5. Towards Green Energy

Energy and use of energy

 In modern civilization, energy has become a primary need along with food, cloth and shelter. We need energy in different forms for diverse types of works. The energy that we need may be in the form of mechanical energy, chemical energy, sound energy, light energy or heat energy. How do we get these different forms of energy?

We know that energy can be converted from one form to another. Different sources of energy are used to the different forms of energy necessary for us. In previous standards we have learnt about energy, sources of energy and various concepts related to them. Here we will learn about various sources that are now used for the generation of electrical energy, the methods that are used for this, the scientific principles that are used there, the advantages and disadvantages of these methods and also what is meant by green energy.

Generation of electrical energy

Most of the electric power plants are based on the principle of electromagnetic induction invented by Michael Faraday. According to this principle, whenever magnetic field around a conductor changes, a potential difference is generated across the conductor. The field around a conductor can be changed in two ways. If a conductor is stationary and magnet is rotating, the field around the conductor changes or if a magnet is stationary, but the conductor is moving then also the field around the conductor will change. Thus, in both these cases, a potential difference is created across the conductor. (Figure 5.1). The electrical power generating machine based on this principle is called electric generator.

Such large generators are used in commercial power generation plants. Turbine is used to rotate the magnet in the generator. A turbine has blades .When a flow of liquid or gas is directed on the blades of the turbine, it rotates (see Figure 5.2). because of the kinetic energy of the flow.This turbine is connected to electric generator. Thus the magnet in electric gener[1]ator starts rotating and electric energy is produced (Fig.5.3)

This method of electric energy generation can be represented as below. Thus, to generate electricity based on the principle of electromagnetic induction, we need a generator. To rotate the generator we need a turbine and to drive the turbine, we need an energy source. Based on which type of energy source is used to rotate the turbine, there are different types of power generating stations. The design of the turbine used in different types of power stations is also different.

Thermal energy based electric power station

In this the turbine is rotated using steam. Water is heated in a boiler. Using the ther[1]mal energy released due to burning of coal. Steam of very high temperature and pressure is generated. The energy in the steam drives the turbine. Thus, the generator connected to the turbine rotates and electrical energy is produced. The steam is converted back into water and the water is re-circulated to the boiler. This is shown in flow chart in fig 5.5

Since thermal energy is used here to generate electrical energy, such power plants are called thermal power plants. In thermal power plants, the chemical energy in the coal is converted into electrical energy through several steps which are shown in figure 5.6.

If you see a thermal power station, you will observe two types of towers there. What are they? If you observe the schematic of the thermal power station in Figure 5.7 , you will get answer to this question.

Compare the schematic of the thermal power station with the block diagram above and you will understand how the boiler, turbine, generator and the condenser are arranged in the power station.

After combustion of fuel (here, coal) in the boiler, the emitted gases are released to the atmosphere through very high tower. Once the turbine is rotated using the steam at high temperature and high pressure, steam temperature and pressure decreases. This steam is converted back to water by taking out heat from it (i.e.by cooling it) . This is done in the condenser using water in the cooling tower. The water in cooling tower is circulated through the condenser. Heat energy in the steam is given to the water and the steam condenses back to water. The heat absorbed by the water is then released to atmosphere through vapour and heated air through cooling tower. Although, thermal power generation is a major way of electricity generation today, it suffers from certain problems


  1. Air pollution due to burning of coal: Burning of coal results in emission of gases like carbon dioxide, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide which are harmful to the health.
  2. Along with the emission of gases due to burning of coal, soot particles are also released into the environment. This may cause serious health problems related to the respiratory system.
  3. The reserves of fuel used in this method i.e. coal are limited. Therefore, in future, there will be limitations on the availability of the coal.

Power plant based on Nuclear Energy

 In the power plant based on nuclear energy also , steam turbine is used to rotate the generator. However, here, the energy released by fission of nuclei of atoms like Uranium or Plutonium is used to generate the steam of high temperature and high pressure. The energy in the steam rotates the turbine, which in turn drives the generator producing electricity. The flow chart of nuclear power plant is shown in fig 5.8

Thus, here nuclear energy is converted into thermal energy, thermal energy is converted into kinetic energy of steam, kinetic energy of steam is converted into kinetic energy of turbine and finally the kinetic energy of the turbine is converted into electrical energy .The step-by-step transformation of energy is shown in figure 5.5

When neutron is bombarded on atom of Uranium – 235 , it absorbs the neutron and converts into its isotope Uranium – 236. Uranium – 236 being extremely unstable converts into atoms of Barium and Krypton through a process of fission releasing three neutrons and 200 MeV energy. The three neutrons generated in this process cause fission of three other Uranium – 235 atoms releasing more energy.

