What is Renewable energy?
Everyone is using energy in everyday lives, we’re consuming electricity for heating and for powering the electronics and gadgets we have at home. Even outside our house energy is being used in transportation, street lighting, safety and security, working space and other infrastructures and buildings. Mostly, people are using “dirty” energy like fossil fuels as one of their main sources of energy until now, however, this energy is harmful and damaging to both the environment and the human race. That’s why renewable energy is introduced to give a safe and greener environment and to totally displace dirty energy.
Renewable power was rapidly growing over the decades and continuously developing in the present time due to modern technology and innovations, aiming for a cleaner and greener energy today and for the future. Renewable energy is offering lower emissions of carbon and other types of pollution to limit global warming and climate change. Thus, securing the future of our planet and the next coming generations.
Renewable energy is also referred to as clean energy comes, this term refers to energy being harnessed and naturally obtained from different natural sources in the environment and other processes that are constantly and naturally replenished. These include hydropower, biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy and wind energy. These energy resources are considered less harmful to the environment and human beings, compared to dirty energy like fossil fuels, coal and fracked gas.
Most renewable energies are derived directly or indirectly from the sun. Solar technologies can capture sunlight. Plants also depend on the sun to grow and their stored energy can be utilized for bioenergy. Renewable energy accounts for 13.5% of the total energy supply in the world, and 22% of the electricity.
Now that we have fast-growing innovative technologies and cheaper ways to harness and sustain solar and wind energy, renewables are becoming a more vital and evident power source, most of these are coming from more than one-eighth of the U.S. population. The expansion and growth of renewable energy is also happening at both small and larger scales from simply starting with rooftop solar panels that can easily install at home to sell power back to the electric grid to gigantic offshore wind plants and farms. Even some areas in rural communities are relying on renewable energy for basic lighting and heating.
History of Renewable Energy
Earlier in the mid 19th century when the development of coal was introduced, renewable energy was also starting to boom. The oldest known renewable energy being used during the early decades is the traditional biomass which is being used as fuel to make fire. The plant material such as grass, wood, mosses were used to fuel the fire and eventually the homesteads. This did not become the commonly used energy source not until thousands of years later. Then, it was followed by the use of wind energy, where wind is being harnessed to drive the ships and vessels over the ocean. In fact, around 8000 years ago, wind energy was used to drive the ships in the Persian Gulf and Nile river. During the paleolithic period–ancient Roman era, geothermal energy was then started as they used hot springs for bathing, geothermal is also the main source of energy for their space heating. The use of water as an energy source, such as creating dams to harness the power of the fluid motion of water, is also discovered. Which is called now as hydropower or hydroelectricity.
It was during the 1970s when people began to look back on these ancient technologies and methods to use as the power sources of the future. During the Industrial Revolution, some experts and thinkers were making new concepts and modifications to traditional energy sources. One of these is solar technology which was planning to develop for the preparation of the post-coal world. Theories, development and investment for solar technology lasted until the outbreak of World War I (WW1) and in 1912 Scientific American paper made a hypothesis that fossil fuels will soon run out and the only remaining option for energy source was solar power. Meanwhile, in the year 1950s, the concept of peak oil started a new movement toward renewable energy. Industrialists together with the environmentalists took consideration of the development of solar and hydro. These two energies are both significantly concerned with the rapid growth in the human population, and most importantly in oil consumption, however, these two are only limited and these will eventually run out regardless of the supply and demand. So, the energy movement and development became the focus of environmentalists and industrialists. Since the end of the 20th century, energy security has been a major concern of world leaders but even more so since the start of the 21st century.
Types of Renewable Energy
Biomass is an organic energy coming from plants and animals and considered as one of the renewable sources of energy. It contains stored energy harnessed from the sun and the plants will absorb the sun’s energy through the process of photosynthesis. Then it is being burned, to release the chemical in biomass which will result in heat. Biomass can be burned directly or it can be converted to biogas or liquid biofuels first then burned as fuels.
Examples of biomass:
- Animal manures and human excreta and sewage- these are being converted to biogas which can be burned as fuels.
