What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy describes a collection of energy technologies i.e. solar, wind, geothermal derived from sources that are never-ending and can be replenished time after time. Most countries across the world heavily depend on fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) as sources of energy to power their economies.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable forms of energy, meaning, they utilize limited resources that will ultimately deplete, hence, driving up overall energy costs. These very countries have responded to the threat by stepping up campaigns to embrace renewable forms of energy like solar and wind.

This is why the question can only be begged: what are the real benefits of using renewable energy? While there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to switching to renewable energy, it is quite arguable that the benefits of using such sources outweigh the shortcomings of it, especially in the future.

Of course, the shortcomings are all things that can, with time and money, be fixed due to the rapid technological advancements our country makes on a nearly annual scale. The benefits of renewable energy sources are breathtaking, and while we may not quite be in a position to fully switch over to renewable energy sources just quite yet (requiring a balance of renewable energy and other sources for now), it is imperative that we look ahead to the future.

The most widespread sources of energy include:

Wind: This takes advantage of wind motion to generate electricity. Wind motion is brought about by the heat from the sun, and rotation of the earth, mainly via the Coriolis Effect.

Solar: taps heat from the sun to produce energy for generation of electricity, heating, lighting homes and commercial buildings.

Hydropower: Utilizes moving water to produce electricity. Moving water creates high energy that can be harnessed and turned into power.

Biomass: Together with snow and rain, sunlight is essential for plant growth. Organic matter that constitutes plants is referred to as biomass, which can be utilized to generate electricity, chemicals or fuels to power vehicles.

Ocean: Takes advantage of rising and falling of tides to generate electricity

Geothermal: Leverages heat from underneath the earth to generate electricity.

Renewable energy is considered clean energy since it doesn’t cause grave environmental pollution.

Renewable energy technology is a term used to refer to hybrid technology or other forms of technology that store up energy created or produced by renewable sources, are able to anticipate renewable energy supply and helps to deliver energy produced by renewable energy technologies to the final consumer. Renewable energy technologies include wind power, solar power, hydroelectricity, biomass energy, and biofuels, which are chiefly used for transportation.

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While advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy exist, the advantages to using renewable forms of energy far outweigh the disadvantages, more so moving to the future.

Advantages of Renewable Energy

  1. Renewable energy is eco-friendly

It is a clean source of energy, meaning, it has low or zero carbon and greenhouse emission. Fossil fuels emit high levels of greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide, which are greatly responsible for global warming, climate change, and degradation of air quality. Fossil fuels also contribute to sulfur emission to the atmosphere leading to acid rains. Acid rains can cause damage to buildings. Solar and wind power are considered eco-friendly because they emit zero toxic gases to the environment. The use of renewable energy dramatically reduces the dependence on fossil fuel as a source of energy, hence, cutting back on air pollution.

  1. It’s a renewable resource

This implies that they do not deplete over a lifetime and there is zero possibility that they will run out (sustainable source of energy). Sources of energy like fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) are considered limited resources and there is strong possibility that they will run out in the future. Renewable energy can help developing countries from over-reliance on fossil fuels. Powerful winds, heat emanating from beneath the earth, sunshine and moving water can guarantee a huge and steady energy supply to a nation for many years.

  1. Renewable energy is a reliable source of energy

In the previous few decades, the use of fossil fuel has sharply increased. This over-reliance on fossil fuels has led to our security being threatened. Fossils fuels are prone to trade disputes, political instabilities, spike in energy prices and unnecessary wars. These variables affect a lot more than a nation’s energy policies; they can significantly drain a county’s economy.

Although most argue that solar and wind energy are unreliable, a solid infrastructure puts this argument to rest. If solar and wind plants are distributed over a large geographical location, there can be minimal electricity generation interruption because weather disruptions in one location cannot be the same in other locations.

  1. Leads to job creation

Renewable energy makes real economic sense because it is a cheaper alternative to most traditional sources of energy. Since the inception of renewable energy, new and stable jobs have been added to most world economies. For, instance, in Germany and UK, many jobs have already been created thanks to their relentless efforts to develop and encourage the use of renewable forms of energy. Experts project that with the ongoing rigorous campaigns to embrace renewable energy, thousands of stable jobs will be created.

  1. Renewable energy has stabilized global energy prices

Change up to renewable sources of energy means stability of energy prices across the globe. This is because the cost of renewable energy depends on the initial cost of installation of renewable energy technologies as opposed to fossil fuels, which increase and decrease depending on the current inflation and availability of the resource. Respective governments would only need to cater to the initial costs and that’s it.

  1. Less maintenance of facilities

Once infrastructure for the harnessing of the renewable resource is laid down, there is low to zero maintenance required. This means that the owners of the facilities will reap big profits while providing cheap electricity to the population.

  1. Boosts public health

This is a no-brainer. If governments took upon themselves to build more renewable energy facilities, the population would enjoy the health benefits. According to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend approximately $361.7 to $886.5 billion every year on overall health of the population. A big chunk of this budget goes to mitigate and cure diseases related to fossils fuel use like heart diseases, cancer, and neurological disorders.

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Greenhouse, carbon and sulfur compounds emitted by fossils fuels are risky to our health if inhaled over time. This is reason enough to consider renewable energy moving forward.

  1. Empowering of people in the countryside

Renewable energy generation mainly takes place in remote settings. This means that local towns would get a fair share of power generated, ultimately, catalyzing the regeneration of those depressed areas both socially and economically. Electrification of those areas will open up untapped opportunities for development through the advancement of greenhouses using geothermal power, district heating of towns and communities through hot water generated by the energy exploitation of forestry and agricultural biomass.

Disadvantages of Renewable Energy

  1. The electricity generation capacity is still not large enough

There are still challenges to generation of large quantities of power in renewable energy technology compared to traditional forms of energy generation like fossil fuel. Fossil fuel still produces large quantities of electricity today, by far. This, essentially, means that it can’t be solely relied upon to power the whole nation.

This means that either we need to set up more such facilities to match up with the growing demand or look out for ways to reduce our energy consumption. This phenomenon indicates that a balance of different energy sources will still prevail for some years to come.

  1. Renewable energy can be unreliable

Renewable energy technologies totally depend on the weather (for e.g.: sun and wind) to be able to harness any energy. In case atmospheric conditions are not good enough, renewable energy technologies would lack the ability to generate any electricity. This might instigate campaigns by the authorities to reduce energy usage in order to serve the population for a longer period.

  1. Low-efficiency levels

Renewable energy technologies are still significantly new to the market, meaning, they still lack the much-needed efficiency. This poses forecast problems and investors may shy away from investing their money for fear of not getting returns pretty quick.

  1. Requires a huge upfront capital outlay

Setting up renewable energy generation facilities requires a huge financial outlay. Installation of wind turbine, solar panels, and hydroelectricity plants are relatively expensive. These plants require upfront investments to build, have high maintenance expenses and require careful planning and implementation. Also, the electricity generated needs to be delivered to towns and cities, which means additional cost of installing power lines.

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Image credit: brookhavenlab , byeagle
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