The neutrons released in this reaction release more energy through fission of more uranium nuclei. This process of fission of Uranium -235 atoms continues and is called the chain reaction. In nuclear power plants, a controlled chain reaction results in release of thermal energy, which is used for electric energy generation.

A nuclear power plant does not use fossil fuel like coal. Therefore, problems like air pollution do not arise. Also, if sufficient nuclear fuel is available, this can be a good source of electrical energy. However, there are few problems associated with nuclear power generation.

Problems: 1. The products after fission of nuclear fuel are also radioactive and emit harmful radiations. The products are called as nuclear waste. How to dispose the nuclear waste safely is a big challenge before the scientists.

  1. An accident in nuclear power plant can be very fatal. This is because the accident may result in release of very harmful radiations.

Power generation plant based on energy of natural gas In this plant, the turbine is run by a gas at very high temperature and pressure generated by combustion of natural gas. A flow chart showing various stages in the power generation plant based on natural gas energy is shown in figure 5.12

There are three main sections in this type of plant. Pressurised air is introduced into the combustion chamber using a compressor. In the combustion chamber the natural gas burns in presence of the air. The gas at very high temperature and pressure generated in this chamber runs the turbine. The turbine then drives the generator to produce electricity. Step-by-step transformation of energy in this plant is shown in fig 5.13

The efficiency of this type of power generation plant is higher than that of power generation plant based on coal. Moreover, since the natural gas does not contain sulphur, burning of natural gas results in less pollution. The schematic of power plant based on natural gas is given in figure 5.14.

Electric energy generation and environment

Electricity generation based on fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear fuels like uranium and plutonium are not environment friendly. It means, that if electrical energy is generated using these fuels, it can lead to environmental degradation.

  1. We have seen that burning of fossil fuels like coal, and natural gas leads to emission of certain gases and soot particles. This results in air pollution. Incomplete combustion of fuels leads to formation of carbon monoxide. It adversely affects our health. Increase in percentage of carbon dioxide in the air due to burning of fuels affects environment severely. The phenomena of global warming is an example of this. Nitrogen dioxide generated due to burning of fuels like coal, diesel, petrol, etc. leads to problems like acid-rain. Soot particles generated due to incomplete burning of fossil fuel cause air pollution. It can lead to problems related to respiratory system, like asthama.
  2. It took millions of years for formation of fossil fuels like coal, crude oils and natural gases (LPG and CNG). Also, the reserves of these fuels are limited. They are going to deplete in future. It is said that with the current speed of their use, the coal reserves in the world would last for another about 200 years or so and the natural gas reserves for about 200- 300 years.
  3. We have also discussed above about the problems in use of nuclear energy like the disposal of nuclear waste and possibility of disaster due to accident in nuclear power plant. Considering all these points, it can be said that the energy generation from fossil fuels and nuclear fuels are not environment friendly.

Hydroelectric Energy Kinetic energy in flowing water or the potential energy in water reservoir is a conventional source of energy. In hydroelectric power plant, the potential energy in water stored in dam is converted into kinetic energy of water. Fast flowing water is brought from the dam to the turbine at the bottom of the dam. The kinetic energy of the flowing water drives the turbine. The turbine in turn drives the generator to generate electricity. The block diagram showing different components of hydroelectric power plant is shown in figure 5.15

Electricity generation using wind-energy

The schematic of hydroelectric plant is shown in Figure 5.17. Water from about middle of the total height of the dam is taken to the turbine, as shown by point B in the diagram.

The kinetic energy in wind has been used since long for lifting of water, for driving floor mill etc. The wind energy can also be used for electricity generation. The machine which converts the kinetic energy of wind to electrical energy is called wind-turbine. As the wind strikes the blades of the turbine, the blades rotate. The axel of the turbine is connected to electric generator through a gear-box. The function of the gear-box is to increase the rotations per unit time. Thus, the rotating blades drive the turbine and the turbine in turn drives the generator to generate electricity. Various stages in the wind[1]energy generation system can be shown in figure 5.19 and schematics of a wind mill is shown in figure 5.20.

