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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

The Alternative Energy Run Down

Alternative energy gets a lot of time in many of the discussions I have had recently. Many of them are extensions of other topics, but somehow the conversation is moved to some form of alternative energy. Several of them start out with "But how does this type of energy affect (fill in the blank)?" With this in mind, here are the most popular forms of alternative energy production with some pros and cons. The important thing to consider is "There is NO FREE Lunch."

Wind Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost Efficient; One of the easiest forms of energy to maintain; Lots of Research is being done in this area, which makes it less expensive each year; Green House Gas (GHG) neutral energy.

Cons: Not everyone likes the way the equipment look/they destroy beautiful views; There is compelling research that shows them as one of many dangers to migrating birds; Wind is not constant; Not all areas are ideal for wind production and "transportation" of energy reduces the energy delivered; Very expensive to build.

Solar Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost efficient; One of the oldest and most understood of the clean energy choices; There are lots of options for residential use, including leasing or purchasing equipment; Easy to add to existing buildings; Is viable in all areas of the country; GHG neutral energy.

Cons: On historic buildings, solar panels can destroy the historic charm or are not allowed on historic buildings due to local historic preservation codes; The sun is not out all the time; There are durability issues associated with commercial solar energy production; There is some research showing that large solar farms could affect migrating birds.


Pros: Relatively inexpensive to install in new construction (for heating/cooling); Can produce heating/cooling and electricity; GHG neutral; extremely efficient; No fuel costs, so price is very stable once installed.

Cons: Not viable in all areas, particularly for energy production; High maintenance costs of equipment, as some geothermal sources can be highly corrosive to equipment; High up-front costs to build (electrical production); Some concerns with the liquids used in closed-loop systems if there is a leak.

Alternative Fuels (Biomass, Biofuels, and others):

Pros: Renewable; readily available; Supports National Economy; Reduces dependence on fossil fuels; Possibility of multiple uses for field crops; requires less infrastructure alterations; Inexpensive.

Cons: Still releases GHGs; Some Biofuels are not viable in all climates; The current production capabilities would not provide for the entire country; Some loss of efficiency; Transition to exclusive use would be long and expensive; Some fear of "new" crops having the potential to become invasive; Possibility of destruction of "natural areas" for energy production.

I have not touched on all of the pros and cons of each of these alternative energy types, but these are the most prevalent. Although there are many options from which to choose, no one option will be the answer for future energy production. Just remember, There is NO FREE Lunch.

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