The United States has large reserves of coal, natural gas, and crude oil which is used to make gasoline. However, the United States uses the energy of millions of barrels of crude oil every day, and it must import about half its crude oil from other countries.
Burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, gasoline, and natural gas) produces carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases that may contribute to global warming. In addition, burning coal and gasoline can produce pollution molecules that contribute to smog and acid rain.
Using renewable energy-such as solar, wind, water, biomass, and geothermal-could help reduce pollution, prevent global warming, and decrease acid rain. Nuclear energy also has these advantages, but it requires storing radioactive wastes generated by nuclear power plants. Currently, renewable energy produces only a small part of the energy needs of the
United States. However, as technology improves, renewable energy should become less expensive and more common.
Hydropower (water power) is the least expensive way to produce I electricity. The sun causes water to evaporate. The evaporated water falls to the earth as rain or snow and fills lakes. Hydropower uses water stored in lakes behind dams. As water flows through a dam, the falling water turns turbines that run generators to produce electricity.
Currently, geothermal energy (heat inside the earth), biomass (energy from plants), solar energy (light from concentrated sunlight), and wind are being used to generate electricity. For example, in California there are more than sixteen thousand (16,000) wind turbines that generate enough power to supply a city the size of San Francisco with electricity.
In addition to producing more energy, we can also help meet our energy needs through conservation. Conservation means using less energy and using it more efficiently.