Back to basics: What is renewable energy?
Oct 4, 2019 - 3min read
Put simply, renewable energy is energy that comes from a source that is deemed to be inexhaustible due to the rate at which it replenishes itself. Renewable energy is a much better alternative to non-renewable energy sources (also known as ‘fossil fuels’) which are finite and cannot be replaced at the rate that they are used.
Types of renewable energy sources
There is a wide range of renewable energy sources available, and this range is growing every day as scientists develop new means of harnessing different sources of energy. Some of the more widely adopted energy types are listed below, and you may want to check out our other article discussing the different types of renewable energy in more detail.
Solar energy is the radiant energy which is emitted by our sun. The sun is a star and therefore plays host to a constant stream of nuclear reactions that release energy. This process is referred to as ‘nuclear fusion’. This energy is then transmitted to Earth in the form of tiny particles of light, or ‘photons’, which are then harnessed and converted to electricity with solar panels.
Wind energy is actually a form of ‘kinetic’ energy - the type of energy possessed by moving objects. It is collected using wind turbines, which work by using the force from the wind to turn their blades and generate electricity.
Every day the tide goes out, and the tide comes in. This is due to the gravitational pull of the moon as it orbits the Earth. Energy from the tide can be harnessed using turbines to produce a form of hydropower. Though tidal energy is not yet as widely used as some other renewable energy sources, its predictable nature makes it an attractive option for a steady stream of reliable energy.
Geothermal energy is naturally occurring and originates from the heat from the Earth’s crust. This heat comes partly from when the planet was first formed, and partly from the radioactive decay of minerals in the Earth. Some examples of the effects of geothermal energy include the hot water present in hot springs, the steam emitted by geysers, and even volcanic lava!
Biomass is raw plant or animal material which can be burned to generate energy. A byproduct of this burning is the release of CO2, and this is sometimes a source of contention as to whether biomass energy should qualify as renewable. However, this CO2 is absorbed back into the soil during photosynthesis which helps to grow new crops.
Why is renewable energy important?
It is vital that nations around the world continue to invest in renewable energy in order to take action against climate change and reduce global warming. High levels of carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect, whereby the heat from the Sun is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere. Shifting towards renewable energy will also help to boost public health by improving the air quality around us, meaning fewer respiratory conditions for the general population.
What are the advantages of renewable energy?
They are inexhaustible
Renewable energy sources’ biggest draw is their abundant nature which makes them a highly sustainable means of generating electricity to power society. For our way of life to continue (particularly with the rapid advancement of technology), we need to make the most of these renewable energies rather than relying on finite fossil fuels.
Renewable energy is naturally occurring and therefore very safe to use. It offers a much cleaner alternative to ‘dirty’ fuels such as coal, wood, and natural gas, therefore leaving no impact on the planet or our atmosphere.
Exists in multiple forms
More and more renewable energy sources are being discovered and developed every day. Advances in technology are facilitating more creativity in how we can capture naturally-occurring, renewable energy and convert it into electricity.
Facilitates ‘energy independence’
Renewables can facilitate increased ‘energy independence’, meaning countries can become more self-reliant when it comes to generating the amount of electricity which meets their consumption needs. Keeping this electricity generation on home soil means governments can create more jobs to boost the economy, rather than paying to import fuels from abroad.
Ultimately, our adoption of renewable energy sources cannot be a choice. Fossil fuels will not be able to power the planet for much longer so if we want society to continue as we know it, renewables will be key in developing a bright and sustainable future.