What is Renewable Energy? – Definition, Types, Benefits

Renewable energies are booming as innovations cut costs and deliver on the promise of a clean energy future. American solar and wind generation breaks records and is integrated into the national power grid without compromising reliability.

This means that renewables are increasingly displacing “dirty” fossil fuels in the electricity sector, offering the benefit of lower CO2 emissions and other types of pollution. But not all energy sources marketed as “renewable” are environmentally friendly. Here’s what you should know about the different types of renewable energy sources and how you can take advantage of these new technologies in your home.

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, is derived from renewable resources that are naturally replenished in the human timeframe. It includes sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.

Renewable energy contrasts with fossil fuels, which are used up much faster than they are replenished. Although most renewable energy sources are sustainable, some are not. For example, some biomass sources are considered unsustainable at current exploitation rates.

Renewable energy sources often provide energy in four key areas: power generation, air, and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services. About 20% of the world’s energy consumption by humanity comes from renewable sources, including nearly 30% of electricity.

About 8% of energy consumption is traditional biomass, but this figure is declining. More than 4% of the energy consumption is used for thermal energy from modern renewable energies, such as solar water heating, and more than 6% for electricity.

Types of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time.

Renewable energy often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather.

The major types or sources of renewable energy are:

They are called renewable energy sources because they are naturally replenished. Day after day, the sun shines, plants grow, the wind blows, and rivers flow.

1. Solar Energy

Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the U.S. has some of the richest solar resources in the world.

Solar technologies can harness this energy for a variety of uses, including generating electricity, providing light or a comfortable interior environment, and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.

There are three main ways to harness solar energy: photovoltaics, solar heating & cooling, and concentrating solar power. Photovoltaics generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process and can be used to power anything from small electronics such as calculators and road signs up to homes and large commercial businesses.

Solar heating & cooling (SHC) and concentrating solar power (CSP) applications both use the heat generated by the sun to provide space or water heating in the case of SHC systems or to run traditional electricity-generating turbines in the case of CSP power plants.

2. Wind Energy

Wind power or wind energy describes the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or can be converted into electricity by a generator.

You can learn how wind turbines make electricity and see an illustration of the components inside a wind turbine, or view a wind power animation that shows how moving air rotates a wind turbine’s blades and how the internal components work to produce electricity.

3. Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is the heat that comes from the sub-surface of the earth. It is contained in the rocks and fluids beneath the earth’s crust and can be found as far down as the earth’s hot molten rock, magma.

To produce power from geothermal energy, wells are dug a mile deep into underground reservoirs to access the steam and hot water there, which can then be used to drive turbines connected to electricity generators. There are three types of geothermal power plants; dry steam, flash, and binary.

Dry steam is the oldest form of geothermal technology and takes the steam out of the ground and uses it to directly drive a turbine. Flash plants use high-pressure hot water into cool, low-pressure water whilst binary plants pass hot water through a second liquid with a lower boiling point, which turns to vapor to drive the turbine.

4. Tidal Energy

Tidal energy is produced by the surge of ocean waters during the rise and fall of tides. Tidal energy is a renewable source of energy.

During the 20th century, engineers developed ways to use tidal movement to generate electricity in areas where there is a significant tidal range the difference in area between high tide and low tide. All methods use special generators to convert tidal energy into electricity.

Tidal energy production is still in its infancy. The amount of power produced so far has been small. There are very few commercial-sized tidal power plants operating in the world.

5. Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric energy, also called hydroelectric power or hydroelectricity, is a form of energy that harnesses the power of water in motion such as water flowing over a waterfall to generate electricity. People have used this force for millennia.

Over two thousand years ago, people in Greece used flowing water to turn the wheel of their mill to ground wheat into flour.

Most hydroelectric power plants have a reservoir of water, a gate or valve to control how much water flows out of the reservoir, and an outlet or place where the water ends up after flowing downward. Water gains potential energy just before it spills over the top of a dam or flows down a hill.

The potential energy is converted into kinetic energy as water flows downhill. The water can be used to turn the blades of a turbine to generate electricity, which is distributed to the power plant’s customers.

6. Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is energy generated or produced by living or once-living organisms. The most common biomass materials used for energy are plants, such as corn and soy, above. The energy from these organisms can be burned to create heat or converted into electricity.

People have used biomass energy from living things since the earliest “cavemen” first made wood fires for cooking or keeping warm.

Biomass is organic, meaning it is made of material that comes from living organisms, such as plants and animals. The most common biomass materials used for energy are plants, wood, and waste. These are called biomass feedstocks. Biomass energy can also be a non-renewable energy source.

Biomass contains energy first derived from the sun: Plants absorb the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, and convert carbon dioxide and water into nutrients (carbohydrates).

Benefits of Renewable Energy

Environmental and economic benefits of using renewable energy include:

  • Generating energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and reduces some types of air pollution
  • Diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels
  • Creating economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation, and more
  • Renewable energy won’t run out
  • Renewable energy has lower maintenance requirements
  • Renewables save money
  • Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits
  • Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources
  • Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air
  • Renewable energy creates jobs
  • Renewable energy can cut down on waste
  • Renewable energy can cut down on waste

Here are some of the top benefits of going green:

1. Renewable energy won’t run out

Renewable energy technologies use resources directly from the environment to generate electricity. These energy sources include sunshine, wind, tides, and biomass to name a few of the most popular options.

Renewable resources are not running out, which cannot be said for many types of fossil fuels. As we use fossil fuel resources, they are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, which is likely to increase both the cost and the environmental impact of extraction.

2. Maintenance requirements are lower

In most cases, renewable energy technologies require less overall maintenance than generators that use traditional fuel sources. This is because generation technology like solar panels and wind turbines have either few or no moving parts and do not rely on combustible, combustible fuel sources to operate. Fewer maintenance requirements mean more time and cost savings.

3. Renewables save money

By using renewable energies, you can save money in the long term. You not only save maintenance costs but also operating costs. If you’re using technology that generates electricity from the sun, wind, steam, or natural processes, you don’t have to pay to refuel.

The amount of money you save from renewable energy can depend on a number of factors, including the technology itself. In most cases, switching to renewable energy means savings of between hundreds and thousands of dollars.

4. Renewable energy has numerous health and environmental benefits

  • Generating energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and reduces some types of air pollution
  • Diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels
  • Creating economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation, and more

The use of fossil fuels not only emits greenhouse gases, but also other harmful pollutants that lead to respiratory and heart health problems. With renewable energies, you are helping to reduce the spread of these pollutants and contribute to an overall healthier atmosphere.

5. Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources

Renewable energy technologies allow you to produce energy locally. The more renewable energy you use for your electricity needs, the less you rely on imported energy and the more you contribute to the overall US energy independence.

Disadvantages of renewable energy

Renewable energy has many benefits, but it’s not always sunny when it comes to renewable energy. Here are some disadvantages to using renewables over traditional fuel sources:

  • High upfront costs
  • Intermittency
  • Storage capabilities
  • Geographic limitations
  • Renewables aren’t always 100% carbon-free

1. Higher upfront cost

While you can save money by using renewable energy, the technologies are usually more expensive upfront than traditional energy producers. To counter this, financial incentives such as tax credits and discounts are often available to help lower your initial renewable technology costs.

2. Intermittency

Although renewable energy sources are available worldwide, many of these resources are not available 24/7 all year round. Some days may be windier than others, the sun does not shine at night, and droughts can occur for some time. There can be unpredictable weather events that disrupt these technologies. Fossil fuels are non-intermittent and can be turned on or off at any time.

3. Storage capabilities

Due to the interruption of some renewable energy sources, there is a high demand for energy storage. Although storage technologies are available today, they can be expensive, especially for large renewable energy systems. It’s worth noting that energy storage capacity grows as technology advances, and batteries become more affordable over time.

4. Geographic limitations

The United States has diverse geography with different climates, topographies, vegetation, and much more. This creates a nice melting pot of landscapes, but it also means that there are some regions that are better suited to renewable technologies than others.

