Long-term trends indicate that renewable energy sources are rapidly becoming a viable alternative to fossil fuels. However, understanding the basics of renewable energy technology can be daunting for anyone – whether you are in the industry or not, as this is a fast-evolving topic with new and innovative ways of harnessing the power of nature being introduced almost daily.
Let’s dive into what renewable energy is, its importance, history, and examples.
What is Renewable Energy and Why Does it Matter?
Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal.
Solar energy is the conversion of light from the Sun into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect.
Solar energy is a renewable energy source that can be used to generate electricity through solar panels attached to buildings, on roads or in fields. The amount of sunlight that reaches Earth’s surface is so vast that it could meet all of our needs ten times over.
Solar energy applications include domestic hot water or space heating, via solar water heaters; photovoltaics that generate electricity; solar architecture that uses solar heating and cooling design principles; solar furnaces for industrial processes; distillation towers for desalination; and high-temperature process heat for industrial purposes.
Wind energy is the conversion of wind into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to make electricity, wind mills for mechanical power, sailing ships and kites for self-propulsion, or windmills for water pumping. Wind energy does not require fuel, a raw material and only needs wind to create the rotation.
Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, which results in air moving from high pressure to low pressure areas. The movement of air often creates winds that are suitable for generating mechanical power.
The Earth’s rotation causes it to be subject to Coriolis force which deflects winds and ocean currents into an eastward direction in the Northern hemisphere and vice versa in the Southern hemisphere. The Earth’s rotation around its axis also creates winds that are not affected by this effect (for example Kona winds).
Wind turbines work by using blades to convert kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical power that can be used to produce electricity or do other useful work; they are commonly known as rotary blades or simply turbines when used in hydrocarbon extraction. They may be placed on land or offshore in water; they can be used to generate large amounts of electricity if high winds are present.
The term “hydroelectric” refers to electricity produced from hydropower. Hydropower is the process of using the energy contained in water to generate electricity. The most common form of hydroelectric generation is called run-of-the-river power plants, which use a dam to store water behind a reservoir. When this reservoir is full, the water flows through a pipe or turbine that creates energy. The water then flows back into the river and continues on its way.
Hydroelectric power plants are typically located where there is a large drop in elevation between two bodies of water. For example, a mountain range may have a large drop between two rivers leading out from it. In these cases it makes sense to create dams and reservoirs as well as create hydroelectric power generation facilities on them because they can produce massive amounts of clean energy with relatively little environmental impact.
Geothermal energy is a clean, renewable resource that can provide heat and electricity. Geothermal heat pumps are the most common use of geothermal energy. Geothermal systems are active in many areas of the world. The United States has an estimated 27,000 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity. About 1,500 MW is being added each year, and more than 15,000 homes and buildings were equipped with geothermal heating and cooling systems in 2009. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that almost 90 percent of U.S. homes could use geothermal heat pumps to reduce their energy bills significantly while reducing carbon emissions to near zero.
Geothermal Basics: How it Works
Geothermal energy uses the constant temperature of the earth’s core to generate electricity or produce heating and cooling for buildings or industrial processes. Geothermal systems make use of this temperature gradient by using wells drilled deep into the ground to reach hot water or steam found within permeable rock formations called aquifers located close to the surface (see diagram). These formations are typically accessed by drilling through a layer of solid bedrock known as an impermeable cap rock or seal that acts as an underground reservoir capable of storing hot water or steam at temperatures ranging from 125 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Renewable energy is considered to be a sustainable source of energy because it effectively replaces the use of non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels.
The term “renewable” refers to natural resources that are replenished at a faster rate than they are used up. This means that these resources can be used indefinitely without running out.
Renewable energy sources currently make up only a small portion of the world’s total energy production but there is high potential for growth in the future since many countries are striving to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
The History of Renewable Energy
It wasn’t until the 19th century that people began to generate electricity from wind, water and sunlight.
These are some of the significant milestones in renewable energy development from the WSJ.
Physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovers that light produces electric currents when it strikes metal electrodes in an electrolyte solution in 1839.
Appleton, Wisconsin becomes the first hydroelectric power station in North America to use Edison equipment in 1882.
Windmills are used to generate electricity in Ohio for the first time in 1888, thanks to Charles F. Brush.
Tennessee Valley Authority, a hydroelectric power generation company, is formed in 1933.
In 1935, Hoover Dam became the tallest dam in the world and began supplying power to the Southwest. Almost a third of U.S. electricity is generated by hydropower in 1949; the percentage will decline over the following decades.
A solar cell powered by silicon was demonstrated for the first time by Bell Labs in 1954.
Brittany, France, opens the world’s first tide-powered power plant in 1966.
The U.S. Department of Energy and utilities launch Solar One in California in 1982 as a demonstration of power-tower systems that use mirrors to concentrate solar rays to create electricity via steam turbines.
With a generating capacity of 22,500 megawatts, the Three Gorges Dam in China became the world’s largest hydropower plant in 2012.
In 2015, the Solar Star solar-panel farm in California opened as one of the most powerful solar farms in the U.S. with 579 megawatts of output.
