It is possible of course to generate electricity directly from sunlight using silicone photovoltaic cells, and energy can be harnessed from the sun in the form of heat by using solar collectors such as mirrors or concave dishes and focusing the sun's rays. This heat can then be used to generate steam and produce electricity. This is a great system in theory, but the problem is that the areas of the world which receive large quantities of sunlight are not necessary the areas where the electricity is most needed, so unless we can find a means of transporting it to the point of consumption which may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away there is little point in following this route. Suggestions have been made that generated electricity can be used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis and that the hydrogen itself could be used as a fuel; this may be a possibility in the future but research and development in this field is hampered by the fact that oil is so much cheaper at present.

Wind power is becoming extremely popular right across the world; there is a great deal of wind available so the potential for generating huge quantities of electricity is quite real. Perhaps the biggest drawback to this idea is the fact that nature is pretty uncontrollable and regions where there is steady predictable winds are few and far between or unsuitable for the production of large wind farms. The result is a feast or famine situation and since electricity is required 24 hours a day seven days a week and not just when the wind is blowing in a certain direction wind power cannot answer the problem on its own. Once again, some means of storing huge quantities of electricity would be the answer, but we do not have this technology as yet.

 

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Hydroelectric dams have been very successful in some parts of the world. They work by holding back huge volumes of water, which is then allowed to run through rotors which turn dynamos. Two problems crop up here; the first is that there are very few parts of the world that can accommodate systems like this, and secondly building hydroelectric dams is a very, very expensive process and it would be vital to have backup systems in any case in the event of a failure of some sort.

Tidal energy is a possibility; again the greatest drawbacks are the huge costs involved in building the necessary dams and the geographical factor.

Finally we come to geothermal energy. In some parts of the world this is quite easily tapped in regions with volcanic activity but the drawback is the inherent instability of the source; to put it bluntly one never knows when the volcano may erupt! In more stable regions it is often possible to drill hundreds or even thousands of feet into the earth, pump down water and received steam back in exchange; systems like this have in fact been in use for over a century but again that there are limited regions of the world where this is possible.

So where does all this leave us? There is plenty of energy lying around in one form or another, but our problem is not only to collect it but also to transport it. If a safe and portable means of storing bulk quantities of electricity can be found then this will go an extremely long way towards solving the Earth's future energy needs; alternatively there is a distinct possibility that in the future mankind will have to contemplate a hydrogen, rather than oil economy.