What Is Renewable Energy
If you’re wondering, what is renewable energy, then you’re in the right place. Put simply, renewable energy is created from naturally replenished sources such as water, wind and the sun. These sources are very different to non-renewable sources like oil, coal, and natural gas.
These sources are only available in limited amounts on Earth, so if they’re used excessively they may eventually run out. These traditional energy sources also produce carbon in the form of methane and carbon dioxide when they’re burned.
On the other hand, renewable energy either doesn’t produce carbon and it’s carbon-neutral, meaning it will absorb as much carbon as it produces. But what can renewable energy sources be used for and why are they important?
You’ll find the answer to those questions and much more right here. Whether you want to know how to power your home or business using renewable sources, or simply just want to learn more about renewable energy, read on for more information.
What Can Renewable Energy Be Used For?
One of the most common uses of renewable energy is to create electricity. The great news is that all renewable energy sources can be and are utilised to generate electricity.
The most commonly used source for electricity generation is currently wind, whereas previously, hydroelectric power was the most popular source.
Many commuters are concerned about their carbon footprint. Changing the transport sector to run using just renewable energy resources is essential for a more sustainable planet.
Solar vehicles are electric vehicles that are powered either largely or entirely by direct solar power. Typically, the PV cells that feature inside solar panels transform energy from the sun into electric energy.
The name “solar vehicle” generally implies that solar power is used to power part of or all of the vehicle’s momentum. Solar energy can also be used to supply power for controls or other additional functions.
Solar vehicles aren’t sold as practical everyday transportation options at the moment as they’re typically reserved for demonstration purposes and engineering exercises, usually sponsored by government departments.
Heating and cooling
Energy from the sun can be used to heat buildings, both residential and commercial. It can also be used to heat water and to power devices and appliances.
Furthermore, people can also make use of feed-in tariffs, which means homeowners can get money back by putting energy back into the grid. Renewable energy can also be used for cooling purposes.
The easiest way of doing so involves pumping water from cold reservoirs or cooling it by pumping the water into pipes laid underground.
The Importance of Renewable Energy
One of the biggest human causes of global warming is CO2 being released into the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions produce an insulation layer around planet Earth, causing temperatures to rise and thus making the planet less habitable.
Renewable energy can help to meet the demands for power around the world without adding to global warming, unlike fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.
The Different Types of Renewable Energy Sources
How does solar power work?
By definition, solar power works by converting energy from the sun into trapped heat. That heat is then used to generate electricity.
This can happen either with PV (photovoltaic) solar panels or concentrated solar-thermal power, which stores the heat until it’s needed. At the moment, we utilise solar power to heat water, buildings and to power various devices.
When photovoltaic cells are used to collect this solar power, the cells convert sunlight into electricity, being capable of powering anything from small garden lights to whole neighbourhoods.
Using rooftop panels can power homes, whereas solar farms and community projects that use mirrors to collect concentrated sunlight can generate bigger supplies.
It’s truly renewable
Among the many advantages of solar panels, the biggest is that solar is a true source of renewable energy. It can be used anywhere in the world and it’s available every day, even on cloudy days.
Solar energy can’t run out, unlike other energy sources. We’ll be able to use solar as long as the sun exists, with sunlight being available for at least another 5 billion years.
Reduced electricity bills
Because you’ll be meeting part of your energy needs with solar power, you’ll find that your energy bills will decrease. How much money you save will depend on the size of your solar system and how much heat and electricity you use.
For example, if you have a business that has commercial solar panels, this can provide some significant benefits because a large system like this can cover huge parts of your energy bills
You can use solar power for many different purposes as it can create electricity or heat. Solar energy can be utilised to create electricity in places with no access to the energy grid, to power space satellites, or to distil water in areas with limited access to clean water.
You can also integrate solar into building materials. For example, manufacturing company Sharp introduced transparent solar-powered windows.
Technology in the solar energy sector is always advancing and the improvements will only get better in the future. Innovations in nanotechnology could potentially improve the effectiveness of solar panels and the electrical input of solar-powered systems.
Can be expensive
The initial cost of buying solar systems can be high. This includes purchasing a solar panel, batteries, wiring, and the installation process. However, solar technology is always being improved so there’s every chance that the cost will be reduced in the future.
