Introduction: The Types of Renewable Energy and Benefits of Renewable Energy
Many of us have heard of peak oil, that moment in time (that we might have already passed) when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction has been reached. Without a doubt, our industrial civilization and all of the advancements and progress that characterize our society have been built on the abundant availability of cheap oil.
As oil becomes scarcer in the coming years, finding renewable energy sources to power our development will be one of the biggest challenges we face.
Many experts hold that we need to find ways to go from a society built on ancient sunlight to a society that uses current sunlight. Fossil fuels are the sources of energy that came from the slow decomposition of organic matter millions of years ago.
The current sunlight (and other renewable energy sources) offer the challenge of fundamentally changing one of the main aspects of how we interact with the Earth.
In this brief article, AdvisoryHQ will first explain what is renewable energy and why alternative energy will be important for our future. Once we have seen what renewable energy is, we then offer a list of renewable energy sources and the chief characteristics of renewable energy solutions.
We will also look at some of the numbers and statistics on renewable energy facts and figures before looking at how government subsidies can affect your decision to opt for renewable energy resources. We will also look at which countries are leading the way on alternative energy.
Lastly, we turn our attention to the future to review author Jeremy Rifkin’s prediction regarding the Third Industrial Revolution and the long-term benefits of renewable energy.
What Is Renewable Energy and Why Is Alternative Energy Important for Our Future?
Renewable energy or alternative energy is a way to power our homes and cars and businesses and industries while also minimizing the amount of greenhouse gases and other forms of contamination.
Whereas fossil fuels such as oil and coal release huge amounts of greenhouse gases, leading to global warming, alternative energy sources and renewable resources are able to harness the natural elements to produce energy that doesn’t release greenhouse gases.
The main benefits of renewable energy are twofold:
- Renewable energy can be harnessed from natural sources that don’t deplete over time, and
- Renewable resources don’t release greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
“Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.”
Now that we have seen what renewable energy is, we will turn to look at a list of renewable energy sources.
Image Source: Invest Mauritius
A List of Renewable Energy Sources
One of the main advantages of alternative energy solutions is that there are many types of renewable energy. The renewable energy resources that you use will largely depend on where you are geographically located and what elements are most abundant in your area.
For example, if you live in southwest Arizona, chances are that there is more than enough sunlight to power your home, charge your car, and even enough left over to feed back into the grid.
If you have a home by the sea somewhere in northern Maine, chances are that there is more than enough wind to give you the electricity you need. If you live somewhere out west, beneath your feet may be an unending source of geothermal energy.
The best types of renewable energy for your use will largely depend on what natural element is most abundant and available to you. Below, you’ll find a short list of renewable energy sources and a short definition of those types of renewable energy solutions.
- Solar Energy: The most widely known and recognized form of renewable resources. Every minute of every day, the sun is throwing a virtually unlimited amount of energy and power at our earth. Solar energy seeks to capture the energy in sunlight and convert it into electricity through the use of mirrors, boilers, and most commonly, photovoltaic cells.
- Eolic: Eolic energy harnesses the power of the wind through turbines and/or wind mills. This type of energy has been used for hundreds of years by farmers who used wind to pump and or move water on their farms. Currently, larger wind turbines are being built to make the process of converting energy from the wind more efficient. This is one of the fastest growing alternative energy sources.
- Geothermal: If you were to ask people, “What is renewable energy?” the majority would only think of solar and wind energy. However, geothermal energy is another form of alternative energy that holds huge potential. The heat in the earth’s crust often escapes toward the surface in the form of volcanoes, geysers, etc. When that heat is close enough to the surface, it can be used to create electricity and other forms of energy.
- Hydroelectric: The movement of rivers is constant. Using that movement as a potential source of energy is the basis of hydroelectric power. When some people think of what is renewable energy, they may have an image of a mega dam that creates a huge lake that wasn’t there before. Alternative energy from hydroelectric sources, however, can be scaled to any size, from a household to a city.
- Biomass: Lastly, biomass is another of the top alternative energy sources. Biomass is a term for energy from plant growth. Burning logs for cooking your food is one form of biomass. However, our industrial society is continually looking for ways to make this form of alternative energy more efficient and less polluting.
