In your search for a solar energy solution you will have read about “renewable energy”. Is it a term that you are familiar with? Do you know what it really means? Often, when searching for a new product you will read terms that those in the know will happily bandy about – you can either skip over them and hope that you will understand eventually what they’re talking about or you can dig a little deeper and develop your own understanding.
So what is Renewable Energy?
What is the definition of Renewable? Renewable means that something is capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles. What about Energy? Energy can have many definitions, but today we will take the definition of “usable power” So, when you come across the term “Renewable Energy” you can understand this to be “usable power that can be replaced naturally”.
What sort of power is this? Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Hydro Electric and Biomass all fall under the renewable energy category. Each source of renewable energy has unique benefits and costs involved but all create much less environmental impact than traditional forms of energy. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions, however geothermal and biomass energy systems do emit some air pollutants – although the total air emissions from geothermal and biomass energy systems are generally much lower than those of coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.
Why is it so important to choose to use renewable energy? Well, for centuries humans have been slowly, but surely, depleting the earth’s natural resources. Coal and Natural Gas have long been the world’s major source of energy for use in industry and home. Scientists have discovered though, that the world’s coal veins and gas fields are fast dwindling and on top of having a finite number of years left before there is no more, they both contribute carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions into the atmosphere. These bad emissions trap heat and steadily drive up Earth’s temperature and this in turn creates significant impacts on our health, environment and climate.
What kind of benefits are found with renewable energy? Generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels can offer significant public health benefits. The air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer.
Wind and solar energy require essentially no water to operate and thus do not pollute water resources or strain supply by competing with agriculture, drinking water systems, or other important water needs.
Renewable energy can provide economic benefits too. Throughout the world, strong winds, sunny skies, plant residues, heat from the earth, and fast-moving water can each provide a vast and constantly replenished energy resource supply. These diverse sources of renewable energy have the technical potential to provide all the electricity the nation needs many times over with minimal cost.
While renewable facilities require upfront investments to build, once built they operate at very low cost and, for most technologies, the fuel is free. As a result, renewable energy prices are relatively stable over time.
The costs of renewable energy technologies have declined steadily, and are projected to drop even more. The cost of renewable energy will decline even further as markets mature and companies increasingly take advantage of economies of scale.
Using more renewable energy can lower the prices of and demand for natural gas and coal by increasing competition and diversifying our energy supplies. An increased reliance on renewable energy can help protect consumers when fossil fuel prices spike.
What are the risks in relying on Renewable Energy? The risk of disruptive events will also increase in the future as droughts, heat waves, more intense storms, and increasingly severe wildfires become more frequent due to global warming. Renewable energy sources are more resilient than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants in the face of these sorts of extreme weather events.
For example, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power depend on large amounts of water for cooling, and limited water availability during a severe drought or heat wave puts electricity generation at risk. Wind turbines and solar photovoltaic systems do not require water to generate electricity, and they can help mitigate risks associated with water scarcity.
Wind and solar are less prone to large-scale failure because they are distributed and modular. Distributed systems are spread out over a large geographical area, so a severe weather event in one location will not cut off power to an entire region. Modular systems are composed of numerous individual wind turbines or solar arrays. Even if some of the equipment in the system is damaged, the rest can typically continue to operate.