Climate change and the future of our planet are increasingly concerning topics, but tackling the issue of preserving the environment can seem overwhelming to any one person. However, we all have the capability to help prevent the effects of climate change through the types of energy that we choose to use.
Traditional energy sources like oil, natural gas, and coal contribute to pollution, but renewable energy offers a practical alternative that could reduce the impact we have on the environment every day.
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Understanding Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is often called “clean energy,” and it comes from a source that is naturally and constantly replenished. Common renewable energy sources include the sun and the wind. In contrast, nonrenewable or “dirty energy” sources are available in limited amounts. These types of energy take a long time to replenish and are often located only in specific areas of the world, so some locations have much greater supplies of these resources than others. Coal and natural gas are some common types of nonrenewable energy.
We’ve been harnessing and using renewable energy for years, such as by using wind to power a sailboat. Unfortunately, we’ve also become highly dependent on coal and gas, both of which are burned to create energy. These release gases like carbon dioxide into the air and further harm the environment.
Recent changes to renewable energy have made it more accessible and more practical. These alternative energy sources are becoming more affordable, and they’re now available in both small-scale and large-scale options, such as installing solar panels on homes and creating large-scale solar farms.
The Current State of Renewable Energy
Today, homeowners and business owners can choose from multiple types of renewable energy. Solar energy is one of the most common types of clean energy. Because small-scale installations are available, nearly anyone can take advantage of this clean energy source.
By the end of 2018, enough solar panels were installed in the United States to power 12.3 million homes, and solar accounts for a total of 1.6% of the country’s electricity generation. Across the contiguous 48 states, over 1.47 million solar panels are in use. This amounts to enough solar power to offset the generation of 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to planting about 1.2 billion trees. With solar energy still growing in popularity, it’s easy to see the impact that even moderate clean energy use can have on the environment.
We’re continuing to use other types of renewable energy as well. Wind turbines pair well with solar energy. As wind spins a turbine’s blades, those blades spin a shaft connected to a generator, creating electricity. The vibrations generated by turbines mean that these units can’t be attached to roofs, so they may need to be strategically positioned for the best results. Small residential turbines and large offshore turbines allow both homeowners and companies or communities to harness the power of the wind.
Hydropower, in which the energy of constantly flowing water turns a pump, turbine, or waterwheel, is another potential energy source. By diverting the water from its natural path and channeling it through the turbine, this method harnesses the natural power generated by flowing water and gravity.
The Role of Smart Grid Technology
To support and integrate the use of solar, hydro, and wind-generated electricity, the way that we deliver energy also needs to change. Smart grid technology will help to generate, transmit, and distribute power throughout cities and towns while integrating renewable energy.
Smart grids are an upgrade to the traditional power grids in use today and feature a more efficient design. These grids include smart substations that can monitor and control aspects such as transformer status, overall power performance, and more. Plus, by overhauling old equipment, smart grids can reduce the chance of power outages, blackouts, and other issues.
Smart grids could have a significant impact on how we create and consume power. Because these grids can incorporate different types of clean energy, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 60 and 211 million metric tons. There’s much excitement behind this growing industry.
The Future of Renewable Energy
We’ve already taken some important steps in making renewable energy practical and accessible. With more and more homeowners using solar power, we’re well on our way to reducing our consumption of non-renewable energy. Homeowners who use solar power and take steps to improve their home’s energy efficiency can further reduce the amount of energy they use on a daily basis. Little steps and changes can mean big implications for the environment over time.
Changes in renewable energy research and development will continue to make it more affordable. The solar energy market is experiencing rapid growth, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia, Italy, Egypt, and Iran. This growth should make solar energy more affordable. Many global corporations have become interested in solar energy, and cities are increasingly embracing the use of clean energy.
Today, over 100 cities source more than 70% of their energy from renewable power, and more companies are transitioning to using renewable types of energy. As concern over the environment’s future grows, we’re likely to see this commitment to renewable sources of energy grow even further.