Guiding A Sustainable Future
The Power of Renewable Energy Sources
I’ve already defined non renewable energy sources and discussed which ones pose a threat to our environment through the ongoing release of greenhouse gases and our way of life due to their eventual depletion. I want to define renewable energy sources and highlight some important facts about them. The reasons for significant global interest in renewable energy sources is that they can potentially neutralize environmental harm and enhance the global economy by stabilizing energy markets and providing jobs.
To start with, renewable energy sources are as described: they are renewable because they can be replenished and, in some cases like wind and solar power, can provide unlimited energy that, when cleanly processed through technology, can be converted to electricity.
The following forms of energy are renewable either as a limitless resource or as carbon neutral sources that can be harnessed and managed for human use: biofuel, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity, solar energy, tidal power, wave power and wind power.
Some facts about renewable energy sources:
- Nineteen percent of the world’s energy use is from renewable energy sources.
- Wind power is growing at 30% rate annually with China, Europe and the United States leading the way, building wind farms and using this renewable energy source.
- China currently uses 70% of the world’s total solar water heaters. These systems are particularly useful in heating multi-dwelling complexes, an estimated 50 million Chinese households.
- Brazil’s overall consumption of automotive fuel is 10% constituted from ethanol, a fuel made from sugarcane. Brazil has one of the world’s largest renewable energy programs.
- In the U.S., over half of alternative energy generated goes to electricity production. The next largest use is for generating power for industrial purposes and heating.
- Geothermal energy is probably the most underused and undervalued form of renewable power with three different kinds of power plants extracting energy from the earth’s heat: dry steam, flash and binary power plants. The world’s largest geothermal power plant complex is The Geysers north of San Francisco, CA.
- In 2011, the International Energy Agency predicted that solar power generators will be the main source of electricity within fifty years and that their use will dramatically reduce the harmful effects of greenhouse gases on the environment.
- Did you know that there are active and passive forms of solar power? The active kind of solar power is in the form of photovoltaic cells that harness the sun’s energy. Passive solar energy involves orienting new construction in a way that best enables a structure’s solar energy collection and natural ventilation.
- Keep in mind that over 150 years ago, wood supplied 90% of our energy needs so our growing reliance on renewable energy sources is not “new” but rather a return to power sources that are able to be replenished.
- A robust worldwide renewable energy industry can alleviate poverty in developing nations by providing alternative energy sources to power employment and new businesses, schools and small scale residential cooking, heating and lighting. Kenya is the number #1 per capita country of solar power users with over 30,000 tiny solar panels sold annually and producing anywhere from 12 to 30 watts of energy.
- The global demand for renewable energy sources continues to grow due to increasing environmental concerns, skyrocketing oil prices, growing governmental support, legislation and incentives. It was one of the few industries able to weather the worldwide financial crisis of 2009 due to continued support of governments, new policy-making and ongoing regulation.
- Emerging alternative energy sources include cellulosic ethanol, ocean energy, enhanced geothermal systems, experimental solar power and artificial photosynthesis. They remain in the developmental stages as researchers determine if their development is sustainable in the long term and/or commercially viable.
Relying on renewable energy sources first for our power supply and then using non renewable energy as a back up (for example, the times when there is no wind, the clouds cover the sun or drought hinders water use) may be our plan for a sustainable future. As the technology used to extract power from renewable energy sources becomes more advanced our global future continues to look more hopeful for our children and our children's children.
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