Energy Renewable

Energy Renewable – Go to What is Renewable Energy? Types of Renewable Energy Other Renewable Energy Sources Home Wind Turbines and Large Solar Panels in Palm Springs, California Vanja Terzic / Stock Renewable energy is growing as renewables drive down costs and begin to fulfill the promise of a clean energy future. US solar and wind production is breaking records and connecting to the national grid without compromising reliability. This means that renewable energy sources are increasing by removing “dirty” fossil fuels from the energy sector, offering the benefits of lower carbon emissions and other types of pollution. But not all energy sources marketed as “renewable” are good for the environment. Biomass and large hydro present a complex trade-off when considering impacts on wildlife, climate change and other issues. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of renewable energy and how you can use this new technology in your home. What is renewable energy? Renewable energy, often called clean energy, comes from natural sources or systems that are continuously replenished. For example, sunlight and wind continue to shine and blow, although their availability depends on weather and time. While renewable energy is often seen as a new technology, harnessing natural energy has long been used for heating, transportation, lighting, and more. The wind moves the boats to the sea and the grain mills. The sun warmed during the day and lit a fire that lasted until the evening. But over the past 500 years or so, people have turned to cheaper and dirtier energy sources like coal and fracked gas. Now that we have new and cheaper ways to capture and store wind and solar energy, renewable energy is the most important source of energy, accounting for more than 12 percent of US energy production. Renewable energy growth is happening on both a large and small scale, from large offshore wind farms to rooftop solar panels that can sell energy back to the grid. Even rural communities (Alaska, Kansas, and Missouri) rely on renewable energy for heating and lighting. As the use of renewable energy sources continues to grow, the main goal will be to improve America’s electric grid, making it smarter, safer and better connected across all regions. Dirty Energy Non-renewable or “dirty” energy includes fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Non-renewable energy sources are only available in small quantities. When we pump gas from a station, we use a limited resource that is refined from crude oil that has been around since ancient times. Non-renewable energy sources are common in certain parts of the world, making them more abundant in some countries than others. On the contrary, every country has access to the sun and wind. Prioritizing renewable energy can also improve national security by reducing the country’s dependence on imports from animal fuel-rich countries. Many non-renewable energy sources can threaten the environment and human health. For example, oil drilling may require a mining site in the Canadian forest; fracking technology can cause earthquakes and water pollution; and coal-fired power plants pollute the air. Moreover, all these actions contribute to global warming. Types of Renewable Energy Solar Energy Humans have used the sun’s energy for thousands of years to grow crops, store heat and dry food. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more solar energy reaches the earth in one hour than is used by all the people of the world in one year.” Today, we use the sun’s rays in a variety of ways – for heating homes and businesses, for heating water and for electrical appliances. Solar panels on rooftops in East Austin, Texas Roscecki/iStock Solar or photovoltaic (PV) cells are made of silicon or other materials that convert sunlight into electricity. Distributed solar systems generate electricity locally for homes and businesses, either through rooftop panels or through community projects that power entire neighborhoods. Solar farms can generate enough energy for thousands of homes by using mirrors to focus sunlight onto acres of solar panels. Floating solar power plants – or “floatoelectrics” – can be an efficient and environmentally friendly way to use wastewater. Solar energy provides nearly 3 percent of US electricity (some sources estimate it will reach nearly 4 percent by 2022). But by 2021, 46 percent of all new generation will come from the sun. Solar energy systems produce pollutants or greenhouse gases, and as long as they are installed properly, most solar panels have little or no impact on the environment outside of the manufacturing process. Wind power We’ve come a long way from the windmills of the old world. Today, wind turbines as tall as skyscrapers – with diameters almost as wide – are attracting attention around the world. Wind power turns the blades of the wind turbine, which provides power to the electric generator and produces electricity. Wind, which accounts for 9.2 percent of U.S. electricity generation, has become the country’s cheapest energy source. Among the states with wind power are California, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, although turbines can be placed anywhere with high wind speeds – such as hills and open plains – or offshore in open water. Other Sources of Electric Power Hydroelectricity Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source for generating electricity in the United States, although wind power is expected to take the lead soon. Hydropower relies on water – usually fast-moving water in a large river or water falling quickly from above – and converts the energy of that water into electricity by turning the blades of a wind generator. Nationally and internationally, large hydroelectric plants or large dams are often considered non-renewable energy sources. Megadams divert and reduce natural flows, which restrict access to animals and people who depend on these rivers. Small hydropower plants (less than 40 megawatts installed) that are carefully managed do not cause much damage to the environment as they only divert part of the flow. Biomass Energy Biomass is material from plants and animals and includes plants, wood waste and trees. When biomass is burned, chemical energy is released as heat and can generate electricity using a steam engine. Biomass is often misrepresented as a clean, renewable fuel and a green alternative to coal and other fossil fuels for generating electricity. However, recent scientific research shows that many types of biomass, especially from forests, produce more carbon emissions than fossils. There are also negative effects on biodiversity. However, some biomass energy can serve as a low-carbon option under the right conditions. For example, sawdust and wood shavings, which can decompose quickly and release carbon, can be a low-carbon energy source. Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station near Grindavik, Iceland Daniel Snaer Ragnarsson/iStock If you’ve ever gone on a hot spring vacation, you’ve used geothermal energy. The Earth’s core is as hot as the Sun’s surface due to the slow decay of radioactive particles in the rocks of the planet’s core. Drilling deep wells brings superheated groundwater to the surface as a hydrothermal vent, which is then pumped through a turbine to generate electricity. Geothermal plants tend to have low emissions because they pump steam and water back into the reservoir. There are ways to build geothermal power plants where there are no underground water sources, but there are concerns that they could increase the risk of earthquakes in areas that are already considered geological hotspots. The power of oceans and tides is still growing, but the ocean will always be controlled by the moon’s gravity, which makes harnessing its power attractive. Other ways to access tidal energy can harm wildlife, such as tidal flats, which act as dams and are located in an ocean or bay. Like tidal power, tidal power depends on structures such as dikes or devices placed on the sea floor or just below the surface of the water. Renewable energy at home Solar power On a small scale, we can use the sun’s rays to power our entire home – with photovoltaic panels or passive solar home design. Passive solar homes are designed to receive sunlight through south-facing windows and then retain heat through concrete, brick, tile and other heat-retaining materials. Some solar homes produce more than enough electricity, allowing the owner to sell the excess energy to the grid. Batteries are also an economically attractive way to store excess solar energy for use at night. Scientists are hard at work on new advances that combine form and function, such as solar windows and roof tiles. Geothermal Heat Pumps Heat technology is a new alternative to a conventional system – the coils in the back of your fridge are a small heat pump, extracting heat from the inside to keep food fresh and cold. At home, geothermal or geoexchange pumps use the constant heat of the ground (several feet below the ground) to cool homes in the summer and heat homes in the winter—and to heat water. Geothermal systems can be expensive to install initially, but they usually pay for themselves within 5 to 10 years. They are

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