For example, a large open space farm can be a great place for a residential wind turbine or solar system, while a townhouse in a city shaded by taller buildings cannot take advantage of either technology on their property. If your property is not eligible for personal renewable energy technology, there are other options.

FAQs.

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, is derived from renewable resources that are naturally replenished in the human timeframe. It includes sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.

What are the 5 renewable energies?

There are five major renewable energy sources:

  • Solar energy from the sun.
  • Geothermal energy from heat inside the earth.
  • Wind energy.
  • Biomass from plants.
  • Hydropower from flowing water.

What exactly is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time. The major types of renewable energy source are Biomass. Wood and wood waste.

What are renewable energy sources give two examples?

Renewable resources include solar energy, wind, falling water, the heat of the earth (geothermal), plant materials (biomass), waves, ocean currents, temperature differences in the oceans, and the energy of the tides.

How many different types of renewable energy are there?

Wind and solar energy are just two of the six different types of renewable energy technologies that are used across the world.

Six different types of renewable energy technologies

  • Wind energy.
  • Solar energy
  • Hydro energy
  • Biomass energy
  • Tidal energy.
  • Geothermal energy.

What are the benefits to using renewable energy?

Benefits of Renewable Energy:

  • Generating energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and reduces some types of air pollution.
  • Diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels.
  • Creating economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation, and more.

What is biomass renewable?

Biomass—renewable energy from plants and animals. Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. Biomass was the largest source of total annual U.S. energy consumption until the mid-1800s.

What is the cleanest form of renewable energy?

Out of all energy resources, we consider green power (solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal) as the cleanest form of energy. So, if we were looking at clean energy on a spectrum, these would be farthest from “dirty” or emissions-heavy energy.

What is the fastest growing renewable energy source?

Solar generation (including distribution), which made up 3.3 percent of total U.S. generation in 2020, is the fastest-growing electricity source. Globally, renewables made up 29 percent of electricity generation in 2020, much of it from hydropower (16.8 percent).

Why is bioenergy renewable?

Biomass is considered a renewable energy source because its inherent energy comes from the sun and because it can regrow in a relatively short time. Trees take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into biomass and when they die, it is released back into the atmosphere.

Why Bioenergy is renewable energy source?

Biomass is an incredibly versatile substance, able to produce energy through being burned directly, converted into liquid biofuels, or harvested as gas from landfills or anaerobic digesters. Its own source of energy comes from the sun, and as plant matter can be regrown relatively quickly, it is classed as renewable.

What is the safest renewable energy?

Nuclear, wind, hydropower, and solar energy fall to the bottom of the chart on both metrics. They are all much safer in terms of accidents and air pollution and they are low-carbon options.

How much money do you save with renewable energy?

An aggressive push towards 100% renewable energy would save Americans as much as $321bn in energy costs, while also slashing planet-heating emissions, according to a new report.

What is the future for renewable energy?

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.

What is the largest environmental impact of renewable energy?

Electricity from renewable energy sources produces between 90-99% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) compared with coal-fired plants and causes 70-90% less pollution. Focusing on renewable energy sources other than fossil fuels and coals might help in avoiding environmental impacts, specifically from air pollution and GHGs.

What is the problem with renewable energy?

Renewable energy sources generate most of their energy at certain times of the day. Its electricity generation does not match with the peak demand hours. The intermittency of sunshine and wind cannot provide an on-demand power source 24 hours a week. Solar energy and wind are unpredictable.

What are the negative effects of renewable energy?

Renewable energy often requires more land than fossil fuel production, with infrastructure fragmenting or even eliminating high-quality wildlife habitat, according to Moorman. It can also lead to a variety of other impacts on wildlife, including behavioral changes and direct mortality.

Why biofuel is renewable and sustainable?

Renewable fuels such as biofuels, bioethanol, and biodiesel are sustainable and can be used as a potential source of heat by combusting them and harnessing the heat to be used for power generation purposes. Biomass and hydrogen that are particularly produced from renewable sources can also be utilized in obtaining heat.

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Reference

Renewable energy sources: Solar Schools