Renewable energy is a way to generate energy from renewable or unlimited resources. In a nutshell, it means that we’re able to replenish the resources in a natural manner and quicker than we consume them. We need renewable energy because it improves public health, diversifies our energy supply, and contributes less to global warming.
There are many types of renewable energy sources. The most common examples include solar power, hydropower, and wind energy. Unlike energy produced from fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas, renewable energy is cleaner, sustainable, and can be locally produced where it is needed.
The value of renewable energy should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds because it can be an effective tool in shifting our production and energy systems toward protecting our natural environment.
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What Is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy comes from natural resources, including sunlight, rain, tides, wind, and geothermal energy, which are continuously produced and don’t get depleted. These renewable natural resources are associated with clean or green energy, which refers to energy produced in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner.
Although renewable resources are often regarded as recyclable energy, clean energy doesn’t release any pollutants to the environment, such as carbon dioxide. Sometimes, there is a cross-over between the energy types, and not all renewable energies are considered clean energies.
Hydroelectric power, for instance, is renewable energy, but it can cause deforestation and damage natural habitats.
However, recent advances are shifting towards the use of renewable energies because humans have become dependent on the use of fossil fuels. The widespread use of these resources has a detrimental impact on the environment, such as the rise of extreme weather events, increasing global temperature, and loss of natural habitat for plants and animals.
Renewable energy is a critical tool in reducing dependency on fossil fuels and enhancing world energy security. Now, there is a global drive towards net-zero that seeks to expand the production of renewable and clean energy.
We can, however, only achieve net-zero when the amount of greenhouse gas we add is no more than the amount removed from the atmosphere. In fact, the UK is the first economy globally that has set a target of being net-zero by the year 2050.
What Is Dirty Energy?
One of the primary causes of climate change is burning fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas, to generate energy. Given the current environmental issues, it is critical to move beyond this outdated technology to power our planet, run our transportation, and grow our food.
Over the last 150 years, human activities have been the root cause of the substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The largest source of these emissions is attributed to the burning of fossil fuels in the United States to generate electricity, heat, and transportation.
Different types of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N20), trap heat radiation from the sun and warm the earth’s atmosphere instead of reflecting the heat waves back to space.
At the same time, the world naturally produces these gases, but human activities generate more of these than what the natural cycles can tolerate. As a result, an unbalanced system contributes to global warming and other outcomes related to climate change.
It’s evident that the global warming we face is rooted in human activities and the use of dirty energy. Thus, we need to curb the use of these fossil fuels to stop or delay the effects of global warming.
For example, electric power production in the United States is responsible for 30% of the total greenhouse gas emissions they produce, alongside other sources such as transportation and agriculture.
Around 33% of this electricity stems from coal-fired plants, and another 33% comes from natural gas power plants. The rest comes from hydropower, nuclear, and other renewable sources. With this number, coal and natural gas contribute to most emissions from the electricity sector.
Due to competition from other sources, coal-fired plants have been closing down at a fast rate throughout the United States since 2010. Natural gas plants have replaced many coal-fired plants because natural gas is usually a cleaner and cheaper fuel source.
While this is the case, natural gas is still a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions which negatively impacts the planet’s health.
We must move away from these carbon-producing sources and shift towards the use of renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric power, and other second-generation biofuels to reduce the adverse effects of climate change and air pollution.
Types of Renewable Energy Sources
Renewable energy sources are the earth’s natural resources, such as sunlight and wind, that aren’t exhaustible. They are great alternatives to traditional energy sources like fossil fuels because they pose less harmful effects to the environment.
Here are the most common types of renewable energy sources:
Solar energy takes advantage of one of the most functionally endless resources – sunlight. Advanced technology harvests sunlight and creates energy. Because the earth has an unlimited supply of sunlight, fossil fuels could be rendered obsolete by expanding solar energy production and use.
Using solar energy instead of fossil fuels has many benefits. First, it significantly improves environmental conditions and public health. Second, it also eliminates energy costs and reduces electricity bills.
