Wednesday, May 25, 2016 ENERGY 101RENEWABLE ENERGY
Renewable energy is generated from sources that can be replenished, so that we never run out – good news for all of us! This includes energy that is harnessed from the movement of the wind or waves, light from the sun, natural heat from the earth (geothermal) or organic material from plants and animals (biomass).
Compared to the burning of fossil fuels, it can be more costly to extract energy from renewable sources and transport it to towns and cities, but these sources have become increasingly popular (not to mention necessary), as they are far more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Energy from renewable sources is primarily used for generating electricity. In the case of wind and hydropower, the movement of the air or water (such as tides or waves) is used to drive turbines, and the natural kinetic energy is converted into usable electricity. Similarly, solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity through solar panels.
Biomass is the most similar to fossil fuels as it involves burning organic material (such as wood and animal manure) to release stored energy from the sun. This is mostly used to produce heat and steam for industry, or biofuels for transportation (from vegetable oils and animal fats).
So it turns out that there’s a wealth of energy out there just waiting to be called into action to power our homes, businesses and myriad devices.
According to 2014 data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), China is the leading nation in terms of installed capacity for generating wind and hydropower, the US leads on biomass and geothermal sources, Germany has the highest installed capacity for solar power, and the Republic of Korea accounts for a colossal 48% of the global capacity for hydropower.
By 2015, with a keen awareness that non-renewable sources won’t last forever and that the realities of global warming can’t be dismissed as a hypothetical spectre, almost every country had set policies and targets for the use of renewable energy. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated that 11% of marketed global energy consumption now comes from renewable sources, with a projected increase to 15% by 2040.
Renewable energy plays a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as it diverts us away from the intensive use of fossil fuels and (with the exception of biomass) the conversion of renewable sources into electricity does not directly give off harmful pollutants. The downside, though, is that these sources are somewhat subject to the whims of nature and are therefore not always available on demand!
Even when it comes to renewable sources, there are some environmental considerations. For example, the dams created for hydroelectric power interfere with the natural flow of the water and may have a wider impact on the surrounding area, even potentially causing flooding. However, on balance, renewable energy sources are a more favorable and sustainable way to go than our old friends the fossil fuels.