- Wood and wood processing wastes- these are being burned to heat buildings and infrastructures and to produce process heat in the industry and also used to generate electricity.
- Food waste and garbages- these can be converted to biogas to make fuels in the landfills and these were also burned to generate electricity in power plants.
- Agricultural crops and waste materials- these can be directly burned to make fuel or can be converted to liquid biofuels.
On the other hand, biomass is often mistakenly considered as a clean and renewable fuel which is a good alternative to coal and other fossil fuels for producing electricity. However, recent science and studies show that some of the forms of biomass can produce much higher carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels. Which is definitely considered as one of the negative consequences for biodiversity. Hence, other forms of biomass energy offer low carbon emissions under proper circumstances and conditioning such as using chips and sawdust from sawmills which will easily decompose and also release low-carbon.
Hydroelectric power is using water’s motion to generate electricity. This is being used even in ancient times, around a hundred years and most of the countries were using some form of water generated electricity source devices. Also, this is considered one of the most commonly used forms of renewable energy during the post-oil world and has the potential to significantly increase in production in the next coming years.
Since the source of hydroelectric power is water, hydroelectric power plants are mostly located on or near the different water sources or leverages. The amount of hydroelectric availability is being determined through the volume of the water flow and the change in elevation from one point to another.
The micro-hydro power or the small scale hydro is considered as one of the most popular alternative energy sources, particularly in remote areas where other power sources are not applicable and doable. Despite its usefulness, some hydropower sites have a few major environmental drawbacks such as waterlogging and siltation which causes loss to marine biodiversity.
Geothermal energy is a natural energy coming from the heat within the earth which is a result of geological processes like natural heat loss, volcanic activity and radioactive decay. Geothermal heat was commonly used during the ancient Roman period for bathing, heating buildings, and generating electricity as well.
The slow decay of radioactive particles in the earth’s core produces geothermal energy, as it undergoes some process that usually happens in all types of rocks.
A few decades ago, wind energy was being used to move ships and vessels by impacting on the sails. Until today, wind energy is still used mainly in generating electricity through gigantic windmills located all over the world. Water-pumping windmills were also once used throughout the United States while some still operate these on farms and ranches, generally to supply water for livestock.
Airflow can be used to run wind turbines and mills. The modern large scale wind turbines are ranging from around 600 kW to 9 MW of rated power. The availability of wind power is being determined through the speed of the wind, so as the speed of the wind increases, power output also increases even up to the maximum power output of a typical turbine.
The most preferred locations for wind turbine farms are the areas where winds are stronger and more constant, like the offshore and high-altitude sites.
Solar energy is a natural energy being harnessed from the sun. Solar energy can be used as either an active solar or passive solar power system. Active solar is directly consumed in activities like drying clothes, goods and crops and also making the air warmer. Whereas, passive solar power systems are being utilized through the use of modern technology. Solar energy is considered as the most abundant source of energy, however, due to its intermittent recurrent, it is still not considered as the best reliable renewable energy.
During the earlier decades, the solar collection device they have is a solar oven, it looks like a box which is used for collecting and absorbing the sunlight. It was used for heating purposes like cooking. Over the years, people had developed technologies and different methods to collect solar energy for heating purposes and for power off-grid purposes. Until now, people are using a lot of new solar inventions for a variety of purposes, and this will continue throughout the coming years as technology keeps on upgrading and innovations are continually progressing.
Biogas is a mixture of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and hydrogen sulphite, and its major constituent is methane. It is being produced by anaerobic degradation of plant wastes and animal remains and with the use of water. The Anaerobic degradation process breaks down the organic matter of the animal and plants by bacteria in the absence of free oxygen. It offers clean and low-cost fuel which is very useful for rural areas and not causing any pollution in the environment. The most commonly used biogas plants are the floating drum biogas plant and fixed dome biogas plant.