Read More: Why Go Solar? Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?
In fact, there are two primary ways to use solar energy: photovoltaic and solar thermal capture. The photovoltaic effect commonly features in small-scale projects, such as residential uses. In contrast, solar thermal capture is for massive electricity production. Solar photovoltaic accounts for 3.1% of generated electricity worldwide and was the third-largest renewable technology in 2019.
Solar energy is one of the cheapest and fastest-growing fuel sources of electricity worldwide and will likely continue to grow in the coming years. The benefits of using solar energy also improve with solar panel technology advancements each year. In turn, this leads to more environmental advantages to using clean and renewable energy sources.
Wind energy is power derived from another unlimited source – the wind. The wind is the oldest known energy source used by humans, and today, wind energy is the most efficient and established source of power.
Eolic energy is the academic term for wind power, which originated from a Greek mythological character, Aeolus – the keeper of the winds.
Wind power is produced by converting the energy generated by the movement of wind turbines into electrical energy. One great advantage of wind power is that it doesn’t release pollutants, can help eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and is limitless.
Additionally, wind power is a ’native energy,’ which means that it’s available everywhere on the planet. Its wide availability reduces the need for energy imports and supports the economy by creating local employment and wealth. For these reasons, using wind power promotes sustainable development in the long run.
Currently, wind energy supplies around 3% of the electricity consumption worldwide.
Nuclear energy is the result of splitting atoms in a nuclear reactor to produce steam, turning a turbine, and generating power. Around 20% of the electricity produced in the United States originates from 93 nuclear reactors in 28 states.
All these reactors don’t emit pollutants since they use uranium instead of fossil fuels. The nuclear reactors operate 24/7 with no interruptions and can withstand extreme weather conditions.
Nuclear power supplies about a fifth of the electricity in the United States despite the limited improvements and development in nuclear power plants. In fact, the United States is the largest producer of nuclear energy worldwide.
Hydroelectric power, also known as hydroelectric energy or hydroelectricity, is a type of renewable energy that leverages the power of moving water, like a waterfall, to generate electricity.
Humans have used hydroelectricity for millennia already, indicating the longstanding effectiveness of this form of energy. Over a thousand years ago, the Greeks ground wheat into flour by turning the wheel of their mill utilizing the force of water.
Nowadays, most hydroelectric power plants have water reservoirs, gates to control the volume of water in and out of the reservoirs, and outlets where the water will end up after it flows downward.
Water forms potential energy before it flows from the top. Then, this potential energy turns into kinetic energy, which turns the turbine blades and generates electricity. Afterward, the electricity is distributed to the users.
Hydroelectric power is among the most common renewable electricity sources. The largest hydroelectric power producers worldwide are the United States, India, Canada, Russia, Brazil, and China (the top producer). Nearly 71% of electricity generated from renewable energy sources comes from hydroelectric power.
Biomass energy is a type of carbon-neutral energy derived from renewal organic wastes that would otherwise end up in landfills or even burned openly. After burning, the biomass releases its energy as heat.
A typical biomass power plant burns wood wastes and other wastes to produce steam and run a turbine to generate electricity for residential and industrial use. Fortunately, new and innovative technologies, such as combustion engineering and pollution control, made it so that any emissions from burning biomass are now less than that from burning fossil fuels.
Biomass energy comprised around 4% of the electricity generated in the United States in 2010. 46% of this energy came from wood, 43% ethanol, and approximately 11% municipal waste.
In 2018, the world generated approximately 226 TWh of biomass power and produced 160 billion liters of biofuels.
Moving forward, researchers are focused on developing ways to burn more biomass instead of fossil fuels. Biomass energy helps in cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and on wastes.
Additionally, biomass provides consumer and environmental benefits, such as protecting air quality, improving forest and public health, and providing a dependable and renewable energy source.
Geothermal energy is literally the heat within the earth’s sub-surface. Water through steam carries geothermal energy from deep within to the earth’s surface. Depending on the characteristics of geothermal energy, it can generate clean electricity or for heating and cooling purposes.
