A Beginner’s Guide to Renewable Energy Sources

Climate change is all the buzz now as we are seeing its overwhelming impact across the globe. Governments and environmental scientists alike are actively looking for cleaner sources of energy to power our lives and our ever-growing electricity needs. Currently, fossil fuels — namely coal, oil and natural gas — are the primary sources of power, constituting 80% of the world’s energy. The use of these carbon-rich resources, which take millions of years to form from decomposed plant and animal remains, have led to a steady increase in harmful air pollutants that are toxic to both the environment and to human health. This is leading experts to find more environmentally friendly and cleaner solutions that are also replenishable to bring power into our homes and businesses with ease. Here are 5 renewable energy sources that are being explored by energy companies today:

Solar Energy 

Solar energy, as the name suggests, takes its power from the sun. The sun is by far the most abundant form of energy that exists, with the capacity to provide power wherever it shines down on (i.e., the entire planet!) Solar energy is harnessed through solar panels, which are composed of solar cells that act like batteries with an electric field, capturing the sun’s energy and generating electricity. Electricity generated from the sun can be stored for use at night and on cloudy days. The trick, however, is to produce enough solar panels that can harness the amount of energy needed to power entire towns and cities. The amount of land that is required to create “solar farms” in order to achieve this is simply not enough in many regions. Nevertheless, the cost of creating solar panels has reduced over the past decade. Each panel’s lifespan is approximately 30 years.

Wind Energy

Wind energy is becoming a very popular source of energy today. Those giant three-pronged structures that you may have seen rotating silently in rural areas are wind turbines that work to capture the potential energy of the wind. The three blades move with the wind, creating kinetic (or motion) energy, which is then converted into mechanical energy, or electricity. The science behind wind energy is relatively simple, and it has the potential to power entire towns, but unlike the sun, wind is unpredictable, and in areas (or periods of time) with low wind, you also run the risk of running low on power. Wind turbines are also large and relatively permanent structures that may be seen as obtrusive.

Hydropower

Water is currently the largest renewable source of energy being used in the United States. Hydropower’s science is similar to wind energy. Hydroelectric power plants use the movement of water to convert kinetic energy into electricity. A hydroelectric power plant stores water in a reservoir, uses a dam to control the flow of water, and releases water from the reservoir to spin a turbine to produce power. While it is considered to be a clean and renewable source of energy, the use of hydropower and the creation of large power plants that disturb the natural flow of water have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems that cannot be ignored.

Biomass Fuels

Biomass fuels are an interesting and debatable form of renewable energy. It involves burning organic matter, such as waste matter from animals and plants, or even waste wood and trees, to create steam, which powers a generator through the use of a turbine, generating electricity. Burning waste matter releases toxins like methane and contributes to air pollution, but it is technically considered to be a “carbon-neutral” form of energy since the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere is offset by the amount of carbon used or absorbed in the process. However, some studies show that burning some forms of biomass, such as those in forests, actually produces greater levels of carbon emissions than even fossil fuels. There are also concerns surrounding deforestation, as wood is one of the primary sources of biomass for this controversial type of renewable energy. 

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is a rarer form of renewable energy within the United States. This source of energy comes from steam produced by wells that are dug deep into the Earth’s core, where extremely high temperature water resides. Geothermal energy, unlike some of the above forms of energy, have a minimal impact on the environment, since most of the work being done is underground. However, this method is used cautiously in areas that are known to have frequent earthquakes, as the drilling needed to access these underground geothermal reservoirs may increase surface instability.

At Arrow Energy, we are always exploring and learning about alternative energy sources that are both cost-effective and environmentally friendly to power your homes and businesses the cleaner (and cheaper) way.