Their effectiveness depends on the weather
Although a solar system can still be used during rainy or cloudy days, it does become less effective. A solar panel depends on sunlight to effectively collect solar energy, so cloudy days can affect how well the system works.
Remember, solar can’t be gathered overnight. But, if you do need to heat water at night or in the winter, thermodynamic panels may be a good option.
Storing solar energy is costly
Usually, solar energy has to be used immediately. If you need to store it you can do so by using large batteries. These batteries are often used in off-the-grid systems and can be charged all day so the energy can be used overnight.
Although this is an ideal solution for using the energy 24/7, it’s quite expensive. It’s usually better to use up the solar energy in the daytime and use energy from the grid overnight – but you could only do this if you have a system connected to the grid.
How does wind power work?
Wind power works similarly to old-fashioned windmills by utilising the power of the wind to rotate the blades. Originally, the motion of the turning blades would cause the millstones to grind against each other, to make flour.
But today’s wind turbines power generators, creating electricity. When wind turbines are installed, they should be placed in high wind areas such as open fields or on the tops of hills.
Offshore wind farms have been developed for years, providing a good solution for generating energy without being noisy or unsightly.
Fuel is free
Because turbines run exclusively on wind power, fuel isn’t needed. When the turbines have been installed, they don’t need to be connected to a power source or fuelled to be able to carry on working.
This will also reduce the general cost of running a large scale wind farm compared to other renewable energy resources.
It’s one of the cleanest energy sources
Because wind energy doesn’t need to rely on fossil fuels to power turbines, it won’t add to global warming as it does not emit greenhouse gas emissions during the production of energy.
Wind energy will only indirectly release greenhouse emissions when they’re manufactured and transported, and during the installation process.
It won’t disrupt farm operations
Wind farms can be built by energy suppliers on pre-existing farmlands and pay farmers to be able to build on their properties using leases or contracts.
This is great for farmers who need extra income, plus the turbines’ footprints don’t take up much ground-level space. They also won’t affect or disrupt farm productions.
Wind energy is sporadic
A wind turbine’s ability to generate electricity largely depends on the weather conditions. Because of this, it can be challenging to predict how much energy a wind turbine will be able to generate. If wind speeds aren’t high enough, the turbine’s blades won’t turn.
Because of this, wind energy won’t always be available when electricity demands are at their peak. For wind power to be used on its own, turbines will have to be paired with an energy storage technology.
It can be noisy and unsightly
One of the biggest drawbacks of wind power is visual and noise pollution. Turbines can be loud when they’re in operation because of the wind vortex and mechanical operation that’s produced when the rotors are turning.
As well as this, wind turbines have to be installed high enough to catch the right amount of wind, which means they can disturb otherwise peaceful landscapes.
Turbines can negatively affect surrounding environments
The blades of a turbine are extremely large and can turn at high speeds. Sadly, these blades can harm or kill animals that fly near to them such as bats or birds. When wind farms are constructed, natural habitats can be disrupted if it’s not done sustainably.
But, turbines are constantly being improved and these issues can be solved with advancements in technology and suitably-placed farms.
How does hydroelectric power work?
Hydroelectric power works similarly to wind power, in that it’s used to turn the blades of a generator to produce electricity. Hydropower uses water from rivers or waterfalls to turn the blades and is commonly used in some countries.
The majority of hydropower plants have water reservoirs, a valve or gate to control the amount of water that flows out, and an outlet where the water goes afterwards.
It’s clean and renewable energy
Unlike fossil fuels, using hydropower for generating electricity won’t produce harmful pollutants into the water or air. Some environmental worries come with creating big hydropower plants such as reservoirs and dams.
However, once they’re in operation, the power plants themselves don’t need to burn any fossil fuels. As well as this, hydroelectric plants won’t use water when they operate, making them a fully renewable source of electricity.
It works well with other renewable sources
Most hydroelectric plants are used as storage for large amounts of water from reservoirs. This means they’ll generally always have water in storage to use to create power. The reliance that hydroelectric power has on stored water means that it’s a reliable source of energy.
This is because hydro plants can be a dependable source of supportive energy for more sporadic sources such as solar and wind energy. Wind and solar rely on the availability of sunlight and wind.
Like energy storage systems, when there’s little to no wind or it’s nighttime and the sun isn’t shining, hydropower provides energy when wind and solar can’t. This makes it a more practical and economical source of electricity.
