Renewable energy is energy that comes from natural sources that are self-replenishing, and are able to do so continually in a relatively short amount of time. Also known as clean energy, it is sustainable, and it is either indirectly or directly derived from the environment’s natural mechanisms and movements.
Types of Renewable Energy
Solar energy is light emitted by the sun and is the planet’s most abundant and freely accessible energy resource. The amount of solar energy that hits the earth’s surface in around 90 minutes is equivalent to our planet’s energy requirements for one year. However, the amount generated and used varies with day, season, and geographical location.
Solar energy distributions are done through rooftop panels locally for homes and businesses. Solar technologies capture this radiation through photovoltaic (PV) cells made from silicon or other materials or mirrors that convert it into useful energy forms. This energy is either used to generate electricity or can be stored in batteries.
Wind is one of the cleanest forms of energy and works similarly to old-fashioned windmills by using wind power to turn blades. The wind turns the blades of a turbine encircling a rotor, spinning a generator, generating electricity.
Hydroelectricity is probably the most commercially developed renewable resources. Dams have been used to generate electricity since 1882, and have been improved over time to become energy powerhouses supplying electricity to entire cities. The Hoover Dam is one of the largest in America and is a major tourist destination with thousands flocking to it every year to marvel at its size.
A typical hydropower plant system consists of three parts: a power plant where electricity is generated, a dam to control the water flow, and a reservoir for water storage. Electricity is produced by the spinning of turbine blades and generators, powered by the kinetic energy of water flowing downstream.
The amount of electricity generated depends on the quantity of water that moves through the system and how far the water drops. This electricity can be transported through electric lines to homes and businesses.
Despite being a renewable resource, hydroelectric dams pose a threat to natural habitats if not properly managed. Many mega-dams divert natural water sources, negatively impacting human populations and animals.
Biomass is the conversion of organic human, animal, and agricultural waste into electricity. Fundamentally, this process entails burning organic materials to create heat that powers a steam turbine to generate electricity.
By converting domestic, agricultural, and industrial waste into liquid, solid, and gas fuel, biomass power generation has the potential for much lower economic and environmental costs.
However, biomass is frequently mistakenly described as a clean and greener alternative to coal and fossil fuels. Recent studies show that some biomass forms have higher carbon emissions than fossil fuels, consequently negatively affecting biodiversity.
Geothermal plants use steam from underground to generate electricity. The steam springs from hot water reservoirs found beneath the earth’s surface. Wells are drilled to bring this highly heated water from underground to the surface, which is used as a hydrothermal resource to power turbines that create electricity.
This resource is made greener by pumping hot water and steam back into the earth, hence lowering emissions and making geothermal energy highly sustainable.
Tidal energy is harnessed using the movement of tides and oceans. Power is generated by the surge of water during the rise and fall of the waves.
Like hydropower, wave energy relies much on dam-like structures or anchored devices below the water surface for electricity generation. However, care needs to be taken concerning tidal power’s environmental impact, as tidal barrages and other dam-like structures can harm wildlife.
Despite still being in the developmental phase, harnessing tidal power is an attractive option because the moon’s gravity rules the ocean, meaning the rising and lowering of the tide is something we can count on to renew this resource daily.
Reliability and Safety of Renewable Energy
The safest sources of renewable energy have a minimal impact on the environment and climate change. Solar, wind, and hydropower are much safer for our planet because they have very minimal accidents and have a low carbon footprint.
The reliability of renewables largely depends on how they are generated, where they are generated, and the way they are stored. For example, wind power is intermittent; there is no guarantee that it will be windy all the time, hence deemed unreliable in this sense. The same can generally be said of solar power.
Interestingly, lead batteries, whose storage technology is continually evolving and improving, can store energy generated from renewable sources.
Due to the flexible nature of renewables to respond to changes in energy usage and their adaptability to various locations, these energy sources present an opportunity to create more robust grid systems. With the current technological advancements, it is conceivable that renewables’ reliability will increase in the years to come.
Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Renewables
Fortunately, safe and clean renewable technologies, in their own right, are increasingly becoming economically competitive. Despite these resources being expensive during their initial installation, they are generally cheap to use and maintain.
For instance, solar and wind sources produce energy for free during the panel or turbine’s life span. Most solar energy projects generate power at around half the cost of fossil fuels and this is expected to get cheaper in the future as the popularity of solar power increases.
The Energy Shift and Adoption of Renewable Energy
An increase in renewable energy share largely depends on the market opportunities and energy policies. Governments need to step up and broaden the scope of policies to allow and increase interest and investment in these resources. Innovative financing and leveraged public-private partnerships will ensure a successful endorsement of renewable energy across the globe.
It is fundamental to allow participation in the energy infrastructure’s financing and development at the heart of any successful renewable strategy. Governments should implement policy frameworks and business models that foster citizen engagement. Providing market access to a range of policymakers and stakeholders can build positive synergies and build further momentum.
Providing access to renewables will speed up their adoption. Renewable technologies should extend to developing countries, as they have the highest population growth and an equally high energy consumption rate.
Benefits of using Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels have fueled the world for over 250 years; therefore, their distribution infrastructure is in place, making them relatively cheap.
Fossil fuels are reliable at the moment. There are plenty of coal fields and deposits of gas and oil globally, making them dependable and accessible as extraction research is becoming more advanced.
Moreover, fossil fuels have useful by-products. Despite their disposal problems, plastics have revolutionized how people live. To date, fossils make the majority of plastic products.
Renewable Energy to Replace Fossil Fuels
The steep drop in utility-scale renewable energy, particularly solar and wind has made them the cheapest sources of power in some parts of the world. Over the last decade, clean energy has changed tremendously. Efficient technologies for integrating renewables into the electric grid have advanced, making them relatively affordable.
With the infrastructure for harnessing renewable energy being put in place, very soon, it will be accessible across the globe, outweighing the importance of fossil fuels.
The Wind Turbines Controversy
Like all energy options, wind energy has its set-backs. It can negatively impact the environment, including fragmentation and habitat degradation for wildlife, plants, and fish. For instance, the spinning turbine blades pose a threat to flying birds and bats.
Additionally, some groups have voiced concerns over the noise produced by turbine blades and the landscape’s aesthetic degradation.
The most suitable land-based wind locations are often in remote areas, far from main places where electricity is needed, making it expensive to set up construction lines. Consequently, these potential issues delay or hinder wind energy development.
Solar Panels For Homes
Solar panels are regarded as upgrades. Homeowners who install solar power systems experience numerous benefits: lower carbon footprints, lower electric bills, and an increased home value. However, these benefits often come with high installation costs.
Installing a photovoltaic solar system is a good long-term investment from a financial perspective because it will shield homeowners from potential fluctuations in energy costs in the future.
Being a clean and green form of energy it substantially reduces the carbon footprint, hence combating climate change.
The Bottom Line
With the rapidly growing world population, the demand for energy to power homes, communities, and businesses will rise as well. All the technological and financial innovations need to balance attaining a sustainable energy level and protecting the planet from climate change, thus creating a cleaner, brighter and healthier future.