We are living in a time when the climate is drastically changing, literally in front of our eyes, and renewable energy is striving to be used on a significantly larger scale. The fact is, there are no good reasons for renewable energy not to conquer and seduce the world. It costs less than the nonrenewable one, or it doesn’t cost at all, and it is eco-friendly, which is a thing we should pay more attention to in perspective.
In the United States, solar and wind energy are trending now. More and more people every day are turning towards alternative energy options. These two are already part of the national electricity grid, and their reliability is not compromised.
But it’s necessary to know that not every renewable source of energy is bringing nothing but benefits to our environment. Biomass or hydroelectric dams, for example, can seriously affect wildlife and climate, but that’s the subject for a different topic. Now, we are going to explain what this type of energy actually is, and what are its main sources.
What is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy is the energy that comes from sources that cannot be consumed. We all know about the solar energy that’s the leading representative of this category, but there are also wind power, hydropower, geothermal power, and biomass, and they are virtually limitless, they can be replenished during an average human lifespan. On another side, we have nonrenewable energy sources like gas, oil, or coil that need thousands of years to be formed. That means their regeneration process is much longer, and that they can all be consumed before another round of them were to be created. In other words, they are available in limited amounts.
Although we believe the revolution in this matter is happening right now, and that renewable energy is some sense a new technology, the truth is the wind, sun and other natural sources are being used for heating, lighting, and transportation for many years now. The difference and the reason why this topic is so current and undeniable at this moment is that now we have effective and less-expensive ways to capture and retain renewable energy.
Types of Renewable Energy Sources
The amount of sun’s energy people from all around the world use during one year is much less than the amount of it that falls from the sun to the earth in one hour. Impressive, right? Although, until recently, we didn’t know about this specific fact, we always were aware that the sun could be helpful in many ways. For thousands of years, we used the sunrays to prepare food, be warm, to grow crops, and now, we only expanded our possibilities of using this source, like for heating our homes, powering our devices, warming water, etc.
Solar energy is the energy that we get directly from the sun, and we can capture it and use it thanks to solar technology in a couple of ways. Mostly, it’s via solar panels, through photovoltaic (PV) cells that have an ability to transform sunlight into electricity. With the help of a solar panel system, we can generate enough power to meet all the needs of one’s home, but then, there are also solar farms that are using mirrors in order to concentrate sunlight and provide power for thousands of homes. The important thing is that solar systems do not create greenhouse gases and air pollutants, so they don’t affect our environment in a negative connotation.
In the past, there were windmills that worked on the power of the wind. Today we have modern turbines that can be huge in diameter, and therefore able to produce an enormous amount of power. The system is simple, it’s based on a wind’s ability to turn the blades on a turbine, and that will feed the electric generator and create electricity.
Wind power is the energy provided by this natural phenomenon. But if you have in mind that the sun heats our planet unevenly and that because of that air circulates in different patterns around the earth, you will understand that wind power is actually an indirect form of solar energy.
Wind turbines can be placed anywhere, but it’s best to put them in a place where the wind gets to achieve high speed. So open planes, the top of the hill or open sea are the good choices. In the U.S., wind has become one of the cheapest energy sources. Oklahoma, California, Iowa, Texas, and Kansas have become top wind power states.
For now, hydropower is the leading source of renewable energy in the United States, when it comes to generating electricity, but it looks like the wind is about to take over the lead in this matter. Hydropower relies on fast-moving water, whether we are talking about a large river or high waterfall. It uses that natural force, and by spinning generator’s turbine blades convert the power of moving water into electricity.
Usually, people create dams in order to do that. They make it possible to store the water in a reservoir, after which it can be released through a turbine system and generate electricity. But there are a lot of disadvantages when it comes to large, mega-dams, so they are often considered to be nonrenewable sources of energy. They can negatively affect and reduce natural flows, and they can restrict access to the river area for humans and animals that are relying on it. Because of that, smaller hydroelectric plants, those with a capacity below 40 megawatts, are a much better solution since they won’t cause extensive environmental damage. Another way to create hydropower is by using tidal and wave power.
It is a fantastic thing that we are walking every day on a ground that hides so much power underneath the surface. There are all kinds of processes that are happening inside the earth, and one of them is the radioactive decay of particles that create heat called geothermal energy. The fact is that every piece of rock has traces of radioactive material on top of it, and that decays very slowly during a period of a couple of millions of years. That natural sequence of events generates heat and provides us with another source of renewable power. If you wait long enough, you can see this force in the form of volcanoes.
