Renewable Energy Basics

This is the second part in our series on understanding Renewable Energy (Alternative Energy) and why it is so beneficial to us, personally. You can read the first post which is all about Fossil Fuels here, Introduction to Fossil Fuels.

After reading our article on Fossil Fuels, you should understand why Fossil Fuels / Dirty Energy / Non-Renewable Energy is definitely not a good idea for us to be using. 

Renewable Energy / Clean Energy / Alternative Energy makes far more sense.

On the website NRDC, they explain that:

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather.

While renewable energy is often thought of as a new technology, harnessing nature’s power has long been used for heating, transportation, lighting, and more. Wind has powered boats to sail the seas and windmills to grind grain. The sun has provided warmth during the day and helped kindle fires to last into the evening. 

But over the past 500 years or so, humans increasingly turned to cheaper, dirtier energy sources such as coal and fracked gas. 

In case you didn’t know (as I did not) Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well (source 

Fracking, like other fossil fuel extractions can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air, contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and trigger earthquakes.

Renewable energy comes in many forms

National Geographic has a very detailed article about Renewable Energy. Here is an excerpt: “Clean energy has far more to recommend it than just being “green“. The growing sector creates jobs, makes electric grids more resilient, expands energy access in developing countries, and helps lower energy billsAll of those factors have contributed to a renewable energy renaissance in recent years, with wind and solar setting new records for electricity generation.”

Renewable Energy provides energy without the planet-warming effects of fossil fuels. 

Alternative energy falls under the following categories:

  1. Solar,
  2. wind,
  3. hydroelectric,
  4. biomass,
  5. and geothermal power.

1. Solar: From the rooftops of homes to utility-scale farms, solar power is reshaping energy markets around the world. A utility-scale solar facility is one which generates solar power and feeds it into the grid, supplying a utility with energy. In addition to solar panels, which convert the sun’s light to electricity, concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat, getting thermal energy instead. Solar thermal energy is also being used worldwide for hot water, heating, and cooling.

Solar power

2. Wind: Harnessing (using) the wind as a source of energy started more than 7,000 years ago. Now, electricity-generating wind turbines are growing around the globe. Some people object to how wind turbines look on the horizon and to how they sound, but wind energy, is proving too valuable a resource to deny. While most wind power comes from onshore turbines, offshore projects are appearing too. Another problem with wind turbines is that they’re a danger for birds and bats, killing hundreds of thousands annually, but engineers are working on solutions to make them safer for flying wildlife. (source National Geographic)

wind power

3. Hydropower: harnesses the energy of river currents, using dams to control water flow and being replenished by rain and snow. Tidal and wave energy projects are also happening around the world, aiming to capture the ocean’s natural rhythms.

hydroelectric power: renewable energy

4. Biomass: Biomass energy includes biofuels such as ethanol (ethanol is an alcohol fuel that’s distilled from plant materials, such as corn and sugar) and biodiesel (made from an increasingly assorted mix of resources such as recycled cooking oil and soybean oil), wood and wood waste, biogas from landfills, and municipal solid waste. Like solar power, biomass is a flexible energy source (used to fuel vehicles, heat buildings, and produce electricity). The aim of biofuel is to extract value from material that would otherwise go to waste.

Biomass renewable energy source

5. Geothermal Power: The word geothermal comes from the Greek words geo (earth) and therme (heat). Geothermal energy is heat from within the earth. It has been used for thousands of years in many countries for cooking and heating. Big projects such as power plants use underground reservoirs of steam and hot water to tap through wells that go a mile deep or more to generate electricity. Some buildings have geothermal heat pumps that use temperature differences several feet below the ground for heating and cooling. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is always available. It has side effects that need to be managed though, such as the rotten egg smell that accompanies released hydrogen sulfide.

Geothermal power plant in Iceland: Renewable Energy

Perhaps you have heard of Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy, a clean, renewable source of energy that uses solar radiation to produce electricity. It is based on the photoelectric effect, by which certain materials are able to absorb photons (light particles) and release electrons, generating an electric current. This is how solar panels are made up. To understand the difference between solar panels and photovoltaic cells, read this fantastic article on by Aiden Dallas.

I hope that you understand the ins and outs of Renewable Energy in a much clearer way now. Our next post / tip-off will be about Renewable Energy in the Home and how it can benefit you personally… coming very soon…


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