Some Important Renewable Energy Facts
While the different types of renewable energy are continually being developed and improved and the benefits of renewable energy are better understood, renewable energy sources still only account for a fraction of our overall energy use.
Some of the renewable energy facts presented below show us how far alternative energy has come in recent years, and just how much farther we have to go in the future.
According to the International Energy Agency, in 2012, only 13.2% of our global energy resources came from the different types of renewable energy. Though most people around the world know what renewable energy is and are beginning to understand the benefits of renewable energy, development and adoption of these technologies has been relatively slow.
One study finds that it would only take 0.3% of the world’s overall land area to provide energy from alternative energy sources. Furthermore, the availability of alternative energy sources is virtually unlimited.
In the case of solar energy, every minute of every day, the sun is sending 120,000 terawatts of energy into our atmosphere. That amount of energy is 10,000 times the total amount of energy used by our industrial civilization at any moment in time.
Furthermore, renewable energy resources continue to steadily grow. According to a BP report:
“Renewable energy used in power generation grew by 15.2%, slightly below the 10-year average growth of 15.9% but a record increment (+213 terawatt-hours), which was roughly equal to all of the increase in global power generation. Renewables accounted for 6.7% of global power generation. China (+20.9%) and Germany +23.5%) recorded the largest increments in renewables in power generation.”
Renewable Energy Solutions and Government Subsidies
One of the most feared aspects of alternative energy is related to its cost. People know what is renewable energy and the benefits of renewable energy, but not everyone has an extra $10,000 laying around to convert their homes to renewable resources.
Fortunately, many governments around the world have woken up to the fact that the switch to alternative energy is going to be a part of our future. In order to motivate people to make the switch to renewable energy solutions, governments around the world offer a number of incentives and subsidies to help offset the initial cost of installing an alternative energy system.
Since many people are convinced of the benefits of renewable energy and would like to move away from dependence on fossil fuels, these subsidies and government programs can be extremely effective in helping to fundamentally change how we power our civilization.
For more information on the specific types of subsidies that are available for alternative energy sources, you can visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) here.
The Countries Leading the Way with Renewable Energy
On a worldwide scale, the United States is one of the industrialized countries that has least developed alternative energy solutions. Though the U.S. population knows what renewable energy is and understands the benefits of renewable energy, this knowledge has not influenced policy makers to the point that they change how we generate the power we need.
Only 10% of U.S. energy consumption comes through alternative energy or renewable energy. Compared to certain countries in Europe, this pales in comparison. In Italy, for example, close to 40% of all energy consumption came from renewable resources.
In Portugal, more than 50% of energy was from renewable resources, with wind power accounting for 18% of all energy used by the population.
In order for renewable energy resources to continue to grow, the benefits of renewable energy need to continue to be in the public eye. Additionally, lawmakers and politicians need to find the political will to push for renewable energy solutions despite any obstacles that may come up.
The Third Industrial Revolution and Renewable Resources
Imagine a world where every rooftop was covered with shingles that doubled as photovoltaic cells to turn the sun’s energy into electricity. Every yard would have a couple wind turbines gently spinning with the breeze. A series of pipes and tubes might reach into the earth to convert the earth’s heat into an alternative energy source.
Author Jeremy Rifkin has argued that the “Third Industrial Revolution” is upon us, and that it will be characterized by a massive growth in renewable energy resources and the de-centralization of the energy sector.
According to Rifkin, one of the main changes that will come with this new revolution in alternative energy will be through “using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus green electricity back to the grid and share it with their continental neighbors).”
Far from being a futuristic sci-fi dream, this new world of alternative energy sources offers the immediate opportunity to revolutionize our world.
Image Source: Pixabay
Conclusion – Alternative Energy and Renewable Energy Sources as Our Collective Way Forward
Making the switch from dependence on fossil fuel energy to renewable energy sources is one of the main challenges we collectively face. Few people question the obvious benefits of renewable energy, and almost everyone now can answer the question, “What is renewable energy?”
Finding the political will power to switch to alternative energy sources, however, hasn’t been easy. As the different types of renewable energy technology continue to develop and grow cheaper, however, they should be more widely accepted and adopted throughout the world.
Whether you choose to cover your rooftop with solar panels or put up a few small wind turbines behind your home, switching to alternative energy is a challenge and a responsibility to our world that all of us should embrace.
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