Natural Sources of Energy
Before electrical power plants brought power to most of the world, people relied on natural sources of energy to make their lives easier. They found ways to harness the different kinds of energy to do work for them.
Natural sources of energy are all around us. They are free to use but require some kind of technology to make them useful. While some of the ways to use these forms of energy can contribute negatively to the environment, the sources of energy themselves, like solar, wind, and water, are part of nature and, by themselves, have no additional negative impact on our environment.
The sun offers two distinctive types of available energy. It generates heat and light. Anyone who has touched something metal on a very hot day has felt the result of the sun's heat energy. We also enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on our skin. That heat energy can be harnessed and used to make things happen. One of the simplest ways to use the sun's warmth is to heat water. Tubing can be used to allow the sun to heat water directly. This hot water can be used for showers or to do dishes and laundry. While the available hot water is limited to the water in the tubing, it is a simple way to use the power of the sun to do something useful.
Anyone who has played with mirrors or a lens and sunlight knows that the sun's light can be concentrated on a single spot to make a fire. People who camp out use this method to start fires. It can work with enough focused light and an easily burned substance like paper or dried leaves. Occasionally, uncontrolled fires have started this way. Energy is a powerful force.
Anything that moves can be used to create energy. Wind is one of the things that nature provides that moves. People have been using wind power for millennia. For thousands of years, windmills and turbines have been used to create energy and do work in a variety of creative and beautiful ways. Anything that is solid and can move will move when the wind passes by it. Perhaps the easiest way to use the wind is the sail. The earliest vessels were powered by sails. Larger sails could move ships quickly through the water. A combination of sails could provide some control of the power of the wind.
Water is another thing that moves. Water moves downstream in rivers. It cascades in waterfalls. This movement can be used to create energy and do work. People have used water wheels to power riverboats or do things like pump water to use in fields or grind grain. While water is a natural source of energy, it is helpful to be near a source of water. However, it is possible to use water from other sources, like a hose, to do something like make a water wheel work. A water wheel is in the form of a circle. It has buckets or paddles placed at regular intervals on the circle. Moving water fills the buckets or pushes the paddles to make the wheel turn. The turning wheel is what creates the energy and does the work.
It is ironic that after centuries of relying on fossil fuels and living with the negative consequences of that kind of energy, we are returning to nature and the bountiful gifts it offers.