When we think about methods to help combat the climate crisis, renewable energy sits at the top of the list of changes the world can implement to mitigate the worst effects of global warming. Why is this? Well, to state the obvious, renewable energy sources like wind and solar don’t emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to our planets rising temperatures. And over the past decade, many countries have been implementing renewable energy sources and moving to a much lighter environmental footprint approach.
What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable?
Renewable resources are replenished naturally over short periods of time, such as solar, wind or hydropower. Nonrenewable energy resources, like coal and natural gas, are available in limited amounts, and usually takes a longer period of time for them to replenish.
What are renewable energy sources?
The five major renewable energy sources are solar, wind, water (hydro), biomass and geothermal. Here’s how they work:
1. Solar Energy
The sun is nature’s most abundant resource. In fact, in just one hour the Earth gets enough solar energy to power all of humanity’s power needs for an entire year! And compared to other renewable energy sources, solar actually requires little space to create energy. To power all of America on solar, it would require about 1% of land area dedicated to solar farms. This is an aggressive but achievable goal. For context, America currently contributes about 1% of its land to roads and 0.5% to rooftops.
2. Wind Energy
Wind is an abundant source of clean energy. There are three main types of wind energy; Utility-scale, distributed and offshore. Utility-scale wind energy systems generally range from 100 kW to several MW. The electricity generated from these systems is distributed to the local grid to then be distributed to the end user by utilities. Distributed wind energy systems are typically smaller (below 100kW), and usually are used to power a home or small facility. Offshore wind energy spans across large bodies of water, usually in the ocean, and can generate more energy.
3. Hydro Energy
Hydropower forms the backbone of a decarbonized power sector. It typically relies on fast moving water for it to convert the force of that water into a reliable clean source of electricity. Whether it be through a large river or rapidly descending waterfall, today, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in the world, supplying around 17% of the word’s electricity.
4. Biomass Energy
Biomass energy, also known as the OG of renewable energy, has been around since our ancestors began learning how to control fire for warmth and cooking food. Derived from the byproducts of various living or once-living organisms, like plants, biomass involves the burning of organic materials to produce electricity or other forms of power. As far as renewable energy sources go, it’s not the most glamourous. But harvesting its byproducts can help reduce waste on Earth. While burning biomass releases around the same of amount of CO2 as the burning of fossil fuels, biomass takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it’s growing and returns it back once it’s burned. On the other hand, the burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere many millions of years ago, making it a “new” greenhouse gas and causing more harm to our environment.
5. Geothermal Energy
- By harnessing natural heat below the planet’s surface, geothermal energy can be used for heating and cooling purposes or be harnessed to generate clean electricity. Geothermal energy can be found around the globe. In fact, the amount of geothermal heat within 10,000 meters of the Earth’s surface is estimated to contain 50,000 times more energy than all oil and gas resources worldwide.
What are the advantages of using renewable energy?
Aside from its list of environmental benefits, there are other advantages of renewable energy:
- Switching to renewables saves money – According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy is now the cheapest source of energy generation. Its declining costs are encouraging many individuals and businesses to tap into greener alternatives. One of the most obvious ways that renewable energy can save residents and businesses money is by reducing their monthly energy bills. Whether it be through solar installation or tapping into a wind farm, the money saved from these projects can then be allocated to other uses.
- Renewable energy creates more jobs – Local renewable energy projects brings additional societal benefits to communities such as jobs, an increase in economic development, lower reliance on foreign energy sources, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewable energy resources. According to the Local for All Solar Roadmap, scaling local solar and storage will create 2 million jobs by 2050.
- Renewable resources don’t run out – Renewable energy sources are sustainable – meaning they can never run out! These technologies use resources right from the planet to generate power. Unlike renewable resources, nonrenewable resources, like coal are available in limited amounts. These resources usually take a longer period of time to replenish, becoming more difficult to obtain, which could lead to an increase in cost and negative environmental impacts.
- Renewable energy offers environmental benefits – Renewable energy sources emit little to no greenhouse gases, creating a lighter carbon footprint. In the U.S, about 29% of global warming emissions can be attributed to our electricity sector. Most of those emissions come from the burning of coal and natural gas.
How to use renewable energy at home
Using renewable energy technology in your home, or supporting renewable energy projects nearby, can accelerate the transition towards a decarbonized future. One of the most popular ways to power your home with renewable energy is through solar power. Solar panels work by absorbing the sun’s natural rays through their solar cells, converting that energy into usable electricity for your home.
For those who don’t have don’t have the right roof for solar panels, find the installation prices too high or don’t own a home, there are option to subscribe to renewable energy projects like community solar farms. These programs allow renters, homeowners, small businesses, non-profits and others to subscribe to a solar farm, while still maintaining their relationship with their utility service provider. They just receive energy credits on their utility bills for the power produced by their share of a solar farm.
Despite the challenges and uncertainty, the year 2020 has dealt us, the renewable energy sector has been the most resilient. This year, renewable sources of electricity have increased their share of the U.S. electricity generation compared to non-renewable resources. In fact, the percentage of energy generated from renewables is now 20%, beating nuclear power at 19% and coal power at 19%.
The shift to renewables offers obvious benefits for the climate. And as their technology continues to mature, it’s important that we see it as an opportunity to pave the path towards a 100% clean energy future.