If you’ve been following the climate crisis, you've certainly heard the phrase “renewable energy” get tossed around. So, what exactly is renewable energy? Here's everything you need to know.
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy, which is sometimes also referred to as clean energy, is categorized as energy generated from natural resources. This type of energy is constantly being replenished and cannot be exhausted.
What are renewable energy examples?
The natural resources that contribute to renewable energy include sunlight, wind, water, tides, geothermal heat, and biomass, among other things. Through a variety of different methods, these resources are converted into electricity.
There are many types of renewable energy.
Here’s a closer look at the most common types of renewable energy.
Solar Energy: Powered by the sun. Solar panels and collectors are examples of the technologies used to convert sunlight into sustainable energy. This type of power doesn’t create air, water, or global warming pollution, and there is no risk of electricity price spikes.
Wind Power: Air currents that are harnessed then converted to emissions-free power. This is typically achieved through the use of wind turbines. How fast and how often the wind blows plays a major role in its power generation cost.
Geothermal Energy: Heat from the Earth, which can be found almost anywhere. It is produced in the magma layer below the Earth’s crust. Geothermal systems can range from large power stations to small residential pumps.
Hydroelectric Energy: Powered by water. Through the use of dams, the movement of water is exploited for electricity. Hydroelectric power also represents the largest source of renewable energy worldwide. Its use varies across the U.S. based on the location of certain geographical and man-made features. For example, Oregon and Washington generate more than two-thirds of their electricity from hydroelectric energy due to the presence of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.
Hydrokinetic Energy: Similar to hydroelectric energy, hydrokinetic energy is powered by water. However, instead of using dams to control the water’s movement, this type of energy harnesses the strength of rivers, tides and waves. Scientists like this resource for its predictability. Wave patterns can be forecast days in advance and provide continuous power despite variability.
Bioenergy: Powered by biomass, which, according to energy.gov, “is an organic renewable energy source that includes materials such as agriculture and forest residues, energy crops and algae” — basically any biological material derived from living or recently living organisms that stores sunlight as chemical energy.
What Is a renewable energy system?
A renewable energy system refers to any sort of technology used to harness natural resources for the purpose of converting them into electricity.
There is also a global renewable energy company called The RES Group (Renewable Energy Systems), which was founded in 1982. They develop, construct, and operate large-scale projects around the world, most notably in the wind and solar sectors.
What renewable energy source is used the most?
As of 2023, hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable electricity in the world. Though this type of energy is emissions-free, there are possible environmental consequences to consider.
The Union of Concerned Scientists states that blocking rivers with dams can diminish water quality, cause damage to aquatic habitats, block migratory patterns, and disturb local communities. Because of this, it is essential to carefully weigh the pros and cons of any proposed hydropower project before development begins.
But don’t discount other resources. As of 2018, wind power is the fastest growing source of renewable energy and has the potential to provide a large portion of our electricity needs in the future.
Renewable energy is extremely important in the fight against climate change.
Renewable energy created from the sources listed above is much safer for the environment than energy manufactured from fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
When burned, fossil fuels emit dangerous toxins into the atmosphere. Renewable energy is emissions-free, thereby creating less pollution, which will help to improve public health.
Renewable energy has many advantages.
There are many advantages to using renewable energy, the chief one being that it produces significantly less emissions than fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide, as well as other heat-trapping gases, is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned, causing irreversible changes as it accumulates. The less harmful emissions we release, the better.
Air and water pollution caused by these toxins also greatly affect public health. Breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, cancer, and a plethora of other issues have been linked to this type of pollution. Given that clean energy technologies don’t produce emissions, increasing the supply of renewable energy could do wonders for our well-being.
Another great benefit is that these sources are inexhaustible. Sunlight, strong winds, fast-moving water, heat from the earth, and plant matter are all continuously replenished. Studies show that although a relatively small percentage of U.S. electricity currently comes from renewable energy, it could provide a significant amount of our electricity in years to come.
Finally, renewable energy can provide jobs. While fossil fuel technologies are typically mechanized, renewable energy projects tend to be more labor intensive. For example, individuals are needed to install solar panels and maintain wind turbines. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.”
Renewable energy is growing in the U.S.
The use of renewable energy continues to expand in the U.S. According to a 2018 study conducted by Ernst and Young, America is the second-most attractive country in the world for investing in renewable energy (China is No. 1). This is due to the declining costs of manufacturing solar, wind, and battery products.
A few months ago, The International Energy Agency’s annual report forecasted that by the year 2023, more than one trillion watts of clean energy will be installed around the world — though China will be responsible for 41 percent of global renewable growth.
A 2018 Energy Transition Outlook report from DNV GL, a quality-assurance and risk-management company, also predicts that solar electricity production could grow 6,500 percent by the year 2050. This is based on factors such as the rising cost of traditional power grids.
It’s clear that renewable energy is the way of the future and its benefits should not be underestimated. Otherwise, we may be in for a rude awakening down the line.
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