If you haven’t noticed, an energy transformation is largely underway; a change that may redefine what we think and know about energy itself. There is no doubt that energy use is changing fast. At the heart of it all is renewable energy. But what is renewable energy and what roles will it play in slowing – and possibly even reversing – climate change? First, we need to define what it is.
Defining Renewable Energy
By definition, renewable energy, sometimes referred to as “clean energy,” is generated from natural sources and processes that are constantly replenished. Renewable energy is energy that can’t run out and is sustainable. “Renewables” are widely regarded as the most effective way to combat the world’s ongoing energy crisis while positively impacting climate change and directly addressing environmental threats on a global level.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, renewables could supply four-fifths of the world’s electricity by 2050. This, of course, would massively cut carbon emissions and help to mitigate climate change. However, other energy sources – like solar and wind, for instance, would need to be fully integrated, along with sustainable bioenergy (converting renewable biomass fuels into heat and electricity using processes similar to those used with fossil fuels).
In a world that’s spent the last several hundred of years depending heavily on oil, it will take a concerted global effort and understanding of the severity of the issue in order to replace finite resources like oil and coal that continue to harm the earth’s environment with safer, more natural options.
Renewable Energy is Historic
Harnessing the power of nature is nothing new. In fact, the earth’s elements have been used for heating, transportation, lighting, and other purposes for thousands of years. For example, wind currents have guided ships across oceans while the natural flow of water in rivers has long been used as hydroelectricity to power windmills that grind grains.
Over the years, humans have increasingly preferred the use of less expensive and non-renewable energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum. This has unfortunately resulted in a high carbon footprint, depleted energy resources, and high greenhouse gas emissions that damage the earth’s atmosphere (Reports and Data: Renewable Energy Market).
Types of Renewable Energy
Sunlight is one of the planet’s most abundant, consistent, and available energy sources. Did you know? The amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in one hour is more than the world’s total energy requirements for an entire year. While it may sound like the perfect energy source, the amount of solar energy that’s readily available varies according to the time of day, the season, and geographical location. In many parts of Europe, solar energy is becoming a popular way to supplement current energy usage.
Wind is a clean and typically plentiful source of energy. Wind farms (large fields of windmills and fans, essentially) located in particularly gusty areas of the world are an increasingly familiar sight in the U.S. and UK, with wind power making sizable contributions to the national power grid of many countries. To harness electricity from wind energy, turbines are used to drive generators which feed electricity into a supply that is then redirected into a power grid.
Overall, hydro power (rivers, streams, tides, etc.) is one of the most commercially-developed, renewable energy resources available. For years, engineers have built dams and barriers and created large reservoirs that are then used to create a controlled flow of water that drive turbines and generate electricity. This particular energy source is often more reliable than solar or wind power and also allows electricity to be stored for use when demand reaches a peak. Tidal energy uses twice-daily tidal currents to drive turbine generators. Although tidal flow isn’t constant, it’s highly predictable and can compensate for periods when the tide current is low.
Geothermal energy is one of, if not, the most sustainable forms of energy. By harnessing the virtually unlimited natural heat generated by the earth’s core, the source of geothermal energy can be used to heat homes, factories, and other buildings directly, or generate electricity as needed. Because its source is dependent on underground reservoirs of hot water, the volume taken out can be reinjected, making it a sustainable energy source. Limitations include the availability of geothermal vents in certain areas around the world.
Simply put, biomass energy is the conversion of solid fuel made from organic/plant materials into electricity. While biomass itself does, in fact, involve burning organic materials to produce electricity, today’s version represents a much cleaner and more energy-efficient process. By converting agricultural, industrial, and domestic waste into solid, liquid and gas fuel, power is produced at a much lower economic and environmental cost.
- Solar Photovoltaic (PV) could account for 5% of global demand by 2020, possibly up to 9% by 2030 (Greenpeace).
- By the year 2050, the world’s energy needs can be met by 95% renewable energy (Greenpeace).
- Price Waterhouse Cooper predicts that Africa could run on 100% renewable energy by 2050 (Greenpeace).
- Over the last four decades, the price of Solar PV panels has declined by 99% (EcoWatch).
- A U.S. study showed that renewable energy creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels (CleanTechnica).
- Investment in renewable energy has surpassed fossil fuel investment. The global renewable energy market is now worth over $250 billion (CleanTechnica).
Making Renewable a Reality
The shift to renewable energy sources couldn’t come at a better time in our earth’s history. Most experts would agree that this type of energy transformation needs to happen faster in order to combat the rising global temperatures and increasing harmful emissions. Above all, taking action today by promoting renewable energy ensures a safer, healthier planet tomorrow.