, blue, and red rectangles. Each one has small white printing next to it. 

There is an LCD screen at the top, a keypad to the top right, and the handle of the pump on the far right.

 

The main advantage of biofuels is that they are a renewable resource. This is because they are made from crops that can be grown continuously. One of the drawback of biofuels is that they still emit GHGs when they are burned. So why do people consider this a “green fuel”? Biofuels are considered to be green because they are carbon neutral. The plants grown for biofuels take in the same amount of CO2 as they grow as they produce when they are burned. There is some debate as to how truly neutral they are because it often takes fossil fuels to grow the plants and manufacture the fuels.

Another drawback is that biofuels use agricultural land. This land could otherwise be used for growing food. By diverting corn harvests from food to fuel, it reduces the supply of corn for people. This can cause food prices to rise, and with it food insecurity. As a result of the “food versus fuel” debate, scientists are looking for ways to use waste plant materials rather than edible plant products for making biofuels.

Hydrogen

Human beings have been trying to harness the potential of hydrogen since it was first identified in 1671. It is the simplest , and the most abundant element in the universe.

The first modern uses of hydrogen were for lifting things. Hydrogen was used to lift lighter-than-air vehicles into the sky.

As a lifting gas, hydrogen was very successful, but it did have one major drawback. Hydrogen gas can be very explosive. All it takes is a small spark to ignite it. A famous example of a hydrogen explosion happened to the airship Hindenburg in New Jersey in 1937.

The Hindenburg moments after catching fire
Explosion of the Hindenburg, 1937 (Gus Pasquerella [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons).
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Shown is a black and white photograph of an airship exploding as it hits a tower.

The ship is dark grey, ribbed, and shaped like a torpedo. The back half is consumed by a huge, bright, ball of fire. In the bottom right corner, the black metal struts of a tower can be seen.

 

The explosive potential of hydrogen made it unsuitable as a lifting gas. However, that explosiveness makes it useful to replace fossil fuels in vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cells are an alternative to fossil fuels in engines. In a hydrogen fuel cell engine, hydrogen gas and oxygen from the air react to form water (H2O). In the process, an electric current is generated. This makes a car with a hydrogen fuel cell a type of an electric car. Filling the tank with hydrogen also takes about as long as filling a tank with gasoline.

Hydrogen: Fuel of the future? (5:45) (2021) The Economist

As good as this sounds, there are some drawbacks to this method. The major problem is that it takes a lot of hydrogen to power a vehicle. This means large tanks are needed to store the hydrogen. Since regular cars do not have the room for these tanks, new vehicle designs are necessary. 

Hydrogen is still a very explosive gas which is difficult to store. And while the point of switching to hydrogen is to stop using fossil fuels, fossil fuels are often still used to produce the hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen tank inside of a vehicle
Hydrogen tank in a vehicle at a hydrogen fuel station (Source: Scharfsinn86 via iStockphoto).
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Shown is a colour photograph of a pale grey cylinder strapped in a large compartment with a blue metal door.

The pale blue door is pulled open to the top of the photograph, revealing a compartment that takes up all the space between two tail lights of a vehicle. Inside is a pale grey cylinder about half the size of the compartment. It is held in place by two black bands fastened around it.

In the foreground, on the right, is a hose with a handle, attached to a silver rectangular object. This looks very similar to a gas pump. The handle is bright blue with a white panel labelled H2 (2 in subscript)

 

Electric Vehicles

The increased focus on climate change has caused a rise in interest in electric vehicles. These are vehicles that are either completely or partially powered by a battery.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), also known as fully-electric vehicles, run off of a rechargeable battery and use an electric motor. They produce no GHGs, since they do not burn any fuel.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) have an internal combustion engine as well as an electric motor and a battery. They produce fewer GHGs than fossil-fuel powered vehicles.

Electric vehicle plugged in and charging
Electric vehicle charging (Source: CHUTTERSNAP via Unsplash).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of an electric cord plugged into a blue socket behind a small silver door.

The small door in a smooth silver panel looks very similar the cap of a car's fuel tank. Inside is a black compartment with a glowing blue circle, where a blue cord is plugged in.

 

In addition to using batteries, these vehicles often have other emission-reducing features.

This can include using the brakes to convert the vehicle’s  into . This energy is then stored in the battery.

Some vehicles will use a start-stop system, which shuts the engine down when idling. This can cut down the amount of GHG emissions that HEVs produce.

Electric vehicles are becoming more common on the road. They are an important part of reducing our overall GHG emissions. Like anything, though, they come with some drawbacks.

