7 Types of Renewable Energy and Impact in Our Future

04.01.22

Wind turbines

As time goes on, technology evolves, and we become better at doing things. Over time, medicine has improved, building materials have improved, informational technology has improved, and the way we create energy has also improved. As a result, coal and other fossil fuels are headed out the door, and renewable energy is ushering in a new wave.

What Is Renewable energy?

Renewable energy is a form of energy generated through the use of natural resources — wind, solar, and several others we’ll cover in-depth — that are not finite, which means that the resources won’t run out. Renewable energy is different from traditional sources of energy like coal or oil, which are produced from fossil fuels. The earth has a limited supply of those materials and its reserves will eventually be exhausted. Also, unlike fossil fuel-generated energy, renewable energy is clean, sustainable, and essential in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases.

Facts About Renewable Energy

  • The world is finally investing more in renewable energy than fossil fuels. Not only is this a huge step forward in the right direction from an environmental standpoint, but it’s also a huge market. Globally, the renewable energy market is worth over $250 billion — a quarter-trillion dollars.
  • Every megawatt-hour (MWh) of solar energy reduces carbon emissions by 1,500 pounds annually.
  • The cost to invest in solar panels has dropped more than 99% since its introduction, reflecting just one aspect of the technology’s fast-paced evolution.
  • If you could harness all of it, one hour of light from the sun could produce enough electricity to power the whole world for a full year.
  • Every megawatt-hour of wind energy reduces carbon emissions by 1,400 pounds annually (and the U.S. can produce over 105,500 MW of wind energy).
  • The wind energy sector is one of the country’s most rapidly expanding job markets.
  • By 2050, 95% of the world’s energy needs will be able to be met by renewable energy.
  • One megawatt-hour of hydroelectricity saves over 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions per year.
  • Geothermal energy is produced in nearly two-dozen countries, with California and Nevada being the top producers in the U.S.
  • Global geothermal power capacity will be over 17 GW by 2023, enough to provide electricity for over 1,500 households for a year!
  • In the United States, every megawatt-hour of geothermal energy saves over 1,500 pounds of CO2 emissions every year.
  • Wood and wood-related waste is the primary source of biomass, much of it being in the form of “black liquor,” a residue from paper and pulp production.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

There are many benefits associated with renewable energy. Not only is it plentiful and essentially limitless, but just about every populated area on earth has renewable energy sources, often more than one, readily available and accessible. This can help to reduce dependency on imported energy, create jobs, and help to make communities more self-sufficient and independent when it comes to meeting their energy needs.

And, of course, perhaps the most touted benefit of renewable energy is that it’s a crucial part of the strategy for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — a must for meaningful impact in the fight against climate change. Renewable energy is also much less invasive to produce. Solar and wind, for example, can be collected passively without drilling, strip mining, or the like.

7 Types of Renewable Energy 

The earth is a wondrous place and is full of natural resources with tremendous capabilities that we’ve only begun to tap into. Although wind and solar get a lot of attention when talking about green electricity, there are actually several natural resources that can be used to generate electricity. Below, we’ll explore the details for each of them and their potential for creating a positive impact on our future.

1. Solar

Few resources are as plentiful and freely available as sunlight. It provides the heat that effectively makes all life on earth possible, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that its potential as a source of electricity is absolutely massive. Its only limitations are nighttime, shade, and certain times of the year where the amount of solar energy varies. But, for the most part, solar power can be generated nearly anywhere on the planet.

Solar energy works by using solar panels, also referred to as photovoltaic (PV) systems, to capture particles, known as photons, from sunlight. Solar panels are made of elements like silicon that react with the photons to produce energy that can be converted into usable electricity. PV systems are scalable and can be used for a single house or linked together to provide power to the grid at an industrial level.

There are also solar thermal systems and solar thermal power plants which are able to collect heat from sunlight. Solar thermal systems use it for space heating, whereas solar thermal power plants operate on a much larger scale. In those scenarios, the heat is used to increase the temperature of a fluid to generate steam that spins a turbine attached to a generator.

Advantages of Solar power

Solar power is a technology with a lot of value and potential that’s already being realized all over the world. And that also reflects its primary advantage — it’s available anywhere in the world. Even the most remote, off-grid regions could be powered by simply installing solar panels. No materials are being burned, mined, or otherwise consumed. It’s passive, environmentally friendly, and versatile.

