7 Types of Renewable Energy
What is Renewable Energy?
Put simply, it’s energy production that uses non-finite resources. For instance, the Earth’s supply of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels will eventually be depleted. However, sunlight and wind, for instance, are essentially inexhaustible.
What are the Benefits of Renewable Energy?
One of the major benefits of renewable energy is that, while our limited resources of oil and coal get smaller every year, renewable sources of energy are more plentiful. Most inhabited places on Earth have access to at least 1 or 2 renewable energy sources, making it accessible as well. Additionally, acquiring and using renewable energy creates far less greenhouse gases and pollutants that can contribute to climate change.
As we continue to burn through our planet’s supply of fossil fuels, it’s important to remember that these resources aren’t inexhaustible. On the other hand, renewable resources are not only virtually limitless, but they produce far less greenhouse gases and pollution. Additionally, by lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, we can help the environment by cutting down on processes like strip-mining and oil drilling. Also, by using domestically produced renewable resources, we can create jobs and make our country far more self-reliant when it comes to energy.
By using photovoltaic cells to capture and convert the sun’s rays into electricity, solar panels transform light into usable energy. This energy can either be used directly or fed to the grid to lessen the amount of fossil fuels needed to power a populated area.
Because most of the Earth’s population has access to sunlight, solar energy is one of the most widely accessible renewable resources across the globe. Additionally, since nothing is being mined, burned, or consumed, it creates far less greenhouse gases than traditional fossil fuels. Because solar systems can work without being plugged into the grid, solar energy also allows for countries and communities to become more energy independent, rather than relying on imported sources of oil or coal.
Even though solar panels could save money in the long run, solar panels and arrays can still be expensive to purchase and install, making the initial switch prohibitive for some. Additionally, not all homes or businesses have the space or ideal sun-facing surfaces (such as roofs) to make solar installation possible. Still, solar technology continues to drop in price every year, and is gaining in popularity.
2. Wind Energy
By building large turbines in traditionally windy areas, energy produced by air movement can be converted into useful electricity. Depending on its size, an individual wind turbine can supplement a single home or business, while large-scale wind farms can power entire cities, and sometimes even entire countries.
Like solar energy, harnessing wind energy requires nothing to be mined or burned, creating fewer greenhouse gases and pollution when compared to traditional fossil fuels. Wind is plentiful in many areas across the globe, making it easily accessible and sustainable. Plus, wind farms can create job opportunities, as the turbines will require maintenance from time to time.
Many of the drawbacks for wind energy are purely cosmetic. Some people just don’t like the way they look or the way they sound. Additionally, wind farms are often built in remote areas due to the space required, so power lines must be constructed to transport the electricity to cities and communities. However, the popularity of wind energy continues to grow, and some communities in the United States are completely powered by wind.
Similar to the way we capture wind power, hydroelectric power is produced by building turbines in moving water. The water spins the turbines which in turn generate electricity. This is typically achieved by building dams to create artificial waterfalls, or directional channels in fast-moving rivers.
Moving water can be a constant source of energy. As long as the water flow is constant, a hydroelectric plant can generate energy 24/7. Hydroelectricity also scales very well. Small turbines or water wheels can power an individual home or business, while large-scale hydroelectric plants, such as the Hoover Dam, can generate enough power to supply electricity to more than 1 million people.
The major disadvantage of hydroelectric energy is that, since it requires moving water to work, hydroelectric plants are restricted to rivers. This means that, like wind, power lines have to be built to transfer the electricity to populated areas. What’s more, the construction of dams can interfere with fish and other wildlife by changing the water level and blocking migration paths.
4. Ocean Energy
Another way of producing electricity using water is by harnessing ocean energy. This is done using one of two methods:
- Thermal - Using a variety of systems, heat from the ocean’s surface and cold water from the ocean’s depths can be exchanged to run an engine that creates electricity.
- Mechanical - Harnessing the natural ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides, a variety of instruments are used to capture the energy produced by the moving water. This is also known as wave energy.
This method of generating electricity is still in its early stages but may be a major source of renewable energy in the years to come.
Since ocean energy relies on the tides, it’s very consistent and predictable. And, because many major cities are located near oceans, using this technology to power populated coastal regions can help reduce dependence on fossil fuels in these areas.
The major disadvantage of ocean energy is that relies on proximity. It can be useful for coastal populations, but land-locked cities won’t have access to this resource. Additionally, while this is considered a clean source of power, the structures required to capture this energy have to be built in the ocean, and these projects can disturb the delicate ecosystems.
5. Geothermal Energy
When the Earth cooled billions of years ago, a large amount of heat was trapped beneath the Earth’s crust. Geysers and volcanos are caused by this heat escaping all at once. However, by digging tunnels into the ground, we can use this heat on a controlled scale to turn water into steam, which in turn can provide heat or power a turbine to generate electricity. This is known as geothermal energy.
Because the equipment to harness geothermal energy is built underground, it has very little impact on the surface ecosystems. Additionally, this energy source is self-replenishing.
Geothermal plants can be costly to construct, which is why geothermal energy is an underutilized form of renewable energy. What’s more, certain areas of the world (especially those that experience frequent earthquakes) would not be suitable for geothermal plants, as the could damage or destroy the underground components.
Used to create bioenergy, biomass is organic material that comes from living organisms, typically plants. This organic material is typically burned to produce heat. However, biomass can also be allowed to decompose, which creates methane gas. This gas can then be captured and used for fuel.
While burning biomass does create carbon dioxide, the same amount of carbon dioxide is also consumed by plant growth. So, using wood as an example, as long as reforestation keeps pace with the amount of wood being burned, using biomass as a fuel source can be carbon neutral, in theory.
Biomass only works as a renewable source of energy if the living organisms it’s derived from are being replaced at the same rate they are being harvested. Additionally, the most popular forms ofbiomass come from plants, and while it takes a very short amount of time to burn plant biomass, it takes a much longer time to grow it.
You read that right. Because renewable energy is becoming more popular, hydrogen is now a renewable secondary byproduct. It works like this: when renewable electricity is produced, the excess can be used to run through tanks of water. This causes a process known as hydrolysis to occur, where water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be captured and used in a variety of different applications.
Hydrogen burns clean, making it an excellent alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Additionally, hydrogen can be stored in fuel cells that work like batteries to create electricity. In fact, there are already several types of cars that run off hydrogen fuel cells.
Since the process to produce hydrogen requires electricity, the only way it qualifies as a source of renewable energy is if the electricity also comes from renewable sources, such as solar or wind.
As the focus on harnessing these 7 methods of energy production grows, renewable energy solutions will continue to become more efficient and applicable, leading to greater access and adoption worldwide.
How to Use Renewable Energy at Home
Even if you don’t live near a wind farm, hydroelectric dam, or a community solar farm, there are still opportunities for you to harness renewable energy. For instance, you can check to see if your energy provider offers green electricity. With these products, suppliers purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (or RECs). RECs are created for every megawatt hour (mWh) of energy produced by a renewable generation method. They serve as a tracking mechanism for renewable electricity that is fed to the grid.
See if Renewable Energy is Available in Your Area
At IGS, we feel strongly about preserving the future of our planet. That’s why we offer exclusively 100% green electricity to residential customers. And, in certain states, we also offer residential solar systems.
Are you interested in helping the environment and switching to more sustainable energy for your home?Check out rates in your area