Between the year 2000 and 2019, global energy demand increased by almost 48%. Our everyday energy needs keep rising, from charging cell phones and electric cars to keeping the lights on.
In 2019, renewable energy provided only 14.5% of energy demand. That means we still use an enormous amount of fossil fuels to meet our energy demands. Why is that not ideal? Well, fossil fuels release harmful greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Oil remains the largest player in the energy mix, at 33.1%. We need to learn more about renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet this surge in energy use with sensible renewable resource management.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of both renewable energy and fossil fuels so you’ll have a clear understanding when choosing your energy supplier.
Why Is Some Energy Renewable?
Energy is all around us and it’s defined as the ability to do work.
When we think of energy, we often visualize power stations, electricity, and perhaps people having good or bad energy. In the industrial sense, we can divide energy into renewable energy and nonrenewable energy.
Nonrenewable energy comes from sources that are finite on Earth, and one day will run out. Most of the fossil fuels we burn today — for heating, transportation, electricity generation, and more — are nonrenewable energy sources. There’s only a certain amount of coal, oil, and gas on the planet, and once they’re gone, there is no replacing them. As such, we will need alternative energy sources. For example, based on current annual consumption, there are only around 52 years of natural gas reserves remaining.
Renewable energy is a replenishable energy source that won’t run out for many millions of years. Solar energy and wind energy are examples of renewable energy sources. The sun will exist for billions of years. While the wind may not always blow, the Earth’s orbit path, temperature, and rotation mean there will always be wind blowing somewhere on the planet.
What’s the Difference Between Renewable and Nonrenewable?
The world uses a mixture of energy sources to meet its energy needs. There are renewable energy sources and so-called fossil fuels, which we’ll look at first.
Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions when burned at power plants to create electricity and heat homes, or when used in industrial processes. These carbon emissions contribute to global warming, which is pushing climate change forward and heating the Earth. The most commonly used fossil fuels are:
- Natural gas
- Oil shales
- Tar sands
- Heavy oils
These are nonrenewable because there is a finite amount on Earth.
Renewable energy resources offer an alternative route to fossil fuels to power generation. They rely on a renewable energy system, or replaceable energy.
Renewables create electricity and usable energy in a variety of ways:
- Hydropower: Water will always be in dams or rivers to turn turbines and create electricity.
- Nuclear: Considered renewable thanks to new technologies that will keep power plants running.
- Wind power: Breezes turn wind turbines to generate electricity.
- Solar power: The sun will die many billions of years from now, so we can heat water and create electricity from its power until that happens.
- Geothermal energy: Replenishable geothermal heat from beneath the Earth’s crust heats homes and drives electricity generation turbines.
- Tidal: In its infancy, tidal power is available as long as the Earth spins and the seas move.
- Biomass: Organic matter, or waste, that comes from plants or animals. This includes everything from sawdust at paper mills to biogas from cow sewage or landfills. We burn it to create electricity, which is called bioenergy.
- Biofuel: Also known as bioenergy, biofuel is any fuel derived from biomass. We burn the solid form to create electricity, and the liquid form can power vehicles, replacing diesel and gasoline.
- Biodiesel: A renewable diesel replacement made from recycled cooking oil, soybean oil, and animal fats.
What Does Renewable Energy Include?
As we’ve seen, renewable energy comes from natural processes that continually replenish, such as solar, geothermal, wind, and hydropower.
Another term often bandied about is alternative energy — this means an alternative to fossil fuels. Alternative energy is not necessarily renewable energy. Ethanol is an example of alternative energy; it is often blended with gasoline for fuel in vehicles. However, it is not a renewable energy but an alternative energy.
What’s the Best Source of Renewable Energy?
The best renewable energy source is debatable because there are pros and cons to each type. However, they can all have a positive impact and create jobs and investment. Let’s look at the primary renewable energy sources.
Wind is available globally and offers lots of untapped potential generation. Once the wind blows, it is a clean and efficient way to generate electricity. But a lack of sufficient breeze renders wind turbines impotent, so you can’t always count on a strong breeze to keep the turbines turning.
The environmental cost comes in the material to build the vast windmills, potential unsightliness in wilderness areas, noise pollution, and its effect on local wildlife. Offshore wind is becoming much more popular, taking wind farms away from human populations. Available globally.
Solar works well in sunny climates, giving consistent power on clear days and providing some power on cloudy days. They don’t work at night, but batteries can store excess energy for later use. Their approximate 30-year lifetime means that up to 78 million tonnes of raw material from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels will require recycling by 2050. Solar panel waste and recycling could be a potential hazardous waste issue in the future.
Geothermal draws hot water trapped underground to the Earth’s surface. In general, it is a very clean and reliable energy source. Still, it does bring visual pollution with power plants that may also release bad smells, noise, and sometimes causes soil subsidence. This type of renewable energy is only available in areas with geothermal waters.