Limitations of Solar Power

Although sunlight is free for the taking, photovoltaic systems have an investment attached to them (although those costs have fallen through the floor over the past four decades). That initial investment cost can be prohibitive, especially on an individual level. And, like kryptonite to Superman, a lack of sunlight will effectively turn out the lights, and not every building has a rooftop with ideal access to sunlight.

2. Wind

Sure as the sun shines, the wind blows. And just like we’re able to capture the inherent energy of sunlight and convert it into electricity, we’re able to use the kinetic energy from the movement of the wind to make turbines spin so generators produce electricity. More and more wind farms are being built and are becoming an ever-increasing sight, not just all over the country but all over the entire world.

Wind energy works by converting the movement of air into electricity. This is accomplished with wind turbines — the large structures that resemble windmills. The wind makes the blades turn, which spins a drive shaft that’s connected to a generator that produces electricity. The capabilities of wind power range from powering a single home to large-scale wind farms that power entire communities of all sizes.

Advantages of Wind Power

Wind is a readily and freely available resource that’s simply there, ready and waiting to be used. Countries all over the globe have realized this and are taking advantage, even enjoying job growth as a result. The United States, in particular, has made investments to increase capacity and positioned the technology firmly in the foundation of its overall energy strategy. In fact, more wind turbines were erected in 2020 than ever before.

Limitations of Wind Power

Wind farms need wind, and the wind is most plentiful and available in large, flat, and wide-open spaces. That’s why you often see them in fields and even out in the ocean. Areas with varied terrain, trees, buildings, and other obstructions are usually not suitable for wind energy production. Additionally, not everyone is a fan of the appearance of wind farms, which can sometimes stall progress.

3. Hydroelectric

Like wind power, hydroelectric power uses kinetic energy to produce electricity. However, in this case, instead of wind, the flow of water is the source. Hydroelectric power plants are built alongside large reservoirs that allow for the flow of water to be precisely focused and controlled so that it drives a turbine and generates a constant flow of electricity.

Hydroelectric power is more reliable than solar or wind power, and it’s the renewable form of energy that’s received the most commercial development. It may also be the oldest, with evidence of its use dating back to 350 BC. Its prevalence has only grown, with every state in the country taking advantage of it. Washington state is especially impressive, with hydroelectric accounting for 70% of its electricity consumption.

Advantages of Hydroelectric Power

The primary advantage of hydroelectric power is its reliability and stability. As long as the water is flowing — and systems can be engineered to ensure it does — electricity can be generated. It’s also a technology that scales extremely effectively. Its capabilities extend from the installation of a small water wheel along a river to power a single building all the way up to the Hoover Dam, which powers millions of homes.

Limitations of Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power plants are a big deal, literally. They require a lot of moving water, and the facilities themselves require significant investments. That’s why most of the hydropower that’s produced in America is done at government-built plants like the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, the country’s largest electric power facility. The construction of these facilities can also be disruptive to the environment.

4. Ocean

Oceans account for so much of the earth’s surface area that it seems logical that they would have the potential for generating electricity — and they do. Ocean energy can be harnessed in two ways, thermal and mechanical. In thermal generation, the heat from the ocean’s surface is counterbalanced with its cold water to power a generator. In mechanical, the ocean’s tides, also known as wave energy, are used.

Advantages of Ocean-Generated Electricity

The major promise and advantage associated with ocean-generated energy is its reliability. The oceans aren’t going anywhere, and neither are the tides. If we can design scalable, cost-efficient, smart ways of fully taking advantage of the deep potential present in the deep blue sea, the potential to power the entire world with environmentally friendly means is incredible.

Limitations of Ocean-Generated Electricity

For many areas, the major holdback of relying on the ocean is proximity. While it holds a lot of promise for coastal cities and regions, inland areas are less able to utilize its benefits fully. Additionally, while this is a renewable source of power, the infrastructure that’s created to enable it is built in the ocean and can be disruptive to both the wildlife and natural ecological balance.

 5. Geothermal

Heat is sort of like wind or sunlight in that it has energy “built in.” And the core of the earth is really, really hot. Do you see what we’re getting at here? If you capture the heat of the earth, you can use it to generate electricity, and that’s what happens with geothermal power plants. The earth’s heat is used to produce steam, and that steam moves a turbine that powers a generator.

