I'm writing a sci-fi novel and am having a hard time coming up with a new energy source that DOESN'T revolve around the widely popular "nuclear" option everyone favors so much. I've tried researching other energy types that scientists are investigating but everyone just assumes solar, wind, or nuclear are the future and none of those are interesting nor special in a science fiction novel. My writing style can't fathom just random facts or conjure up nonsense out of thin air. I'm trying to make my project as close to scientifically possible and accurate as I can, but this might be the thing that makes or breaks that idea. I've so far been given advice from friends and D&D DM's that I should do research into Lunar power and Dark Matter. The problems with these are that Lunar is just another form of Solar energy and Dark Matter is so impossible to study that its properties are yet to be explored or tested in a controlled environment. So my question is simple: What would you try exploring as an alternate energy source for the future that doesn't follow the stereotype of nukes, the sun, and wind turbines?
Something For Nothing?
You can't get energy from places where there isn't energy. Ultimately, energy in almost any form comes from stars. The forms of energy we use are all the stuff we're likely to use. So it depends on how far out you're looking for tech. I'll give options for various alternatives at different tech levels.
Most of the stuff listed by Allan covers the bulk of power systems. Sorry to say, a lot of power systems going forward WILL be variations on the ones we have now. I'd mostly say that it is going to be more of a process of modifying these into new forms we haven't fully explored. Here's a smattering of stuff I find especially fun.
- Black hole power generators: Take advantage of physics and use black holes to generate power.
- Algae Biodiesel: Solar produces algae in special reactors that create oils converted to biodiesel.
- Piezoelectric wind farms: Use the power of swaying rods to generate electricity piezoelectrically by swaying motion.
- Magnetic field harvesting: Using the Earth's magnetic field to generate electricity.
- Electrodynamic tethers from a planet into space to generate power from planetary rotation.
- Orbital Solar stations: Generate your solar power off-planet and transmit it back to where you need it. This can scale all the way up to power stations close to a star manufacturing antimatter for downstream use.
- Lightning harvesting: Pretty self-explanatory
- Biofuels from non-food plants (like grasses): Grow abundant things like grass and wood and burn these or ferment them into alternate biofuels like butanol.
- Quark Fusion: An advanced and highly improbable form of fusion power, involving radically different physics than conventional fusion.
- Strange matter reactors: Another out-there physics idea allowing alternate-physics strange matter to generate energy as it converts everything else into strange matter.
- neutrino power cells: An alternative to solar, using cosmic rays to generate power.
- Dark solar power: "anti-Solar" power designed to generate power in the dark.
- Zero point energy: Power somehow generated from the quantum flux of the universe. Unlikely, but a favorite of science fiction.
- Interdimensional power generation: I'd site sources, but they're all REALLY out there. Take advantage of as-yet undiscovered differences in the energy potentials and physical laws of other universes to generate power (parallel antimatter universe, anyone?).
There are a lot of non-nuclear forms of energy with our current technological abilities. And nuclear can be divided into two types, fusion, and fission. It is plausible to have fission without dirty waste say using Boron-11 (it is always 20 years away).
You mentioned solar and wind, there is also:
Tidal and wave action
Biomass chemical extraction (like methane or hydrogen from wood or ethanol from corn)
Mined chemical fuels (acid-base reaction)
More use of hydroelectric or other gravity-fed systems
Once you're in space, hard to beat solar and nuclear.
This ones a little out there, so it might or make too much sense, but I will be extremely surprised if it has been done before.
So, inside of a star, there is rare material x, which when going through a process (idk maybe melting it down or something?) produces a type of extremely powerful energy that is so much more powerful than electricity it completely invalidates the use of electricity. This both provides a new and interesting way to get power and prevents readers from saying “why aren’t they just using nuclear power.” Some other things you could do is if you want some other sci-fi material to be introduced to your book it can be a byproduct of material x, or something else found in a star. This might also be used to give a reason for space empires to fight others if you want them to, because if they fight others they gain more of material x. You could also make material x renewable if you wanted to. A possible idea for how making material x renewable could work is that you could make material x have a byproduct that when thrown back into the star turns back into material x after however long.