Tidal energy is not a commonly used and unpopular source of energy, but it has a big potential of becoming known as one of the best sources of energy in the near future. It has similarities to wind energy. This type of energy can be generated in two ways, it can be by barrage generation or through tidal stream generators. The power being created by tidal generators is generally environmentally friendly and it can cause less harmful effects on the existing ecosystems. Moreover, tidal energy is the only source of energy that derives directly from the motions of the Earth-Moon system. Since the tidal forces being produced by the Moon-Sun are being combined with the Earth’s rotation which causes tides.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
Compressed Natural Gas or CNG is a good substitute for diesel or propane fuel and gasoline. This gas is being used in traditional engine cars with gasoline internal combustion which have been converted into bi-fuel vehicles now. It is much cleaner and safer to use as it disperses immediately into the surroundings if it leaks. However, the burning of this can release a few greenhouse gases in the air.
Nuclear energy can produce nuclear power which is also considered as one of the sustainable energy sources. Nuclear energy reduces carbon emissions and improving energy security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil. Generally, nuclear fission is being used to release energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions. They are using utility-scale reactors to build steam which is being converted into mechanical work for electricity generation purposes.
Why Renewable Energy?
To Control Climate Change and Carbon Emission
Climate change and carbon emissions are two of the most serious problems of the environment up to these days. Huge changes to the climate have seen, most continents have recorded having high temperatures during summer, low records of winter, records of a high frequency of typhoons and hurricanes occurrences, drought and floods. And these big changes in the weather conditions are highly affecting every region in all countries.
But we can still resolve this problem by using renewable energy sources than those dirty sources that have a negative impact on the environment and people’s lives. Most of these renewables are using technology to harness the energies, and these do not cause high carbon emissions. These energy sources are effective in providing every individual’s energy needs plus these have only minimal or mostly no carbon output which is much safer and good to the surroundings. We may not achieve a fully carbon-free environment as some resources still used this but reducing the carbon output can make a significant change in the climate conditions and it can somehow provide a well-balanced environment.
Renewable energy offers a constant and sustainable supply of solar power, hydroelectric, biofuels, electricity and etc. The prices of these sources are likely to remain stable and the energy being produced from renewables is much cheaper than those energy produced by non-renewable sources. Thus, keeping the economy more stable. Some examples are the geothermal sources in Idaho which produces a large amount of energy, and the wind power in Texas which offers energy cheaper than the state’s citizens utility-scale.
Fossil fuels, oil, gas and coal mining and drilling have high levels of pollution that are being spread into wider atmosphere which can affect all the communities. These industrial processes have a big impact on people’s lives particularly each individual’s health. There are a lot of protestors attempt to prevent the construction of these pipelines for public health concerns as we are all aware of these harmful effects. But if we will switch to renewables, this health issue might be prevented as most renewables are entirely emission-free, they still have carbon output but it is much lower compared to fossil fuels and other dirty energy.
Renewable Energy at Home
Solar shingles are also called photovoltaic singles which are solar panels designed to function as a conventional roof tile materials. These singles harness sunlight as the main source of energy to generate direct current electricity. It can be easily installed at home with the help of inverters.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panel
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panel is usually the best option for homes and small businesses. Photovoltaic uses arrays of lenses and mirrors to collect sunlight onto the solar cells and convert it into electricity. These solar panels have many solar cells that are made up of different layers of materials such as the anti-reflective coating on top which helps the cell to capture as much light as possible.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal heat pumps at home use the constant temperature of the earth which is only a few feet below the surface. It is used to cool homes particularly in the summer season and warm houses in the winter season as well as in heating purposes. Geothermal systems can be highly expensive to install at home but this one can be a good geothermal investment, which typically off within 10 years of installment. This system has fewer maintenance issues and can last longer than those ordinary and traditional air conditioners.
Small Wind System
Today manufacturers offer small wind turbines for residential use. Dealers are helping homeowners to install and maintain small wind turbines in their backyards. While some are doing some DIY wind turbines at home. At some point, this wind turbine can reduce your reliance on the electrical grid offered by utility companies, but this depends on the wind speeds and zoning rules in your area as well as your electricity needs.