Advantages of Geothermal Power

In the areas where it’s efficiently available, geothermal power is reliable and steady. The earth maintains an almost constant temperature so energy can be produced consistently and without interruption. And because much of the equipment sits underneath the earth’s surface, the visible impact on the environment is much less compared to more invasive technologies. 

Limitations of Geothermal Power

Geothermal heat is a natural resource with varying degrees of presence. Some areas of the world, like Iceland, are a great source of geothermal heat. Other areas, such as England, do not have nearly the same amount of geothermal heat at their disposal of which to take advantage of. Additionally, the power plants are extremely expensive to build and are not conducive to areas vulnerable to earthquakes.

6. Biomass

Heat contains a lot of usable energy, but sometimes the process of creating heat, such as with nuclear power or burning coal, has negative side effects for the environment. These repercussions, however, can be lessened or even totally eliminated when the fuel source is switched to organic matter called biomass. The most common forms of biomass come from plants, animals. 

There are a few ways to utilize biomass to create renewable power. Wood scraps, crops, and other plant-based biomass can be burned. Animal biomass is used to produce methane, which is also burned. Biofuels and corn-based ethanol can also be used. With all of this, heat is produced to make steam, turning a turbine, and power a generator that creates electricity.

Advantages of Biomass

Using biomass to create renewable power turns waste into a usable commodity. What was once trash can be repurposed to generate electricity, and it’s cheap. Although biomass involves burning materials, it’s much cleaner than burning coal or fossil fuels. If done correctly and in alignment with other environmentally advantageous initiatives, the net negative effect on the environment can be eliminated.

Limitations of Biomass

Although burning biomass material creates carbon dioxide, it’s the same amount that would be consumed by an equal amount of plant growth. This means that in the case of wood, for example, if new trees are planted, and reforestation efforts don’t outpace the biomass, then it should be a carbon-neutral form of energy. At least in theory. If use and replenishment don’t match, the emissions-related benefits can be affected.

7. Hydrogen

This one is on the cutting edge, but it’s up and coming and present in the discussions related to the future of renewable power because it’s a byproduct of the creation of other forms of renewable power. Here’s how it works. When electricity is produced, some of it can be directed into water tanks to cause something called hydrolysis — the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be used.

Advantages of Hydrogen

Aside from being a “free bonus” of the already-in-place process of creating renewable energy, hydrogen burns clean. Very clean. It’s a fantastic substitute for less clean-burning fossil fuels, coal, and almost everything else. Hydrogen also stores efficiently in battery-like fuel cells, and there is a considerable amount of research and development being put into applying the technology to cars and passenger vehicles.

Limitations of Hydrogen

Hydrogen has a lot of potential, but it’s also subject to a few disadvantages. One is that it won’t produce enough electricity for the entire population. It can be a piece of the puzzle but is a long way from scaling to the magnitude of other forms of renewable energy. It’s also expensive, and there are presently technological limitations to storage. In other words, there are still kinks to work out, but the possibilities are incredible.

Will Renewable Resources Impact Our Future?

Presently, according to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy accounts for over one-quarter of the world’s total electrical production. As populations continue to increase and the drive to reduce global warming and dependence on unsustainable, nonrenewable forms of energy such as fossil fuels accelerates, the demand for clean, renewable energy will continue to rise and new innovation and tax credits will drive adoption.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With Renewable Energy From CleanSky Energy

At CleanSky Energy, we believe that protecting our environment and preserving the planet for future generations is important. That’s why our retail electric plans provide electricity generated from wind, solar, and carbon-neutral natural gas. You don’t have to invest in a solar panel yourself, just check out the plans at CleanSky Energy and compare it to your current bill. We’re certain we can save you money with our reliable hometown service.

Sources:

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210902005385/en/Global-Renewable-Energy-Industry-Guide-2021-Value-and-Volume-2016-2020-and-Forecast-to-2025—ResearchAndMarkets.com

https://news.mit.edu/2018/explaining-dropping-solar-cost-1120

https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/how-does-solar-work

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us.php

https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy

https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/geothermal/use-of-geothermal-energy.php

https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/geothermal-energy-factsheet

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/wood-and-wood-waste.php