Non conventional sources of energy

Non conventional sources of energy

  • With technological progress, our demand for energy increases day by day. Our life-styles are also changing, we use machines to do more and more of our tasks.
  • Our basic requirements are also increasing as industrialization improves our living standards.
  • As our demand for energy increases, we need to look for more and more sources of energy.
  • We could develop the technology to use the available or known sources of energy more efficiently and also look to new sources of energy.

Solar energy

  • Sun is the ultimate source of energy.
  • Every energy we get  is because of the sun.
  • The Sun has been radiating an enormous amount of energy at the present rate for nearly 5 billion years and will continue radiating at that rate for about 5 billion years more.
  • Only a small part of solar energy reaches the outer layer of the earth’s atmosphere. Nearly half of it is absorbed while passing through the atmosphere and the rest reaches the earth’s surface.
  • Solar energy can be used for various purposes, like producing electricity, for cooking,for heat etc.

                                                                                                  Solar cooker

  • A black surface absorbs more heat as compared to a white or a reflecting surface under identical conditions.
  • Solar cookers and solar water heaters use this property in their working.
  • Some solar cookers achieve a higher temperature by using mirrors to focus the rays of the Sun.
  • Solar cookers are covered with a glass plate, because they trap heat energy.

                                                                                        Solar cell panel

  • A solar cell converts solar energy into electrical energy.
  • A typical cell develops a voltage of 0.5–1 V and can produce about 0.7 W of electricity when exposed to the Sun.
  • A large number of solar cells are, combined in an arrangement called solar cell panel that can deliver enough electricity for practical use.
  • The principal advantages associated with solar cells are that they have no moving parts, require little maintenance and work quite satisfactorily without the use of any focusing device.
  • Another advantage is that they can be set up in remote and inaccessible hamlets or very sparsely inhabited areas in which laying of a power transmission line may be expensive and not commercially viable.
  • Artificial satellites and space probes like Mars orbiters use solar cells as the main source of energy.
    Radio or wireless transmission systems or TV relay stations in remote locations use solar cell panels.
  • Traffic signals, calculators and many toys are fitted with solar cells. The solar cell panels are mounted on specially designed inclined roof tops so that more solar energy is incident over it.


  • Silicon, which is used for making solar cells, is abundant in nature but availability of the special grade silicon for making solar cells is limited.
  • The entire process of manufacture is still very expensive, silver used for interconnection of the cells in the panel further adds to the cost. In spite of the high cost and low efficiency, solar cells are used for many scientific and technological applications.

Energy from the sea

Tidal energy

  • Due to the gravitational pull of mainly the moon on the spinning earth, the level of water in the sea rises and falls.
  • This phenomenon is called high and low tides and the difference in sea-levels gives us tidal energy.
  • Tidal energy is harnessed by constructing a dam across a narrow opening to the sea.
  • A turbine fixed at the opening of the dam converts tidal energy to electricity.
  • The locations where such dams can be built are limited.

Wave energy

  • The kinetic energy possessed by huge waves near the seashore can be trapped in a similar manner to generate electricity.
  • The waves are generated by strong winds blowing across the sea. Wave energy would be a viable proposition only where waves are very strong.
  • A wide variety of devices have been developed to trap wave energy for rotation of turbine and production of electricity.

Ocean Thermal Energy

  • The water at the surface of the sea or ocean is heated by the Sun while the water in deeper sections is relatively cold.
  • This difference in temperature is exploited to obtain energy in ocean-thermal-energy conversion plants.
    These plants can operate if the temperature difference between the water at the surface and water at depths up to 2 km is 20 K (20°C) or more.
  • The warm surface-water is used to boil a volatile liquid like ammonia. The vapours of the liquid are then used to run the turbine of generator.
  • The cold water from the depth of the ocean is pumped up and condense vapour again to liquid.
  • The energy potential from the sea (tidal energy, wave energy and ocean thermal energy) is quite large, but efficient commercial exploitation is difficult.

Geothermal Energy

  • Due to geological changes, molten rocks formed in the deeper hot regions of earth’s crust are pushed upward and trapped in certain regions called ‘hot spots’.
  • When underground water comes in contact with the hot spot, steam is generated.
  • Sometimes hot water from that region finds outlets at the surface. Such outlets are known as hot springs.
  • The steam trapped in rocks is routed through a pipe to a turbine and used to generate electricity.
  • The cost of production would not be much, but there are very few commercially viable sites where such energy can be exploited.
  • There are number of power plants based on geothermal energy operational in New Zealand and United States of America.

Nuclear Energy

  • In a process called nuclear fission, the nucleus of a heavy atom (such as uranium, plutonium or thorium), when bombarded with low-energy neutrons, can be split apart into lighter nuclei.
  • When this is done, a tremendous amount of energy is released if the mass of the original nucleus is just a little more than the sum of the masses of the individual products.
  • The fission of an atom of uranium, for example, produces 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of an atom of carbon from coal.
  • In a nuclear reactor designed for electric power generation, such nuclear ‘fuel’ can be part of a self sustaining fission chain reaction that releases energy at a controlled rate.
  • The released energy can be used to produce steam and further generate electricity.


  • The major hazard of nuclear power generation is the storage and disposal of spent or used fuels – the uranium still decaying into harmful subatomic particles (radiations).
  • Improper nuclear-waste storage and disposal result in environmental contamination. Further, there is a risk of accidental leakage of nuclear radiation.
  • The high cost of installation of a nuclear power plant, high risk of environmental contamination and limited availability of uranium makes large-scale use of nuclear energy prohibitive.
  • Nuclear energy was first used for destructive purposes before nuclear power stations were designed.


  • Exploiting any source of energy disturbs the environment in some way or the other.
  • In any given situation, the source we would choose depends on factors such as the ease of extracting energy from that source, the economics of extracting energy from the source, the efficiency of the technology available and the environmental damage that will be caused by using that source.
  • Though we talk of ‘clean’ fuels like CNG, it would be more exact to say that a particular source is cleaner than the other.
  • We have already seen that burning fossil fuels causes air pollution. In some cases, the actual operation of a device like the solar cell may be pollution-free, but the assembly of the device would have caused some environmental damage.
  • Research continues in these areas to produce longer lasting devices that will cause less damage throughout their life.
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