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Physics - Pros and Cons of Alternative Electricity (AQA Syllabus A)

Electrical energy is one subject studied in GCSE Science. This is the fifth of six quizzes on that, topic and it looks at some of the pros and cons of alternative electricity from renewable sources.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, an ever increasing proportion of our energy has come from non-renewable sources such as oil, coal and natural gas. These fossil fuels were made millions of years ago from the remains of dead plants and sea creatures. When they are used up, it will take millions of years before any more are formed. They lock away carbon which is then released into the atmosphere when they are burnt. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has increased since we started using more and more fossil fuels. Our needs for energy continue to rise and these resources are running out. Scientists and engineers are exploring the potential of renewable sources of energy for the future.

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These alternatives to fossil fuels are based on wind, waves, running water and the Sun. The earliest renewable energy source was hydroelectric. In the north-east of England, a rich businessman installed a hydroelectric system to provide electricity for his home. Water was collected in a small lake on the hills near where he lived. This was then piped down to turn a turbine connected to a generator, creating a small hydroelectric power station.

As well as solving the problem that fossil fuels won't last forever, renewable alternative methods of generating electricity can help to reduce air pollution, particularly carbon dioxide pollution. This gas is known to contribute to global warming and many people, including scientists, believe that our use of fossil fuels could create a runaway greenhouse effect that could eventually lead to the end of most life on the planet.

There are plenty of pros, or advantages, to renewable energy generation - but there are also some cons, or disadvantages. Take, for example, windfarms. People living close to them complain they are noisy and naturalists claim that they are harmful to wildlife as the noise drives animals away and birds are killed by the rotating blades. There are pros and cons for each and every alternative to fossil fuels. You need to know all of the major issues for the exam.

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  1. Radiation from the Sun is the energy source for solar cells and solar panels. Which of the following statements is true?
    Many factors affect the efficiency of solar cells - efficiencies of less than 20% are normal
  2. Which of the following is not an advantage of tidal energy?
    Another disadvantage is that they only generate electricity at low tide - but on the other hand, they can be started up quickly to boost the electricity in the National Grid
  3. What is a practical disadvantage of nearly all forms of wind, water and solar powered electricity generation?
    There will always be times when most of these alternative forms of electricity generation will not be able to produce electricity. It is an important reason why no single one could ever replace conventional power stations
  4. Which of the following statements about the advantages and disadvantages of wind power is not true?
    The amount of electricity generated depends on the wind speed so wind turbines are usually sited in windy areas
  5. Which of the following is considered to be a disadvantage of generating electricity using wind turbines?
    Not everyone shares this view of using wind turbines
  6. Which of the following is considered to be a disadvantage of producing electricity from water stored behind a dam?
    A relatively small dam can flood quite a large area of a valley, destroying land that was used for growing food or farming animals. Where the flooded land is not used for farming, wildlife habitat is lost. In some cases homes, and even complete villages, are submerged, meaning that the famileies living there have to move to new homes
  7. Geothermal energy is renewable because it uses what?
    The heat comes from radioactive materials deep inside the Earth
  8. Which of the following lists contain the missing words in the correct order?

    Water power in its various forms is a _________ energy resource and there are no fuel costs. No harmful polluting ________ are produced. Tidal barrages and hydroelectric power stations are very reliable and can be started up quickly. Disadvantages of ________________ include the destruction of habitat of estuary plants and animals, including wading birds. Hydroelectric dams flood farmland and sometimes whole villages. The rotting vegetation under the stored water releases methane, which is a _____________ gas.
    As with all forms of renewable energy sources, there are advantages and disadvantages
  9. Which of the following is a disadvantage of geothermal energy?
    Geothermal power stations can only be built in geologically active places where the hot rocks are closer to the surface than elswhere e.g. Iceland or northern Italy
  10. Which of the following renewable energy resources would be the most suitable for Scotland? Its climate is generally cool, windy and very wet. There are a lot of mountains.
    Over 10% of electricity in Scotland comes from hydroelectric power

Author: Kev Woodward

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