Exploring the Diverse World of Renewable Energy Resources
Renewable energy resources are always available in nature, and producing energy from them drastically reduces CO2 emissions. Wind, hydro and geothermal are currently the most common renewable energy sources.
The movement of water, sun or wind powers turbines that generate electricity. The resulting electricity is added to the national grid.
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What Are Renewable Energy Resources?
Renewable energy sources are naturally replenished, making them a sustainable and environmentally friendly option.
Typical forms of renewable energy include solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass.
Solar power harnesses energy from the sun using photovoltaic cells, while wind power captures the energy from the wind through turbines.
Hydropower generates electricity from water flow, typically in dams or river turbines.
Geothermal energy uses the Earth’s internal heat for power generation, and biomass utilises organic materials such as wood and agricultural waste for fuel.
Renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions, making it a vital part of efforts to combat climate change.
It also reduces reliance on fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to pollution and global warming.
Government incentives and policies often promote the use of renewable energy.
The development and adoption of renewable energy technologies continue to grow globally.
Investing in renewable energy can lead to long-term energy cost savings and independence.
Renewable Energy Resources: Wind
Energy from wind is produced by harnessing the kinetic energy of moving air. Wind is a renewable resource that can be used long-term to produce electricity. It is not a reliable source of energy, however, and it can’t be compared to other renewables, such as solar and hydro, which are dispatchable.
The global energy picture has changed dramatically since the climate change crisis erupted, and countries committed to a low-carbon economy. Renewables are now the lowest-cost sources of new power generation. They are also the only way to expand energy access to populations in lower-income cities and rural areas.
Much of the world’s electricity is generated from hydropower, which uses fast-moving water in rivers and waterfalls to spin generators that create electricity. It is the largest renewable energy source in the United States, though wind is quickly closing the gap. The world’s leading renewable energy producers are shown on the map below, with each country’s total electricity production in billions of kilowatt-hours shaded in the darkest colour. The following maps show the same information broken down by renewable energy source. The maps are based on data from the United States Energy Information Administration. Renewable energy sources are environmentally friendly, producing no or low greenhouse gas emissions, reducing water and land use and protecting wildlife habitats while creating jobs.
Renewable Energy Resources: Hydropower
The oldest of renewable energy sources, hydropower uses the power of moving water to generate electricity. Also known as hydroelectricity, this is one of the most reliable and cost-effective types of renewable electricity production. Dams and reservoirs do more than provide electricity. They can serve as drinking water, offer recreational opportunities like boating and fishing and help with flood control and irrigation.
Power plants generate electricity by turning water’s kinetic energy into electrical energy through a turbine. This mechanical energy then goes through various transmission processes before it reaches your home or business.
Like wind and solar energy, hydropower’s capacity to produce electricity fluctuates throughout the day. However, unlike these two other forms of renewable energy, hydroelectricity can easily be increased or decreased in response to changing demand. This flexibility allows hydropower to play a vital role in integrating renewable energy into our energy system.
Another way hydropower can be flexible is through pumped storage. This hydro plant stores energy by pumping water from a pool at a lower elevation to a higher reservoir. When there’s a high electricity demand, the water from the higher reservoir is released and flows back down to the lower reservoir, turning a turbine that produces more energy.
Renewable Energy Resources: Geothermal
The heat inside the Earth’s crust can be tapped for energy. In geological hotspots—like Yellowstone National Park’s famous geysers—hot water can generate electricity and provide heating. In geothermal power plants, steam is directed through turbines to produce electricity. The resulting steam then returns to its source underground. People have used this energy for tens of thousands of years.
Unlike wind and solar energy, geothermal can work all year round, providing a stable source of power that doesn’t depend on weather conditions. This makes it a “baseload” resource—the kind of electricity that most utilities need to run all the time.
But geothermal isn’t without its challenges. In some places, high-pressure streams of water pumped into the ground can cause seismic activity, such as small earthquakes. If the geothermal fluid leaks into other underground systems, it can carry harmful chemicals such as arsenic and boron.
Using the right technology can help mitigate these issues. For example, binary systems—which combine steam and direct liquid flow to generate electricity—can reduce the risk of damaging the environment and contaminating freshwater supplies. Another advantage of geothermal is its relatively low footprint. Compared to wind, solar and hydroelectric plants, it requires less land. The plant is buried beneath the surface and doesn’t need large collection setups over a broad area.
Renewable Energy Resources: Biofuels
Energy from the sun, wind, waves, tidal currents, and biofuels can generate electricity. These renewables can also be used to produce heat or combined with other energy sources such as biomass or geothermal.
Biofuels, made from a range of organic waste products and inedible crops, are an essential part of the world’s energy mix, especially for transportation. They can be blended with regular fuels like petrol or diesel to make them greener, and they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels when burned.
They are a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum fuels, which can’t be renewed. They reduce dependence on oil imports and can be produced close to home. However, the use of food crops for biofuels has been criticised as driving up global food prices and creating a “food vs fuel” debate, and energy crops grown on land that could otherwise be used for other purposes are competing with natural habitats for space, leading to deforestation, soil erosion and biodiversity loss.
The most common biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel, extracted from starches and sugars by fermentation processes similar to beer brewing or distilling plant oils. They can be used alone or to replace gasoline and diesel in vehicles, with the added advantage of being biodegradable.
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