Wind turbines with capacity right from less than 1 kW to about 7 MW (7000 kW) are commercially available. Depending on the wind velocity available at the site of installation, wind-turbine with specific capacity is selected. The wind velocity at specific location depends on many geographical factors.

Wind velocity is usually high on sea shores and that environment is appropriate for installation of wind turbine. Wind-energy is a clean energy source. However, the wind-ve[1]locity necessary for wind-energy generation is not available everywhere. In that sense, use of wind-energy is limited.

Electric Energy generation using solar energy

Using the energy in the Sunlight, electric energy can be generated in two ways:

  1. In all the above methods of electricity generation we have studied, the electric generator is driven by using some source of energy and electricity is generated by making use of the principle of electromagnetic induction. However, electrical energy can be generated directly from solar radiation without using generator and without using the principle of electromagnetic induction. This happens in solar photovoltaic cells. Solar photovoltaic cells convert the solar energy directly into electrical energy. 2. In the second method, the energy in solar radiation is converted into thermal energy first. Then a turbine-generator system is driven using that thermal energy to generate electricity.

 1.Solar photovoltaic cell

Solar photovoltaic cell converts the solar radiation energy directly into electrical energy. This is called solar photovoltaic effect. The electrical energy generated through this energy transformation process is DC in nature. These solar cells are made of a special type of material called semiconductor (e.g. silicon). A silicon solar cell of dimension 1 cm2 generates current of about 30 mA and potential difference of about 0.5 V. Thus, a silicon solar cell of dimension 100 cm2 will generate about 3 A (30 mA/cm2 X 100 cm2 =3000 mA= 3 A) current and 0.5 V. Remember that the potential difference available from a solar cell is independent of its area.

If two solar cells are connected in series as shown in figure 5.23, the potential difference obtained from this combination is addition of the potential differences of individual solar cells. However, the current generated from this combination is equal to the current from an individual cell. It means that when solar cells are connected in series, currents from the individual cells are not added. Similarly as shown in figure 5.24, if two solar cells are connected in parallel, the current generated from this combination is the summation of the currents from an individual solar cells. However, the potential difference obtained from this combination is the same as the potential difference obtained from individual cell. Thus, if two solar cells are connected in parallel, the potential differences from the two cells are not added.

 In this way, by connecting many solar cells in series and in parallel solar panels generating required current and potential difference are made. See Figure 5.25. For example, if 36 solar cells, each of size 100 cm2 are connected in series in a solar panel, it will give potential difference of 18 V and current of 3 A. Many such panels are connected together to generate electricity on larger scale. A good solar cell can have an efficiency of around 15%. It means that if a solar panel receives power of 100 watt from solar radiation, the electrical power output from the panel will be 15 watt.

 Many solar panels are connected in series and in parallel to generate required current and potential difference. As shown in Figure 5.26, solar cell is the basic unit in solar electric plant . Many solar cells come together to form a solar panel. Many solar panels connected in series form a solar strings, and, many solar strings connected in parallel form a solar array. As we can obtain as much electrical power as needed, they are used in applications which need marginal power (e.g. calculators that run on solar energy) to power station of MW capacity.

The power available from the solar cells is DC. So, in applications which need DC power , e.g. electric lights based on Light Emitting Diodes, the energy can be directly used. However, since the energy from solar cell is available only in presence of sunlight, the energy has to be stored in batteries for use at later time.

However, most of the equipment in domestic as well as industrial use run on AC power. In such case, the DC solar power must be converted to AC power using an electronic device called inverter(Figure 5.27).

We have seen that many solar panels can be connected together to generate whatever energy we need. As shown in Figure 5.28, the DC power generated from these panels is first converted into AC power. A transformer transforms the voltage and current levels of the generated power and then it is fed into the electricity distribution network. Figure 5.28 is a schematic diagram of solar photovoltaic power station.

In this way, electricity is generated without any fuel combustion and so with[1]out any air pollution. However, since the energy is generated using solar radiation, solar cells can generate electricity during day-time only

Solar Thermal power plant

We have seen that thermal energy generated from coal and nuclear fuel can be used to generate electricity. Thermal energy can also be generated from solar radiation and can be used for electricity production. Different stages in such solar thermal power plant are as shown in figure 5.2

As shown in Figure 5.30 , many reflectors reflect and concentrate solar radiation on absorbers. There solar energy is converted into heat energy. Using this heat energy steam is generated to drive the turbine and generator.