Editorial Feature

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy refers to energy sources that replenish themselves naturally and never run out. Renewable energy is currently experiencing the fastest growth of any source of energy. As the name renewable energy suggests, renewable energy will not run out, but is flow-limited. It is an inexhaustible energy resource but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time. Technological advances have enabled us to become dependent on renewable energy sources rather than fast depleting fossil fuels.

The common renewable energy sources are solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass sources. Although biomass fuels release carbon dioxide when they are combusted, they are still considered to be carbon neutral. This is due to the fact that the amount of carbon dioxide released is normally the same as the amount that was taken up during the growth of the biomass. Biomass energy sources include wood and wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas and biogas, ethanol and biodiesel. Plant sources such as crops or woods specifically grown as a fuel are also considered as renewable energies. Organic fuel sources produced as a by-product during manufacturing and other processes can be converted to renewable energy under certain circumstances using processes that are environmentally acceptable.

Tidal and wave energy is another new form of renewable energy resource which is still in under exploration for ready use.

Why Use Renewable Energy?

Today, fossil fuels are mainly used to heat and power our homes and for transport. It is convenient to use coal, oil and natural gas to meet our energy needs. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel supply on Earth is limited.

Even if there is an unlimited supply of fossil fuel, using renewable energy is much better for the environment. Renewable energy is often called “clean” or “green” because renewable energy produces very few, if any, pollutants. On the other hand, burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which trap the heat from the sun resulting in global warming. Climate scientists agree that the average temperature on Earth has risen in the past century. If this trend continues, sea levels will rise and scientists predict that floods, heat waves, droughts, and other extreme weather conditions could occur more often.

Other pollutants are released into the air, soil, and water when fossil fuels are burned. These pollutants take a dramatic toll on the environment and on humans. For example, air pollution contributes to diseases like asthma, acid rain from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides harms plants and fish, and nitrogen oxides contribute to smog.

Renewable energy is plentiful, and the technologies are improving all the time. However, renewable energy sources are not without their drawbacks. Inability to scale-up, transportation of energy from source to consumer points, land depletion and construction of dams leading to environmental damage must all still be addressed.

However, the advantages of renewable energy still outweigh these issues.

  • It is renewable and thus a sustainable energy source
  • It is accessible
  • It is cheaper with innovative technology
  • Cost is not variable
  • Can be carbon neutral or carbon negative
  • It helps combat climate change
  • It will assist in the development of energy independence and security

Public policy, popularity and outreach programs on renewable energy sources need to be planned and implementation be given high priority.

References

  1. Renewable energy expalined
  2. Renewable energy: Back the renewables boom
  3. City energysheds and renewable energy in the United States
  4. Renewable Energy: The Clean Facts

This article was updated on 23rd May, 2019.

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