El Salvador, Kenya, the Philippines, New Zealand widely use geothermal energy, and it covers over 90% of Iceland’s heating demands. The primary benefit of geothermal energy is that it’s not dependent on weather conditions and has high capacity factors. These features mean that geothermal power plants can supply baseload electric power and provide ancillary services.
Currently, geothermal energy accounts for 0.4% of generated electricity in the United States. The United States produces the most geothermal energy worldwide, with over 18,700 GWh of electricity produced annually.
Ocean energy is a type of renewable energy derived from the ocean. There are three types of ocean energy: tidal, wave, and ocean thermal. All forms of energy derived from the ocean are at an early stage of commercialization.
Among the three ocean technologies, wave energy is the most costly as it converts the energy derived from ocean swells or ocean waves into electricity. Currently, ocean energy is a major focus of those trying to find and develop different ways to convert it into electricity.
One of these methods uses a wave energy converter (WEC) device, which converts the potential and kinetic energies associated with ocean waves into mechanical or electrical power. In short, the ocean waves cause the WEC to move, and the movement fuels the generator that produces electricity.
Tidal energy is the second ocean technology available. It also comes in two forms: tidal range technology and tidal stream technology, both of which produce electricity. Tidal range technology harvest the potential energy made by the height difference of high and low tides.
Tidal stream technology works similarly to wind turbines, and it captures the kinetic energy of waves flowing in and out of the areas.
Lastly, ocean thermal energy is the third ocean technology derived from converting the difference in temperature between the surface water and the deeper water into energy. Ocean thermal energy conversion plants can be land-based, floating, or grazing.
Here are answers to some of the most common and frequently asked questions about renewable energy:
Is renewable energy more expensive?
Today, energy derived from new renewables is cheaper in most places than that from new fossil fuels. The main driver of this significant change is that more studies have led to more efficient and innovative technologies.
As science improves, these technologies will also get cheaper. Additionally, according to a new report, renewables are now undercutting fossil fuels as the most affordable power source.
What is the best alternative energy source?
Wind energy is considered the leading and most efficient renewable power source. It brings in 8% of generated energy of the United States. Although wind energy isn’t as quiet as solar energy, it has a solid efficiency rating and is environmentally friendly.
Generally, using wind to generate electricity poses fewer damaging effects on the environment than other energy sources. For instance, wind turbines don’t release greenhouse gas emissions that pollute water or air. They also don’t need water for cooling.
Wind energy comes out on top, considering the costs of fuel, production, and environmental impact. To follow wind energy, in order of their efficiency, are geothermal energy, hydroelectric power, nuclear power, and solar power.
What is most likely a main goal of using clean energy?
Nowadays, renewable energies are becoming more reliable, efficient, and cheaper. These features aim to counter our current reliance on fossil fuels because they damage the planet and aren’t sustainable. Thus, we need to change the way we generate and consume electricity.
Utilizing new and innovative energy solutions as fast as possible is critical in countering the effects of climate change, which is one of the biggest problems the world faces today.
The main goal of utilizing clean energy is to ensure that everyone has access to affordable electricity by 2030 by investing in clean or green energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
We can achieve this goal in several ways, such as adopting cost-effective technologies to reduce electric consumption globally, upgrading infrastructure to give clean energy sources in developing countries, and many more.
These steps can both encourage economic growth while helping the environment.
What is clean electricity?
Clean electricity is power derived from renewable and zero-emission sources that don’t release pollutants to the environment when utilized.
The most efficient forms of renewable energy include solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric power, and biomass. These resources won’t run out, as opposed to fossil fuels and natural gas with a finite supply on earth.
Using clean electricity that produces no greenhouse gas emissions instead of depending on fossil fuels has a significant counter-effect on climate change. With more technological innovations, renewable energy has become more accessible now than ever before.
As the world shifts to more sustainable forms of energy, renewables also continue to rise. Renewable energy innovations around us are increasing across the globe, with expectations being that these sustainable resources will account for 50% of our global energy by 2030.