In 2020, Hornsea One will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts.
Renewable Energy Terms to Know
Renewable electricity produced from natural sources that never run out or replenish themselves over short periods of time.
An electricity source that does not release greenhouse gases during its production, although it may not necessarily be renewable.
The smallest environmental footprint of renewable energy sources, such as sunlight, wind, heat, and water, can be found in this subset of renewable energy.
Radiant energy emitted by the sun.
Electrical energy obtained from harnessing the wind with windmills or wind turbines.
A form of renewable energy that uses the power of moving water to generate electricity.
Organic matter used as a fuel, especially in a power station for the generation of electricity.
Heat that is generated within the Earth.
A fuel derived directly from living matter.
The Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is a great way to help the environment. In addition to providing a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy sources are also more environmentally friendly and sustainable than non-renewable ones.
Pros of Renewable Energy in 2023:
- Environmental Benefits: Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power produce little to no greenhouse gas emissions, unlike fossil fuels, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change.
- Energy Security: Renewable energy sources are often found domestically and can provide a more reliable source of energy than imported fossil fuels, which can be subject to price volatility and supply disruptions.
- Cost Competitiveness: The cost of renewable energy has been decreasing steadily in recent years, making it increasingly competitive with traditional fossil fuels.
- Job Creation: Renewable energy industries have the potential to create many jobs across a wide range of skill levels and geographic locations.
- Technology Innovation: Renewable energy technologies are constantly evolving and improving, leading to further cost reductions and increased efficiency.
Cons of Renewable Energy in 2023:
- Intermittency: Some renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, can be intermittent and not always available when needed, which can create challenges for maintaining a stable energy supply.
- Upfront Costs: While the cost of renewable energy has been decreasing, the initial investment required to develop and install renewable energy infrastructure can still be high.
- Land Use: Some renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines and solar panels, require significant amounts of land for installation, which can be a challenge in densely populated areas.
- Environmental Impact: While renewable energy sources produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, they still have some environmental impact. For example, hydropower can alter river ecosystems, and the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines requires the use of certain materials that can have environmental consequences.
- Grid Integration: As the share of renewable energy on the grid increases, there can be challenges in integrating it into existing energy systems and maintaining grid stability.
Analyzing Renewable Energy
As of 2023, renewable energy continues to grow in popularity and significance as a source of electricity worldwide. There are several key trends and developments in renewable energy that are likely to continue or accelerate in the years ahead:
- Increasing adoption of solar and wind power: Solar and wind power are two of the most common forms of renewable energy, and their adoption is likely to continue to grow. This growth is driven by falling costs, technological advancements, and government incentives.
- Greater focus on energy storage: As renewable energy becomes more widespread, energy storage solutions such as batteries and pumped hydro are becoming increasingly important to ensure a reliable supply of electricity. Continued improvements in energy storage technology will help to make renewable energy more practical and cost-effective.
- Expansion of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure: The increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is driving demand for more charging infrastructure, which is often powered by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This trend is likely to continue as the cost of EVs falls and governments implement policies to promote their adoption.
- Growing interest in hydrogen: Hydrogen is emerging as a potentially significant renewable energy source, particularly for transportation and industrial applications. Advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology, as well as the development of more cost-effective ways to produce hydrogen, are likely to drive further adoption of this energy source.
- Increased investment in renewable energy: Private and public sector investment in renewable energy is likely to continue to grow, driven by falling costs and a greater focus on sustainability. As renewable energy becomes more competitive with traditional sources of electricity, it is likely to attract even more investment.
Overall, renewable energy is likely to continue to grow in importance and adoption in the years ahead, driven by falling costs, technological advancements, and a growing focus on sustainability.
IEA suggests “By 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60% from 2020 levels to over 4 800 GW – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. Renewables are set to account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half. The amount of renewable capacity added over the period of 2021 to 2026 is expected to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020. This is driven by stronger support from government policies and more ambitious clean energy goals announced before and during the COP26 Climate Change Conference.”
Globally, energy commodity prices have increased sharply, but renewable technologies have decreased steadily. Electricity costs from utility-scale solar PV have fallen by 85 percent over the past decade, those from concentrating solar power (CSP) have fallen by 68 percent, those from onshore wind have dropped by 56 percent, and wind from offshore has dropped by 48 percent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Conclusion of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy sources are nothing new to the world but are being implemented into our lives faster than ever due to the increase in awareness and the need for cleaner energy sources.
Renewable energy is simply any type of energy that can be replenished naturally within a relatively short period of time.
The main sources of renewable energy consist of wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal.
Renewable technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable technologies, are set to grow even faster in the coming years.
Nooter Can Help With Your Renewable Energy Project
A volatile energy market, regulatory challenges and labor shortages. These are just some of the challenges that face renewable energy contractors today.
Nooter provides a rapid response to critical client challenges, when and wherever needed. With our 125+ years of knowledge and experience in the construction industry, we can help build and maintain your renewable energy infrastructure.
When you invest in Nooter, you invest in the future – your future.
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