One downside to electric vehicles is that the electricity that they use to charge the battery may be generated using fossil fuels. In this case, the vehicle still contributes to the overall emissions of GHGs into the atmosphere.

Making these batteries can also have environmental problems. The batteries require rare-earth elements like lithium, cobalt, and manganese. Mining these elements have led to environmental concerns.

In addition, some of the elements, especially cobalt, are mined in places where labour conditions for workers are poor.

Inside the murky business of cobalt mining in DR Congo (10:44) (2018) France 24 English

Electric vehicles will continue to be important in reducing overall GHGs. More work must be done to ensure that they are truly a green alternative.

What You Can Do

Energy sources are a major contributor to climate change, so we should do everything we can to help find a solution.

One thing you can do is practice energy conservation. By reducing the amount of energy you use at home and school, you can reduce the amount of GHGs going into the atmosphere.

This can include things like turning off lights in rooms when we leave and using energy-efficient LED light bulbs. Heating and air conditioning also use a large amount of electricity. Keeping your home cool and using programmable thermostats can help to reduce this.

An LED bulb next to a retail light bulb box
LED light bulb (Source: Bet_Noire via iStockphoto).
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Shown is a colour photograph of an opaque white lightbulb next to a box labelled LED.

On the right, a lightbulb sits straight up on its base. The top is round and white, There is a pale grey section below, printed with the words LEDLAMP in grey. The base is silver metal with threads. 

The box is bright green with a picture of the same lightbulb on the front. It is labelled LEDLAMP at the top. LED, 12W, 6000K, Eco and E27 are also printed on the box.

 

Another contribution is to make smarter travel decisions. Try reducing the amount of driving around town during the day. Another idea is to take a train for long-distance travel rather than going by car or airplane. Virtual meetings are another good way to reduce the amount of GHGs emitted from business travel.

Coffee mug next to an open laptop displaying a Zoom meeting
Zoom Meeting (Source: Chris Montgomery via Unsplash)
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a laptop with the screen divided into 25 sections, each showing a different face.

The pale grey laptop sits on a brown wooden table, with a green mug placed on the left. The background appears to be a home, not an office. The image on the screen shows about 25 people from the shoulders up. Each person is in a separate rectangle, with different text in the bottom left corner. This is too small to read.

 

One of the best contributions you can make is to get involved with a STEM-focused career. Many careers let you work to provide solutions to the problems of fossil fuels and green energy. Below are some examples of people who have worked to have just such a career.

 

Learn More

Nuclear Reactor Simulator
This interactive website provides a 3D examination of all of the major parts of a working pressurized water reactor.

Nuclear Energy Interactive Guide
This interactive map from The Economist shows the global distribution of nuclear reactors, as well as the uranium requirements for each country.

Solar Power
This video (3:00), from NOVA Labs and PBS Learning Media, provides an overview of solar power and some pros and cons with its use.

Wind Energy Interactive
This ‘virtual wind energy lab’ from 3M lets you design your own wind turbine and test it to see if it can meet the goal of powering at least 400 homes. 

Canadian Hydropower Interactive Map
This interactive map from Canadian Geographic shows the location, type, and power generation capacity of every hydroelectric dam in Canada.

Gridwatch
This dashboard shows the current electricity demand and generation for the Province of Ontario. Power generation is broken down by type and by generation station. The dashboard also includes the amount of emissions and the intensity, measured in CO2-equivalent units.

How Do Electric Vehicles Work?
This video (5:06) from Tech Vision explains how electric cars function as well as the difference between the electric engine and the internal combustion engine.

References

Canada Energy Regulator (2022). Canada's Energy Future.
 

Chrichton, F., S. Chapman, T. Cundy and K. J. Petrie (2014). The Link between Health Complaints and Wind Turbines: Support for the Nocebo Expectations Hypothesis. Frontiers in Public Health 2: 220.

Frankel, T. C. (Sept 30, 2016). The Cobalt Pipeline. The Washington Post.

International Atomic Energy Agency (n.d.). Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident.

Jaekl, P. (Jun 19, 2017). Why People Believe Low-Frequency Sound Is Dangerous. The Atlantic.

Kharecha, P. and J. Hansen (2013). Coal and Gas are Far More Harmful than Nuclear Power. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Niagara Falls Info (n.d.). Niagara Power Generating Quick Facts.

Nuclear Waste Management Organization (n.d.). How Is It Stored Today?

U.S. Energy Information Administration (2021). Biofuels Explained: Ethanol and the Environment.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Mar 2022). Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident.

U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (n.d.) Biofuel Basics.

U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy (Mar 29, 2021). Nuclear 101: How Does a Nuclear Reactor Work?