Some hydropower plant designs meet demands
A common drawback of renewable energy sources, such as natural gas, oil, and coal, is that they’re non-dispatchable. This means they can’t produce electricity 24/7. Instead, renewable sources like wind and solar will rely on the wind to turn turbine blades, and the sun to shine to create energy.
But pumped storage hydropower and storage hydropower facilities are capable of electricity generation on-demand. This makes hydro plants dispatchable sources which means that hydroelectric plants can replace dispatchable methods such as coal and gas plants.
Hydropower plants may negatively affect the surrounding environments
Although hydroelectric power is a renewable source of energy, there are a few environmental impacts that come with building the plants. As well as this, storage hydropower plants can interrupt a river system’s natural flow.
This can lead to animal departure paths being disrupted, as well as affecting water quality and wildlife displacement. These adverse environmental impacts of hydroelectric power are usually lower with tidal power, wave energy, or run-of-river setups.
Hydropower facilities are expensive to build
Hydropower plants are usually very large projects that require dams to be built as well as turbines that produce power and a reservoir, meaning a large financial investment is needed.
Although a hydropower facility is capable of providing affordable electricity for up to 100 years after it’s built, the initial building costs can be very expensive. As well as this, suitable locations for reservoirs are becoming harder to find, meaning that large hydroelectric plant construction costs could continue to inflate.
Hydroelectric facilities depend on local hydrology
Although hydropower is reliable, it’s still dependent on precipitation and the weather. Hydropower generally depends on river water, so if droughts occur, hydropower electricity generation can be affected by the low water flow.
Over the months and years, the water levels that are available for hydroelectric systems may vary, meaning the electricity generation at the facilities can vary too. No matter how energy is produced by water, it’s essential to think about the number of pros and cons of it.
Hydroelectric power, like all energy sources, also requires upfront costs and some changes in the environment to build important infrastructure.
How does biomass energy work?
Biomass energy works by using organic materials from animals and plants such as trees, crops, and wood. This biomass is then burned to generate heat, which provides power to a steam turbine and creates electricity.
Although biomass can result in renewable energy production if it’s responsibly sourced, there are some instances where it’s not a clean or green energy source. Unfortunately, no source of energy is perfect and this includes biomass.
Biomass is readily available because organic materials are all around us, from croplands and forests to landfills and waste sites.
Biomass uses energy from the sun, and thanks to photosynthesis, its resources can regrow quickly compared to fossil fuels that can take millions of years to regrow. Because of this, we can’t run out of biomass to utilise for energy generation.
Biomass can help to reduce waste
It’s no secret that landfills can negatively impact the environment, including contaminating the soil, water, and air nearby, as well as emitting greenhouse gases. Many materials that end up being dumped in landfills are also toxic and hazardous.
Depending on how these products are sorted, they could contaminate the land, water, and air which will eventually lead to devastating human health and environmental consequences. As well as this, landfills are a big contributor to greenhouse emissions being emitted into the atmosphere.
Putting waste into biomass energy plants rather than landfills will help in two ways. Firstly, it will help to reduce landfills and ease the risks of greenhouse gases. Secondly, it makes use of materials that would otherwise sit around doing nothing.
It’s a reliable electricity source
A lot of the time, biomass power plants are dispatchable, which means they can be easily turned on and off. This enables grid workers to take energy from these plants when demands are at their peak.
Bioenergy isn’t intermittent like other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar if the sun isn’t shining or there’s no wind. Without storage technology, solar and wind energy can’t always be used when they’re needed.
Although the availability of certain biomass resources might be seasonal, biomass plants can always be turned on to supply power, no matter what the weather is doing.
The costs can be quite high
Like other non-renewable and renewable resources, creating energy using biomass does have its drawbacks. Apart from the upfront expenses to get the biomass plants started, there are other costs to do with transporting, extracting, and storing the biomass before any electricity can be generated.
These are additional costs that other renewable energy technologies don’t have to consider, because they depend on free resources such as sunlight, wind, and the tides, to use as fuel.
A lot of space is needed
Bioenergy plants need a lot of space which limits where they can be set up. Also, companies usually have to choose plant sites that are close to the required biomass sources to cut down on storage and transportation expenses.
Extra space might also be needed so the organic materials themselves can grow. If crops and trees are being specially grown for bioenergy instead of agricultural waste being used, this can create a bigger land footprint for each unit of energy generated.