Leading Countries in the Renewable Energy Industry
Given the fact that modern technology is continually emerging and improving the use of renewable energy is no way impossible to grow. According to a recent study from Stanford University, all the countries in the world could be powered entirely by renewable energy for the next 20 to 40 years from now. Also, it was stated that almost 50 countries had already agreed to use renewable sources as a means of energy production by the year 2050 to prevent more serious problems in the climate conditions and to sustain the beauty of nature.
Here are the top 12 leading countries that had switched to renewable energy.
China is known as the world’s biggest investor of renewable energy, both residential and overseas investments. As of now, China owns the five largest solar-module manufacturing companies all over the world. They also have the world’s largest lithium-ion manufacturer firms, the largest wind-turbine firms and the largest utility-scale of electricity worldwide. China is solidly committed to reducing fossil fuel consumption in the entire country.
The United States of America also has one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic capacity installed. Also, it has a wind energy installed with high capacity second to China’s wind energy system. However, the USA is also considered as one of the biggest energy consumers in the world, that’s why they tend to cancel out much of its renewable capacity. On the other hand, if American citizens will pay more attention to reduce the use of fossil fuels then the U.S can reduce carbon emissions by almost 80 percent around 50 years without causing a big impact on the consumer’s electricity costs.
Iceland is generating the cleanest electricity in the world since almost 100 percent of its energy is coming from different renewable sources. Particularly from hydroelectric power plants and geothermal power systems.
Because of its small size (just 4.9 million people) and unique geography (67 volcanoes), With Costa Rica having a small population and unique geography, it is easy for them to meet their energy necessities which are all coming from geothermal, solar, hydroelectric, and wind sources. By the year 2021, the country aims to be completely carbon-neutral and to run 100 percent renewable energy.
Since the United Kingdom is a windy country, wind turbines are the most commonly used renewable. With the combination of grid-connected wind farms and standalone wind turbines, the United Kingdom now can generate more electricity supply from wind farms compared to coal power plants.
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At least one company, NPD Solarbuzz has taken a bullish approach anticipating that the global level of solar installations could reach 49 gigawatts by the end of 2014. However, other companies like Mercom anticipate that the world will have 43 gigawatts of solar installed by the end of 2014. Either way both companies are showing strong and stable growth for the industry.
Solarbuzz’s more bullish stance sees larger growth. “The solar PV industry has reached a critical tipping point, with end-market demand hitting record levels almost every quarter,” said NPD Solarbuzz Vice President Finlay Colville. “This growth is being driven by leading module suppliers and project developers that returned to profitability during 2013, and which have now established highly-effective global sales and marketing networks,” he added.
Market conditions have stabilized for the solar industry over the past few years, following a period of wild growth, which led first to undersupply then oversupply by photovoltaic manufacturers in particular. “Manufacturing over-capacity and pricing erosion within the PV industry was previously a key factor in limiting annual growth to 10 percent to 20 percent between 2011 and 2013,” Colville said. “With a more stable pricing environment and the prospects of increased end-market globalization, NPD Solarbuzz forecasts a return to annual growth above 30 percent for the PV industry in 2014.”
Mercom largely agreed with Solarbuzz. “Helped by strong demand, the module oversupply situation has improved. Prices are stable, and manufacturers are reporting shipment growth and ramping up capacity,” said CEO Raj Prabhu.
One of the factors that’s likely leading to some of the discrepancy between the two projections is Japan. “At the moment, Japan is a ‘wild card,’” Prabhu said. “Though forecast to be the second largest market in 2014 with 7 gigawatts installed, there are some mixed signals coming out of Japan.”
Apparently there is already a large gap in the country between projects approved under the country’s feed-in tariff and the amount actually installed, according to Mercom. The company said that the country’s government is exploring the issue. Another potential roadblock to higher installations in 2014 is what the Shinzo Abe policy position towards solar and renewables will be.
NPD Solarbuzz anticipated record growth for the last quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014. “Q4’13 will be another record quarter for the solar PV industry, exceeding the 12 gigawatt barrier for the first time ever,” the company said. “Furthermore, demand in Q1’14 will also achieve record-breaking status, as the strongest first-quarter ever seen by the PV industry,” it added. It anticipated that during that six-month period 22 gigawatts of solar PV will be installed.
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