Hydrower is similar to geothermal in that it’s a very clean and reliable energy source. Issues arise from the environmental damage caused by installing hydroelectric stations, changing river courses. In many cases, governments flood basins and dam them to create a reliable water flow.
Flooding can result in displaced populations and considerable changes to the local environment, with temperature changes and wildlife issues. The Three Gorges Dam in China is a striking example of this. Hydropower depends on sufficient rainfall, too.
Finally, nuclear energy is a renewable energy source. It’s relatively reliable, secure, and forms a part of many national grids. The problem with nuclear energy is the large amounts of toxic and hazardous waste it creates that needs treating and safe storage. While thankfully rare, nuclear accidents such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan cause almost immeasurable damage to wildlife and humans over many centuries.
There is a delicate balance between reliability, construction costs, pollution, and potential environmental damage with every renewable energy type. As such, determining the best renewable energy is a very subjective topic.
What Is the Most Common Form of Renewable Energy?
Hydropower is the most common form of renewable energy — it accounted for 60% of all global renewable energy production in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Most renewable energy generates electricity, so let’s look at global electricity production in the previous year, 2018:
- Coal: 38%
- Natural gas: 23%
- Hydropower: 16.2%
- Nuclear: 10.1%
- Wind power: 4.8%
- Oil: 2.9%
- Biomass and waste: 2.4%
- Solar: 2.1%
- Geothermal energy, tidal, others: 0.5%
The effects of the Covid-19 crisis on renewable energy technologies and energy demands remain to be seen.
Also, the United States has formally rejoined the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The effects of that decision could also change renewable energy use.
How Efficient Is Renewable Energy?
Once built and in place, a mix of renewable energy sources is usually a very efficient way to create electricity. Each form is different with varying efficiency levels:
- Wind: 35-50%, with 59% maximum (100% efficiency would mean no wind would flow past the turbine).
- Solar panels: Convert 17-19% of solar thermal energy received. Engineers are working on getting that to 30%.
- Geothermal: Worldwide average is 12% energy efficiency, with some plants recording up to 21% energy efficiency.
- Hydropower: Converts around 90% of energy into electricity.
- Nuclear: Power plants typically achieve 33-45% efficiency.
Hydropower is the most efficient renewable energy, based solely on how much energy it converts into electricity.
What Are the Ways to Get Renewable Energy?
It’s possible to support renewable energy efforts in your home or business. One way to do this is asking your energy supplier to switch you to a renewable or ”green” electric plan; this usually means that the supplier purchases renewable energy credits to offset your electricity use.
If you want to do more, you could install solar panels, a small wind turbine, or even construct a micro-hydropower plant to provide electricity to your building(s). There are various heat pumps (air-to-air, water, or geothermal) that can provide heat and warm water, too. Larger industrial properties sometimes build a local biomass generator.
How Do You Conserve Nonrenewable Energy?
The three Rs are an excellent way to remember how to conserve the nonrenewable energy sources on Earth: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Reduce entails saving energy however you can, and treating it like the precious resource that it is. There are many ways to conserve energy, from insulating your home and turning off lights to cycling to work or walking to your local market. These are just some of the ways you can reduce the amount of fossil fuel-based energy use. When you factor in increased renewable energy production along with this energy conservation, it becomes clear that we have the power to keep more finite resources in the ground.
Reuse means giving already manufactured items another life instead of throwing them away. Reuse could mean donating clothes to charity or buying clothes from secondhand shops or vintage stores rather than always buying new. Advertisers implore us to buy new appliances to replace old or broken ones but getting them fixed is a form of reusing and much better for the environment. This suggestion extends from cars to electrical items to bicycles and more — you can conserve energy by not constantly replacing repairable items with new products.
Recycling gives unwanted items and materials new lives rather than tossing them away. The most common recycling method is household waste: glass, paper, plastics, and more. It could mean composting organic waste, buying new items made from recycled materials, or giving older items a new purpose, adapting them to a fresh role (this is sometimes called upcycling). Cell phones require many rare minerals to function. They are a classic example of why we need to recycle before we end up with no more materials to make them.
Suppose we combine all these actions with greater renewable energy adoption. In that case, we will burn fewer fossil fuels, conserving those nonrenewable energy sources for a later date.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy?
The pros and cons of renewable energy are varied and change as technology advances in both renewable and nonrenewable industries.
Pros of renewable energy:
- Never-ending clean and sustainable energy
- Minimal pollution once working
- Natural, abundant, fewer greenhouse emissions
- Low maintenance
- Helps combat climate change
- Can promote cheaper electricity prices
- Can be constructed close to high demand areas
Cons of renewable energy:
- Pollution and energy used to create infrastructure
- Noise and sight pollution
- Potential environmental impact on wildlife
- Many sectors need to improve efficiency
- Large capital investment required
- Intermittent and unreliable supply in some sectors, depending on weather conditions
- Not enough capacity to cover current demand
What are the Limitations of Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy is not bad, but it does havehas limitations and impacts the environment. Wind turbines don’t turn when there is no breeze. Solar panels don’t work at night and function poorly in bad weather, and hydropower needs sufficient rainfall and water to power its turbines.
