There are many different forms of energy resources. Some of them are inexhaustible (meaning that they exist as flows), while others are exhaustible (they exist as stocks). During the past decade, scientists have discussed energy sources and warned us about the impact of our choices. With a damaged atmosphere, climate change, and gas emissions, our planet is at risk. We should all be aware of where our energy comes from and how sustainable it is.
A sustainable energy source, also known as a renewable energy source is endless. It can’t ever run out! So when someone is talking about ”alternative energy”, they are probably talking about renewable sources, which are a great substitute for usual, non-eco-friendly sources (e.g. coal, oils, gas, etc.).
What Is the Difference?
Exhaustible energy sources are mainly fossil fuels, like petroleum, coal, oil, and carbon energy. Inexhaustible energy sources are grown by nature (biomass), or related to flows of energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal). They can be very helpful in reducing CO2 emissions, since the use of fossil fuels can lead to catastrophic changes, such as:
- Greenhouse effect gas emissions
- Global warming
- Climate changes
- The increased amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere
Renewable energy is still developing and isn’t accessible everywhere in the world. There is a lot of work remaining, like planning and installing all the alternative energy production.
The Union of Concerned Scientists did a research on terrible effects caused by CO2, and how much it is emitted when using traditional energy sources. The results are devastating. Here are some facts: a list of energy sources and amounts of CO2 they emit per kilowatt-hour (CO2/kWh):
- Natural gas 0.6-2 pounds of CO2/kWh
- Coal 1.4-3.6 pounds of CO2/kWh
- Wind 0.02-0.04 pounds of CO2/kWh
- Solar 0.07-0.2 pounds of CO2/kWh
- Geothermal 0.1-0.2 pounds of CO2/kWh
- Hydroelectric 0.1-0.5 pounds of CO2/kWh
Additionally, eco-friendly energy sources release almost no particles that affect human health or cause pollution. Coal, on the other hand, costs the U.S. up to $500 billion per year (many costs related to waste and health problems).
Types of Renewable Energy
Sunlight is one of the most freely available resources. In just one hour the amount of solar energy reaching the earth is enough for a whole year. The amount we can use varies in different seasons, locations, and times of the day.
Solar energy is created when sunlight is converted to electricity. It occurs with a help of Photovoltaic panels, or Concentrated solar power systems. The biggest benefit is that it’s inexhaustive and available. Solar panels are becoming more and more popular in the U.S., especially in sunny California. Solar in Ladera Ranch and many others are growing and spreading awareness on ecology. Other countries, such as Italy, Germany, China, and Japan have been developing solar technology for a long time and are becoming leaders in this industry.
Wind power is growing the fastest as an energy source. It is a source of clean energy, that is transformed into electricity by turbines, which then drive generators. These turbines are massive. They stand on tall towers and have three blades. Sometimes they can be as tall as a twenty store building.
The turbines are then put together in “wind farms”, and placed in high wind areas.
Hydropower is one of the most developed commercially. A controlled flow of water that drives a turbine is created by building a dam/barrier and a large reservoir. The turbine then generates electricity. Water is passing through the turbines causing them to spin. The spinning sets off two generators, which convert energy to electricity. The volume and height of the moving water determine the power.
Hydroelectric power is often considered more reliable than wind and solar power. The good news is that it stores electricity.
The most prominent country using this type of electricity is Norway (almost 99% of their energy sources).
Although it represents a small section of the current market, ocean energy has been used for a long time.
The biggest benefit is that tidal currents are predictable. The cons are – the price and possible impact on the environment.
At this moment there are three ways of getting tidal energy:
- Tidal streams
- Tidal lagoons
This is thermal energy generated in the Earth. It comes from the sub-surface and is contained in fluids, rocks, and magma. In order to produce electricity, people are digging wells (a mile deep), to access the hot water and steam, which can then drive turbines connected to generators.
There are three types of geothermal power plants:
- Dry steam
Biomass is a derivative from organic materials (plant and animal-based), that releases energy when burned. Here are some sources:
- Forest residues (e.g. sawdust, bark, or other leftovers from the paper making process)
- Non-toxic waste (biodegradable garbage)
- Agricultural crop residues
When burned in biomass power plants, they produce steam, which triggers turbines. The downside is that biomass releases some amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Eco-Friendly Energy Sources Worldwide
We often hear about the growth of eco-friendly energy sources in the media. But the question is how much of an impact has it had on energy systems worldwide?
Experts estimate that the global use of renewable energy rose by about 1% in 2020. It has been the most resilient energy source for Covid-19 measures, because it has been mostly unaffected, unlike other sources.
In the U.S. the consumption of electricity from alternative energy sources is around 11%. The world’s largest investor in water, wind, and solar energy is China, followed by the United States, Germany, and India. The European Union is hoping to fulfill 100% of its energy needs with renewable energy sources by 2050. Now, in 2020. the number is estimated at 20%. Norway and Denmark are the leaders in this type of lifestyle, and these countries are spreading awareness about the importance of saving the environment.
What Does the Future Hold
Renewable energy sources are estimated to expand by 50% between 2019.and 2024. According to IEA (International Energy Agency), solar energy will take the lead, but wind and hydropower projects are about to bloom as well.
Reliance on eco-friendly energy sources offers many environmental, economic, and social benefits. It could provide a lot of new jobs and help rural areas with some low-cost, healthy options.
Humanity hopes that renewable energy will continue rising, as well as the awareness about saving the planet.