It can negatively affect the environment
Depending on which types of biomass are used to create electricity, unsustainable practices can cause deforestation after a while.
When forests are cut back to take materials for the biomass plants, the natural environment is harmed and the habitats of animals and plants are disrupted in the process. Clearing organic materials can also affect the health of nearby soils that need these compost materials.
How does geothermal energy work?
Geothermic energy works by using the heat that’s trapped in the core of the Earth. This is created by decaying radioactive particles that are present in rocks in the planet’s centre.
Drilling wells can bring heated water to the earth’s surface, which can be utilised as a hydrothermal resource to power turbines and generate electricity. This renewable energy source can be made even more green by pumping the hot water and steam back into the earth, keeping emissions to a minimum.
How much geothermal power is available depends on geographical location, with countries such as Iceland having an easily accessible and readily available supply of geothermic energy.
It’s very reliable
One of the biggest benefits of geothermal power is that it’s a very reliable and predictable energy source, especially when compared with other renewable sources such as solar or wind.
Solar and wind are more sporadic sources that need the energy to be stored for it to be used effectively in large amounts. Whereas geothermal plants have typically consistent power outputs in all seasons.
This has many advantages, including the fact that geothermal power is a suitable energy source for meeting energy demands.
Geothermal plants don’t have large land footprints
Another benefit of geothermal energy consumption is that the plants have relatively low footprints compared to other large wind, solar or hydroelectric plants. Unlike hydropower, solar, or wind, geothermic energy comes from inside the earth.
This means there’s no need to build collection setups over huge parts of land surface to use it. To put it in perspective, National Geographic evaluates that a geothermal plant with the ability to generate 1 GWh (gigawatt) of electricity, would measure roughly 404 square miles.
Whereas a wind farm with an equal amount of energy output would need around 1,335 square miles, with a solar farm needing approximately 2,340 square miles. That’s 88% less space needed for a geothermal plant in comparison to a solar plant, both producing 1 GWh.
Geothermal plants can be large or small-scale facilities
Geothermic energy isn’t just for large-scale plants. On the contrary, an efficient way of using heat from the earth is to collect it using a geothermal heat pump for commercial and residential buildings.
Unlike geothermal plants, heat pumps make full use of cool-temperature geothermic reservoirs, which are readily available almost everywhere.
The geothermal energy sector is rapidly expanding
Although the geothermal industry is still quite young, it’s quickly expanding with new renewable energy technologies, research, development, and many new projects.
These industry enhancements are making geothermic energy more efficient, accessible, and applicable to a broader range of uses.
Geothermal plants can only be constructed in certain places
Unfortunately, geothermal plants can’t just be built anywhere. Geothermal reservoirs that are above 100°C are typically needed for larger plants.
The problem is that these reservoirs can only be found in certain locations, usually near hot spots or tectonic plate boundaries.
Geothermal plants may cause earthquakes
Building a geothermal plant involves lots of drilling deep down inside the earth to release the hot water and steam that’s trapped in the rocks. Unfortunately, this process may cause the underground to become unstable.
This can cause earthquakes on the surface, potentially causing danger to humans and the environment.
How does tidal power work?
Tidal power provides a renewable energy source since tides are controlled by the constant gravitational pulling of the moon. The power that can potentially be created by the tide might not be constant but it’s very reliable, making it a great option.
However, care should be taken as tidal power can impact the environment. Tidal barrages and other similar constructions can harm the environment and wildlife.
No carbon emissions
Not only is it a renewable energy source, but tidal energy also doesn’t release greenhouse emissions while it’s creating electricity. Because these gases are one of the biggest causes of global warming, using zero-emissions sources of energy is of the highest priority.
Tide currents are easy to predict. Both high and low tides always follow cycles that are well known, making it easy to pinpoint when power will be available for the day.
This pattern also makes it easier to tell how much power the turbines will generate because the tidal power can be accurately forecasted.
Installation sites are limited
To build tidal plants, the installation site needs to meet specific criteria. This includes the fact that they need to be built on coastlines, which means that building sites are limited to areas with a coastline.
One of the biggest disadvantages of tidal energy is the expensive initial costs. Tide power turbines must be a lot stronger than turbines powered by wind because water has a higher density than wind.