You should know that the core of our planet is heated just as much like the surface of the sun, and that’s only based on a regular decay of radioactive particles in rocks deep under the ground. When people drill deep wells, they bring extremely hot water on the surface, and then they use that hydrothermal resource in order to create electricity. That is possible thanks to the geothermal plants that usually pump the water and the steam it back into the reservoir. Creating this kind of useful power can be done with geothermal plants that don’t have underground reservoirs, but that might create a massive risk of earthquakes in areas that are considered to be geological hot spots.
Biomass is renewable energy generated from organic material that comes from plants and animals. It is perceived as the most traditional source of renewable energy. We are talking about animal manure, waste wood, and crop waste. If you burnt those things, you would get the heat created from chemical energy, and that can generate electricity. There are two ways of achieving that. The first one implies that biomass fuels are burned directly, and the other way is based on converting them into biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol, so they can be burned later.
But here is a problem. Although biomass is basically a clean and renewable energy source, recently, one study showed that some forms of biomass are not really green, and probably not the right alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. The research proved that biomass, especially the one from woods, can produce extremely high carbon emissions. But that’s not the case with all of the biomass forms. Sawdust, for example, can be a great low-carbon energy source.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Renewable Energy
The most significant advantage of renewable energy is the fact that it is all around us. Every part of our planet has access to the sun, wind, water, and earth, so there are no monopolies, no owners who can create a particular market and blackmail you on conditions you can use these forces. Nonrenewable energy sources, however, can usually be found in one or a couple of specific places in the world.
Regarding that, renewable energy is limitless, we won’t run out of it. The climate might change, but the wind will continue to blow, and the sun will keep on shining. And that is something we cannot say about fossil fuels. It’s just a matter of time when we will run out of them. And that fact affects the cost of it, tremendously.
Then, there is the matter of protecting the environment, which is a huge deal nowadays when we become aware our planet can turn its back on us if we don’t treat it right. Nonrenewable energy sources are endangering the environment continuously. There is global warming, forest destruction, water pollution, air pollution, etc., and all those are consequences of using the planet’s potentials in an inadequate manner.
Also, renewable energy supports our health. It is well known that the usage of fossil fuels leads to emitting many harmful pollutants that can cause some cardiac and respiratory problems. And we don’t want that. Everybody would like to live in a world where the air we need to breathe in is not toxic or harmful in any other way. And there is also the question of greenhouse gases that are released in the atmosphere during the combustion of fossil fuels. That is the thing that brought on the rise of global temperature and extreme weather changes.
And we cannot forget about the fact that usage of this energy won’t cost us a thing. We do not have to pay for the sun to shine or for the river to continue with its flow. It’s all in nature’s hands, and it’s simply given to us. Of course, we do need to have some kind of a system that will allow us to use this energy in the right way, so there will be some expenses when you first decide to set it up, but you can forget about the bills and paying for heating, cooling, cooking, lighting up your home, etc.
Although there are mostly benefits of using this clean and renewable energy, there can be some shortcomings, like always in life. The first one is the fact that renewable sources are not consistent, they are not available to us every day and in every minute of it. Usually, they are considered to be intermittent, which means that they are not able to provide us with what we need all the time. For example, the sun is not always shining with the same intensity, sometimes it’s cloudy. And the wind isn’t blowing the same way all the time, it’s more or less powerful.
The other problem is the fact that that energy needs to be stored somehow. If you use solar panel technology, you have to be able to keep the extra energy you generated one day, for all those days when there won’t be enough sunlight. Storage technologies do exist, and they are available, it’s just that they can be very expensive.
And of course, the geographic location is a crucial thing when we talk about natural and renewable sources of energy, but not everyone can answer this demand appropriately. People who live on a farm are in a position to use solar and wind energy in great capacity because they are in an open space, and there is nothing that can jeopardize this process, while people who are in a city flat won’t be so lucky. There are other buildings that are creating shade and prevent the flow of wind.
There is no doubt that renewable energy is our future and that it is a necessity if we want to protect and save our planet for the generations to come. The benefits are huge, undoubtedly, but it seems like it needs time for people to believe in it, to accept the time for change is now. It is good to know though that renewable energy provides around 20 percent of the U.S. electricity generation, and that it is becoming more and more popular in this country. There are even, on both federal and state level, policies that promote renewables and help them become the more popular and accessible solution.