What Is An Advantage Of Renewable Energy – The advantages of renewable energy have been known for a long time – such as clean air, low carbon emissions, conservation of natural resources and significant long-term savings.
In America, we are embracing renewable energy at an impressive rate, with clean energy now surpassing coal for the first time in the modern era. Wind farms, solar panels, hydro plants and even large-scale batteries are popping up across the country in an effort to decarbonize energy and transport networks.
But like any other form of technology, it is also important to recognize the downsides of renewable energy if we are to succeed in creating a world of zero emissions. In fact, only by understanding its limits can we improve existing technologies, create new solutions and meet our energy needs, while helping the environment.
So let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy, learn more about its unique benefits and focus on the challenges we still need to overcome.
As the name suggests, renewable energy is generated from sources that renew themselves naturally – such as sunlight, wind, water, biomass and even geothermal (underground) heat.
Unlike coal, oil, and natural gas mining—which requires an extensive network of heavy machinery, processing plants, pipelines, and transportation—renewables convert natural resources directly into electricity. And while many fossil fuels are becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain—resulting in the destruction of natural habitats and significant financial losses—renewable energy never runs out.
Perhaps the most important benefit of renewable energy is the absence of greenhouse gases or other pollutants in the process. While coal-fired power plants produce about 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour of electricity – solar panels and wind turbines produce nothing.
As we race to decarbonize our world and embrace energy sources that do not contribute to global warming, renewable energy helps us provide zero-emission energy, heat, cars and even air travel.
Burning fossil fuels to produce electricity does nothing more than warm the climate; It also pollutes the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Coal-fired power plants, for example, release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) directly into the atmosphere – two of the most powerful greenhouse gases. But on top of that, it also releases mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, particulates and harmful metals – which can cause a range of health problems from breathing difficulties to premature death. Fossil fuel electricity can also pollute waterways, both from air pollution that falls to the ground during rain and from waste produced during the production process.
On the other hand, renewable energy does not create any pollution, waste or risk of air and water pollution. And while the COVID-19 restrictions have given us glimpses of clear skies in major cities around the world, renewable energy has the potential to make clean air the norm.
With the rapid growth of renewable energy over the past ten years, solar and wind power are now the cheapest sources of electricity in many parts of the world. In the United Arab Emirates – an area known for its abundance of land and sunny weather – a new solar farm recently received the lowest solar price in the world at just 1.35°C per kilowatt-hour.
The dramatic drop in costs for solar and wind power has led many fossil fuel multinationals – including the six major oil companies – to focus on investing in renewable energy. And while green energy was once a “clean but expensive” alternative, it’s now helping lower energy bills for people around the world.
With increasing focus on global warming and many governments setting ambitious carbon reduction targets, one of the surprising advantages of renewable energy is that it is fast becoming a major source of new job growth.
In America, renewable energy now employs three times as many people as fossil fuels, and the Census Bureau expects wind turbine technicians and solar panel installers to be among the fastest-growing jobs over the next decade. As well as keeping millions of people employed for long periods – many renewable energy jobs also pay above average wages.
Although renewable energy systems do not require fuel and can provide significant savings in the long term, the initial cost can still be prohibitive. For example, installing a solar system on your home can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, and even if you want to power your home with renewable energy, the price may be out of your reach.
On a larger scale, wind farms, solar farms and hydropower require large investments in land and electricity infrastructure, causing some projects to be delayed, altered or cancelled.
Fortunately, renewable energy such as solar panels and wind turbines continue to decline due to increased economies of scale, increased production and the popularity of renewable energy certificates.
Renewable energy systems rely on natural resources such as sunlight, wind and water, and therefore their electricity production can be as unpredictable as the weather. Solar panels lose efficiency on cloudy days, wind turbines are ineffective in calm weather, and hydroelectric systems require consistent snow and rain to maintain reliable output.
At the same time, when renewable systems produce too much energy, they risk increasing the load on the grid and causing major problems for grid operators. Australia, the country with the most solar panels per capita, is considering new export measures to prevent too much solar power from entering the grid on sunny days – even charging system owners to do so.
The advantage of non-renewable energy – such as generation from coal-fired power plants – is a continuous flow of energy that can be scaled up and down. But the phase-out of renewables, combined with their accelerated use, will require many expensive infrastructure upgrades to maintain a reliable supply – ultimately paid for by end users.
Due to the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, they require a form of energy storage to capture and release electricity in a stable and controlled manner.
Utility-grade batteries have gained momentum in recent years, as the world’s largest system was recently introduced in California. However, despite the lower cost, the storage technology is still quite expensive and there are some lingering questions about its reliability and longevity.
Fortunately, many systems in operation are showing promising results. South Australia’s Tesla Big Battery – the largest of its kind when produced – has generated significant savings for local customers by keeping lights on during grid outages. With the exponential growth of renewable energy worldwide, it seems likely that large-scale energy storage will follow the same path.
The efficiency of a renewable energy system also depends on its location and surrounding environment. For example, wind turbines are only effective in large open areas with strong and consistent winds, which limits their survival in certain areas.
And while solar panels produce some electricity even on cloudy days, they are most productive in places with consistently bright, sunny climates. In America, Nevada’s solar system is far more efficient than Minnesota’s, meaning that areas with less sunlight need more panels to generate the same amount of power.
Although solar panels and wind turbines produce zero carbon emissions as they produce energy – their manufacture, transport and installation still leave a carbon footprint. Renewable energy components are usually produced in large factories that use large amounts of electricity, in addition to the diesel and gasoline vehicles needed to transport and install them.
Fortunately, there is also a growing focus on recycling solar panels and wind turbines in an effort to reduce waste, save energy and reduce demand for raw materials.
Despite some current limitations and challenges, it is clear that renewable energy will one day provide all our homes, businesses and vehicles with zero-emission energy.
And while a single energy source is unlikely to meet all our needs, a combination of solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro and battery storage has the potential to power our entire world without causing any pollutants or greenhouse gases.
If you want to switch to renewable energy, but it’s beyond your financial means, there are other ways you can achieve positive environmental outcomes:
But most importantly, we must remember that despite the many advantages of renewable energy, the best way to reduce our carbon emissions is to reduce our electricity and gas consumption in the first place.
As individuals, as a society and as a nation, we must aim to improve energy use, forms of transport and consumer choice – and then use clean energy to meet our remaining needs. If we can combine renewable energy sources with a sustainable lifestyle, it will be faster – not to mention much cheaper – to create a world of zero emissions.
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