The Challenges Faced By the Renewable Energy Industry
The initial cost of installation
Greenhouse emissions are one of the leading causes of global warming. Although great effort has been taken to increase the integration of renewable energy into society, the initial costs are very high. One of the biggest challenges in developing renewable energy is the high installation expenses.
The energy systems on this planet were originally built to work with fossil fuels. This means changing the national grid will be difficult, and the installation of renewable energy sources will be expensive.
But, as knowledge grows on how to build, manufacture, and operate these new renewable systems, the expenses of launching should drop.
Traditional plants that are powered by fossil fuels work on a pre-mitigated basis, meaning they supply a predictable and consistent amount of energy. On the other hand, renewable energy is less reliable.
To prepare for this, investment, research and development into power storage systems is starting to increase.
Financial and economic challenges
Challenges will always emerge when implementing new sources of energy. The impacts of expanding the use of energy sources will come with financial and economic challenges including the unsightliness of power plants, high set-up costs, and the disruption of the environment.
Another big challenge of using renewable energy is political concerns. Key concerns include outdated infrastructures, political paralysis, the denial of climate science, and government and financial restrictions.
Lack of understanding and awareness
Lack of awareness and understanding of renewable energy means that people are hesitant to use it. Plants that utilize fossil fuels are typically built in highly-populated areas, making them a valuable source of employment for local people.
This means people are reluctant to move away from these plants because of the current stable work that fossil fuel plants offer.
What Impact Does Renewable Energy Have On Climate Change?
Renewable energy is one of the best things the world can utilize to prevent the devastating effects of global warming. The reason for this is that sources of renewable energy such as wind or solar don’t produce carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions that add to global warming.
How Long Can You Store Renewable Energy?
Battery storage is a common way of storing renewable energy and they provide a method of keeping the energy grid stable. However, batteries have to be replaced more frequently than plants, usually after around 12 years, whereas a power plant can last for decades.
Another downside of batteries is that they have limited capacities. They can usually only store energy for up to four hours.
Can Fossil Fuels Be Replaced with Renewable Energy Sources?
Yes, but a full transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy won’t happen overnight. However, renewable energy consumption is slowly becoming a real prospect.
A big reason for this is because the development of industrial technology has reduced the costs of renewables, especially wind and solar, enabling them to compete with traditional sources.
How Can Homes Use Renewable Energy?
Choosing renewables to power your home is a great way to lower your bills and decrease your carbon footprint. Some good ways of doing this are by using solar roof panels, biomass systems, solar heating systems, and air source heating pumps.
How Can Businesses Use Renewable Energy?
Businesses can use renewables in similar ways to residential properties. This includes using solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal pumps.
Plus, if your business has an energy production system installed and it creates more energy than it uses, you can typically sell that power back to the grid. This is not only a money saver but a source of income too.
The Future of Renewable Energy
Ultimately, renewable energy looks like it will become a big part of energy mixes in the future. The journey towards a greener, cleaner future for energy generation is creating more job opportunities in renewable energy industries, such as wind and solar.
In conclusion, renewable energy is likely to be used more and more in the coming years. It’s no secret that fossil fuels can harm our planet and renewables are valuable tools in reducing global warming.
Supporting the use of renewables, or even utilising them in your business or home, can speed up the journey to a cleaner energy future.
How can renewable energy benefit the environment?
Just a few of the environmental benefits of renewables include:
- They create energy that doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce certain air pollution types.
- They diversify energy supplies and reduce the dependence on imported fuels
- They create jobs and economic development in installation, manufacturing and other sectors
How does renewable energy affect the economy?
Renewable energy brings many benefits to the economy. Firstly, it creates many job opportunities, including positions in engineering, sales, manufacturing, and installation.
It can also increase the value of properties, create stable energy costs, help reduce the impact of climate change, and provide additional income for landowners.
What is the cheapest form of renewable energy?
Generally, solar and wind are considered the cheapest forms of renewable energy. However, onshore wind farms are more affordable than offshore farms.
Solar electricity generation is typically the most widely used and it’s one of the easiest forms of energy to implement in homes and businesses.
Do renewable energy sources produce greenhouse gases?
Although renewable forms of energy don’t produce carbon dioxide on their own, the manufacturing and installation processes can produce small amounts of greenhouse emissions.
However, compared to traditional fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, the carbon dioxide levels released by these processes is extremely low and generally not harmful.