Industrial-scale renewable energy sites require a lot of capital investment and raw materials to construct, albeit this point is moot because so do nonrenewable power plants. Renewables cannot meet current energy demands, and their intermittent supply is a downside.
People living near wind turbines often complain of noise pollution, and geothermal plants can smell bad because of the gases released when extracting geothermal water. Wildlife often suffers, too: birds die hitting wind turbine blades, solar panels occupy fields where insects once buzzed around, and river life alters when hydropower arrives.
How Do You Support or Switch to Renewable Energy?
Contact your energy supplier and ask about a green energy plan that supports renewable energy .Most suppliers will have a plan that offsets your electricity use with Renewable Energy Certificates (REC). A certificate is issued when a renewable energy resource delivers a megawatt-hour of electricity to the grid. A megawatt-hour is enough to power an average home in the United States for 1.2 months.
By purchasing a plan that offsets your electricity use with RECs, you show support for renewable energy production by buying clean energy, even if it’s not available in your region. You’re not using that exact megawatt-hour but asking for your money to go to a clean energy provider that puts it into the grid somewhere, whether in your region or elsewhere.
Other ideas include getting a solar panel fitted to your home, hydroelectric station, or perhaps a small wind turbine, depending on what’s best for your area. Some communities get together to create community solar-powered grids, small hydro schemes, and more.
Ask at your town hall, organize a webinar with neighbors, and get active. You’ll be joining 820 million people in 1,480 jurisdictions across 28 countries that have declared a “climate emergency” and are doing something about it by investing in renewable energy.
Why Switch to Renewable Energy?
By switching to renewable energy, you are helping to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You’re also helping conserve nonrenewable energy for possible future needs. Your sustainable, renewable energy can help contribute to a cleaner planet, bringing environmental and health benefits to every living being across the globe.
The Cost of Renewable Energy
Although renewable energy feels like it is “free” because no one owns the sun or the tides or the wind, there are inherent costs in the manufacture of renewable energy. Materials for building, minerals for photovoltaic cells, and constructing dams are just a few sizable upfront costs.
How Does Renewable Energy Save Money?
In 2018, fossil fuels received $400 billion in subsidies across the globe. That’s a lot of money that could be invested elsewhere. That same year, there was a $296 billion investment in renewables; changing subsidies for investment in renewables would bring more sustainable energy to the grid and could help save money long term.
Installing solar panels, a heat pump, or a small wind turbine at a home or business has an initial cost but results in lower energy bills. There may also be tax rebates and grants to help with the price, so be sure to check out DSIRE.
Eventually, the investment can pay itself off through lower bills. As awareness grows about how renewable energy works, more people will become energy conscious and start to conserve more energy. Some energy pricing plans include selling excess electricity produced back into the grid, which could earn the renewable installation owner money.
Is Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Nonrenewable Energy?
The latest renewable energy projects to generate power are now providing cheaper electricity than fossil fuels.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in 2019, electricity from utility-scale solar cost just under seven cents (0.068 cents) per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Onshore wind was slightly over five cents per kWh, and sometimes as low as four cents. Electricity produced by fossil fuels generally ran from five cents to 17 cents per kWh.
Which Renewable Energy Source Is the Cheapest?
The cheapest renewable energy source at present is onshore wind power. According to 2019 figures from IRENA, it was just over five cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to seven cents per kilowatt-hour for solar P.V. panels.
By the end of 2021, solar is expected to become even cheaper, with auction prices in Abu Dhabi, Peru, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Chile expected to be as low as three cents per kilowatt-hour.
How to Make Renewable Energy Cheaper?
Renewable energy production is becoming cheaper as technology pushes the sector forward, improving efficiency and bringing down costs.
New large-scale solar and wind installations are continually being built, offering great power-producing possibilities. In 2023, the world’s largest offshore wind farm will start to create energy. Dogger Bank in the U.K. will be home to the world’s most powerful wind turbine and generate 3.6 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 4.5 million homes a year.
Why Use Renewable Energy and Renewable Resources
Renewable energy is making leaps and bounds in terms of efficiency, stability, and affordability. Global energy consumption continues unabated, so the challenge is to meet that demand.
It makes good sense to recycle the byproducts from existing power plants and industrial processes — biomass and biofuels — but it’s just scratching the surface. Fundamental change demands more decisive action than the present reliance on fossil fuels. Protecting the Earth from climate change means leaving nonrenewable resources in the ground as well as developing cleaner, renewable energies.
We can store finite, natural resources away for the future when technology may allow their clean use. Harnessing more renewable energy now will lead to lower energy bills and a cleaner planet.
Brought to you by amigoenergy
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