What is Energy?
Energy is power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources. This power may be for the purpose of providing light and heat or to work machines. Energy is essential in our everyday lives both domestically and commercially. The commercial, residential, transportation and industrial sectors all rely on energy to function.
Where Do We Get Energy?
Energy comes from two main sources, renewable energy sources and non-renewable sources. Non-renewable energy is from fossil fuels such as oil, coil and natural gas which are exhaustible and limited to some specific parts of the world. In addition, they are harmful to the human environment. On the other hand, renewable energy comes from the earth’s natural resources such as the sun and the wind which are inexhaustible since they are always being replenished.
Climate change has called for people globally to declare a climate emergency where we work to support the transition to low carbon energy sources for a sustainable future.
In this article, we focus mainly on renewable sources of energy and the types of energy we get from these sources. We will take a closer look at five examples of renewable energy sources.
Types of Renewable Energy Sources
We get solar energy by capturing radiation from the sun. It is capable of producing heat, generating electricity and even causing chemical reactions. Through the use of solar cells, photovoltaic cells (PV) can convert direct sunlight into electricity.
The sun is a powerful energy source, if harnessed properly, solar energy could satisfy all the future energy needs since there is excess solar energy incident on the earth. Its supply is limitless and in the near future, it might render fossil fuels obsolete. Furthermore, solar energy systems do not harm the environment through air pollutants or greenhouse gases since there are none produced.
Flat plate collectors are the most common devices used to capture solar energy and convert it to thermal energy. These collectors must be put in a large area for the solar heating applications to work; being that the solar radiation intensity on the earth’s surface is quite low. To gather enough energy able to serve the needs of one person, the collector must have a surface area of about 40 square meters. This is where the challenge comes in as many people lack ample space to arrange these solar panels while some find it as an unnecessary expense for their household since it is an upfront cost.
Wind is a form of solar energy caused by uneven heating of the earth’s atmosphere by the sun, variation in the earth’s surface and the earth’s rotation.
Wind energy is used to generate electricity. Traditionally, windmills were used to pump water in the United States. Some
people still use windmills in their ranches and farms to supply water for their livestock.
Wind farms use turbines to capture the energy of wind flow after which it is converted into electricity. Single wind turbines can be used to supplement pre-existing energy while commercial-grade wind-powered generating systems could power several different organizations.
The wind turbines have propeller-like blades around a rotor which if rotated, converts the energy in the wind to electricity. However, the amount of energy a turbine is able to harness is affected by the air density, wind speed and the swept area of the turbine.
Turbines can be put on hilltops, open plains and in open water; as long as there is high wind speed. States such as California, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and Texas are the top wind power states.
Wind energy is a clean energy source is that it releases no harmful product to the environment. Therefore, the environment would be safe from environmental degradation. In addition, investing in technology for wind energy could create more employment opportunities; the turbines would need human labor for them to be serviced and maintained.
There are several limitations that hinder the widespread use of wind energy. First of all, these wind farms are usually built-in remote areas which are far from the cities. As we know, the city is where energy is needed most and for this energy to get there, transition lines must be used to transport the wind energy making it costly. Moreover, the wind turbines are a risk to local birds and wildlife who die from strikes by the rotating wind turbines.
Renewable Energy Sources
Hydropower is the largest source of clean and renewable electricity in the United States. To generate electricity, it requires only the power of moving waters- rivers, streams, and ocean tides. Water descending from a high point comes with a lot of force which is converted to electricity by spinning a generator’s turbine blades.
Most people know that dams are associated with hydroelectric power. This is because, turbines are put in place to produce electricity, pumped storage hydropower.
The benefits that come with hydroelectric power is that it is versatile since it can be created using both large scale and small-scale projects. Whether it is a big dam project or small underwater turbines, electricity can still be generated. Moreover, it is environmentally
The current limitations of hydroelectric power are that the facilities in place especially in the U.S use more energy than they are able to produce. The storage systems may need to use fossil fuel which is harmful to the environment for it to be able to pump water. Moreover, the systems of hydroelectric power plants disrupt waterways and affect the organisms living in water negatively; by changing the water levels, currents and migration paths for fish.
Geothermal energy is heat derived from the sub-surface of the earth. The heat from the earth may escape naturally sometime and cause volcanic eruption or form geysers. Water or steam carries geothermal energy to the surface of the earth. The heat can then be capture and used to produce geothermal energy. Deep wells can be drilled to bring underground water which is pumped through a turbine to create electricity.
Countries such as Iceland, El Salvador, Philippines, New Zealand, and Kenya use a significant share of geothermal resources for their electricity.
Its main advantage is that it is not dependent on weather conditions. The energy source cannot be depleted-geothermal energy naturally replenishes and leaves very little footprint on land since it is built underground.
Despite the fact that geothermal energy comes naturally, a limiting factor is the costly nature of the infrastructure needed
by the geothermal power plants. Some concerns are also the fact that geothermal energy makes some regions of the world vulnerable to earthquakes.
Bioenergy is renewable energy from Biomass. This biomass is an organic material from plants and animals. When these products are burned, waste wood and crops, the chemical energy is released as heat that using a steam turbine is able to generate electricity.
Many people are familiar with the use of biomass, using wood in the fireplace is an example. One can also get biomass through harnessing methane gas from decomposing organic matter.
Many forms of biomass such as those from the forests produce high carbon emissions which is a challenge. However, some forms of biomass energy could be helpful since they emit low carbon into the atmosphere- sawdust and chips from sawmills.
Renewable Energy in the Modern World
Now that we have seen the types of renewable energy, let us have a quick peek at the percentage covered by renewable energy use worldwide.
We need to advocate for the use of renewable energy towards the journey for a clean energy future. Although the use of fossil fuels remains stubbornly high, the past decade has witnessed strong growth in the deployment of renewable energy technology. Cost reduction of renewables due to the new innovative technology is opening up huge opportunities for energy transitions. The U.S Energy Information Administration projected a continued increase in the use of renewable energy by the year 2050. Try out one of these energy sources for your home energy use and let us change the world, one person, at a time!
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